Thursday, January 26, 2012

"Truly important insights": Bill Gates on

I recommend a recent review by Bill Gates—better known these days for his groundbreaking work on health and education issues—of Andy Rosen’s “ Rebooting for the new talent economy”:

In “,” Andrew Rosen calls for greater relevance, access, accountability and transparency in higher education. He builds a persuasive case that many non-traditional students — such as working adults, parents and those at risk of dropping out — are not well served by traditional institutions. New approaches, he argues, are critical to ensure that more people have the opportunity to obtain college degrees.

As chief executive of Kaplan, Inc., a for-profit educational services company, Rosen offers a prescription that will rankle some traditionalists in academia. But I find his insights truly important for the debate on what needs to be done to improve the success of post-secondary education in America.

Read the full article, which ran in The Washington Post (Jan. 22, 2012) and is posted on

Friday, December 16, 2011

There’s a Light at the end of the tunnel #3

There’s a Light at the end of the tunnel #3
As I wrote in Harnessing  America’s Wasted Talent: A New Ecology of Learning” (Jossey-Bass, 2010), it is not possible (for me anyway) to predict or describe what the organizational forms that accomplish these learning and learning-support tasks will look like. What I can do, however, is describe the forces driving the change and some of the characteristics that the change will carry.
The reason that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train of change is because the society within which our institutions reside is changing around them. As the society changes, the tools available to support and offer higher education learning, the economic incentives to provide it, and the cultural forces which shaped higher education into its current and historic form, are all changing. And as they change, they will increasingly  “disrupt” the traditional model. The truly disruptive characteristic in web-enhanced and web-supported learning is the core fact that its source of power lies outside  traditional institutions just as surely as the source of power in the Arab spring lay outside of the oppressive government hierarchies being challenged. With that in mind, consider some of the following characteristics of future post-secondary programs.
Abundant information: With thousands of good courses taught by well-regarded faculty available at little or no cost to the learner, the new institutional (I call it a “College for the 2st Century” in the book) model will draw from multiple and ever-increasing content sources for its curriculum.  Students will “make” content and crowds will source content as they do with wiki-pedia. Imagine being able to scan an existing course and know what in it affects the academic objectives that you need to meet the goals of your learning plan. Instead of learning 10 things in a course – five of which you already know and two of which do not pertain to your objectives -  you can pull out and focus on the three you need. Personalizing learning to the needs of the learner without sacrificing quality will be a more effective and efficient way to do it; allowing each learner to proceed purposefully throughout life on their own personal path with external validation..
Mass customization: Learners will be able to ascertain with a high level of accuracy what knowledge, skills and abilities they bring to the learning moment. They will be able to do an educational “gap” analysis between what they know and what they need to know to attain their objectives. And. like an “eHarmony” in which the “e” stood for education, they will be able to quickly survey learning resources that help them align the resources they need with their learning goals and pursue them. Learners and employers alike will know that, if they achieve the learning outcomes and develop the competencies required, they will be ready for the work and living requirements contained in a given job or other category. Socially-networked conversations will allow learners to converse, study with, and learn from others. And mentors – paid and unpaid – will help them plan and assess their “arrival” at academic destinations.
Outcomes: Along with “mass customization”, learners and other third parties, like employers, will be able to compare the learning achieved with the requirements that exist using learning outcomes. This opens the door to high levels of consistency and validity in the assessment of learning while simultaneously encouraging mass customization.
The “New Ecology of Learning” is just that: a new ecosystem which will support a wider and in some cases very different variety of “educational life forms” than the one it is replacing. So, although it is conceivably accurate to assert that online courses are hitting a plateau, it would be wildly inaccurate to infer that the “plateau” is anything but the end of an early stage in disruptive transformation and change in what we now know as post-secondary education.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

There’s a light at the End of the Tunnel #2

There’s a light at the End of the Tunnel #2    
In early November, I attended a meeting in Orlando called Learning2011. I learned of the meeting from my friend and colleague Cathy Casserly, CEO of the Creative Commons who was scheduled to present there. And so, as a last minute schedule-adjustment, I attended the meeting. What I encountered there, and what Cathy had predicted, was an ethic that differed significantly from those at meetings I am more used to attending.
There are several groups addressing the need for change and the dynamics driving them today in the higher education policy and professional development arena. Educause, SloanC, New Media Consortium (NMC), the Presidents’ Forum, the WICHE Center for Educational Technology (WCET), and the Global OpenCourseWare Consortium come immediately to mind. And there are many others. These are good and valuable organizations. And their meetings contribute to the emerging body of knowledge. They are, however, tethered to the higher education hitching post. By this I mean that, almost universally, they look at learning through the lens of established or re-interpreted higher education. How is it different, how does it extend or change the rationale and/or the logic of the enterprise we know as higher education? In fact, a lot of my writing and thinking has been attached to the same hitching post.
At Learning2011 the frame was different. First, although there were a few of us educators there, the meeting was predominantly IT and corporate-populated with the CLOs of companies large and small composing the majority of the more than 2000 attendees. There was an air of independence about the conversations; a sense that “if higher education won’t do it for us, we’ll do it for ourselves”, if you will. People talked openly and fervently about the higher order intellectual, behavioral, and skill characteristics they needed and were not getting from the workforce candidates walking through their doors from colleges and universities. And I got the sense that the days were numbered, if not over, when employers (and potential employees) would settle for the time and cost of a traditional college approach as adequate preparation for work. For more on this, reference my three immediate past blogs on “What Employers Want from Higher Education”, written before I attended Learning 2011.
Second, the vast majority of presentations in sessions large and small focused on the meeting’s title, learning, regardless of where it happened, and its attendant value to the learners themselves and the people who employ them, businesses and non-profit organizations large and small.  Different people were presenting on their company’s or organization’s approaches to workforce development, the use of social networking to support learning at work, the use of work itself to drive learning, the role of IT in supporting all of this, and the emerging ability of assessment to actually link what the learner knows with what a given job requires for good performance on day one.
No single blog can adequately capture or represent what was going on at Learning 2011. But if you are intrigued, I suggest you go to www.Learning2011 and see what the agenda and the presentations looked like for yourself.
What I sensed, and what I am trying to describe here, was an accelerating transition in workforce education from a higher education-centric model to a learner-workplace-centric model. In a world where higher education institutions have dominated, controlled, and driven the conversation about quality, content, access, and results; the balance of power is shifting away from that more monolithic tendency to a far more disaggregated power structure where good information, metrics, and results that can be validated against third party standards are the “coin of the realm”.
The commitment to all three pillars of higher education – knowledge, skills, and behaviors – was especially invigorating to me. Productive and happy work force members, wherever they work and whatever they do, need all three and an appreciation of all three throughout their lives. When we can show that the historic line drawn between the liberal arts and vocational training describes a dichotomy that does not have to exist, that in fact both can happen in multiple learning environments through multiple modalities, the world will be re-ordered in fundamental ways.
Employers who embrace this approach to workforce development will have a distinct competitive advantage over those who do not. And, if I am correct, this “disaggregated” approach will also include many more players while serving many more learner/workers. And it will require new thinking from government regulators and accreditors alike.
Once again, this “light at the end of the tunnel” is accelerating change in the higher education space. Depending on who you are and where you sit, it is either the dawn of a new age or an oncoming train. As the conductor used to call,” All Aboard that’s coming aboard!
Next week, in my last of this blog threesome, I will discuss the drivers and consequences of this oncoming train.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

There’s a Light at the End of the Tunnel # 1

There’s a Light at the End of the Tunnel # 1 
A recent story in the Chronicle of Higher Education  quoted a Sloan Consortium report released in conjunction with their annual meeting. The headline read “Online-Course Enrollments Grow, But at a Slower Pace. Is a Plateau Approaching?” Upon reading the article and its logic, thoughtfully reported, I was reminded of the famous phrase employed by some national leaders in the mid – 1960s regarding the Vietnam War as an expression of growing hope for its end. Leaders told us, “We can see light at the end of the tunnel”, suggesting that hope and a negotiated victory were, if not just around the corner, at least within our grasp. As the war dragged on, however, another interpretation began to make the rounds, more cynical and, unhappily, more accurate. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel”, it went, “but it’s an oncoming train”. Not good news for those in the tunnel trying to get out.
Admittedly, this is a different time and a dramatically different set of issues with little connection to a failed foreign policy of fifty years ago. But the parallel, the instinct to look for stability in a situation that is churning and out of control, was instructive to me. Most of us have an instinctive need for a rationale that explains things, even when the unknowns and imponderables out-weigh what we can anticipate and rely on. As I have discussed in earlier blogs, how we think about higher education is being jostled and tossed like a stick in a raging river, by unprecedented and growing information abundance coupled with, among other things, the early stage power of what we currently call social net-working. And the notion that “online” learning may be reaching a plateau is difficult for me to understand.
First, if there is a plateau, it is probably temporary and limited to the provision of courses online. When private sector universities like Kaplan (where I currently work) raise the bar for admission and strengthen their academic progress policies, fewer learners matriculate and their numbers decrease, at least temporarily. Also, when declining state appropriations make capital investments more difficult, developing a sophisticated online capacity becomes a more problematic path to follow. And, when faculty governance decisions make these investments and the programs they support more costly rather than pathways to increased effectiveness and efficiency, it reduces their value significantly. It will take time to work through these obstacles. But I predict that some institutions will do so and, downstream, online and blended learning will be the hallmark of many more traditionally focused institutions. For those who do not adapt and adjust, please see my earlier blogs entitled “You Don’t Need a Weatherman to Know Which Way the Wind is Blowing”.
Second, online courses are not “the light at the end of the tunnel”. Seeing  online learning (in its current state) as the new paradigm is an enormous mistake. Even as it becomes a mainstream activity and begins to slowly change the way the mainstream academy thinks about their enterprise, there is new action out on and beyond the horizon. While I cannot predict what it will look like, what shapes it will take, I can offer current day examples of the types of mediating institutions that will be centrally involved. They include Open Education Resources like the Global Open CourseWare Consortium (OCWC) spawned several years ago by MIT; the Creative Commons which is emerging as the open source platform of choice; the emergence of the workplace as a place of learning, the ability to “mass customize” learning experiences to the needs of the learner, and the emergence and use of  multiple  types of rigorous assessments that accurately convey what learners know and are able to do as a consequence of their learning activities.
In the next blog, I will discuss the dramatic thinking  which I encountered at the annual meeting of Learning2011  in early November. And I will assess its implications for new disruptive change in the months and years ahead. Finally, in the third blog, I will attempt a more philosophical and abstract discussion of “the light at the end of the tunnel” – new forces and potentials that will further disrupt our institutions and our understandings of how advanced learning can occur.
In the meantime, I hope you have a terrific  holiday.  Happy Thanksgiving!


Friday, November 11, 2011

Where’s The Innovation? Part 3

Where’s The Innovation? Part 3.                                  
What’s interesting to some people, and down-right scary to others, about the upcoming (and still largely unforeseen) innovations is that they extend significantly beyond the teaching and learning equation. Although there are many new teaching and learning models, disruptive change is occurring in other areas as well. And as they evolve and improve in sophistication and quality, they permit dramatically different economic and organizational conceptions of how post-secondary education can be organized and offered.
StraighterLine(SL). Imagine courses approved by several accrediting or validating bodies such as ACE and DETC, developed by a leading publisher (McGraw-Hill) and offered at a fraction of the cost of public college  lower division courses. Add in a special tuition scheme through which you can buy courses by the course or complete them more quickly and pay less money. And finish off with a growing consortium of institutions which will accept the credit if presented with a SL transcript. In essence you, have a non-college offering the most popular lower-division courses in America and other collegiate services at an extremely competitive price. The implications for pricing, patterns of attendance, and a dramatically expanding set of choices for how one “goes to” college are enormous.

The OpenCourseware Consortium (OCWC). As the Open Education Resource (OER) movement has taken root, and the web is filled with free courses from hundreds of colleges and individuals, OCWC and iTunes University represent a seismic shift in the post-secondary education world. Historically, colleges and universities are known for the quality of their faculty and their courses. It is an embedded part of their myth structure and current identity. With the advent of OCWC and its 200+ institutional members from around the world with their 15,000+ contributed free courses, however, the role of content has been stood on its head. Now, a learner can access the MIT Engineering curriculum (as one example) and use that content for no charge. If that learner is enrolled in an appropriate higher learning support program where a mentor can work with her in a guided independent study format, you have just created Mark Hopkins sitting on an electronic log in one of the oldest teaching –learning paradigms that we know of. And it is potentially scalable to as many learners as there are who want to participate that way. Common high quality, readily available content flips the traditional role of curriculum on a local campus on its head.
TheIndependent Collegiate Learning Assessment (iCLA). When the Collegiate LearningAssessment program was launched over 10 years ago, it was hailed as a break-through event. The significant value add, released by CLA was the ability to get an assessment of learning gains between the first and last years of college at a low cost with high statistical validity. Importantly, the learning assessed was crosscutting intellectual learning in areas like writing, critical thinking, and problem solving. Institutions like mine (Cal State Monterey Bay, at the time) seized on the CLA as one more objective and third party source of important information about how well we were serving our students. Still, the assessment was an institutional assessment used for institutional purposes. Now think about the Council on Aid to Education’s (C AE) newest product, the individualized Collegiate Learning Assessment Program. When it rolls out in 2012, at a very low price, individual learners will be able document and store assessments that mark their learning gains in their learning portfolios with the iCLA. Historically assessment of learning has been the province of the faculty, almost exclusively. Now, learners can roam their communities or the Internet, learn informally or in programs that are organized but not accredited, and then see what kind of gain they have experienced in their learning. The implications for assessment independent of institutional learning are enormous.
Knowledge  Extension (KNEXT). When the Council for theAdvancement of Experiential Learning (CAEL) was founded forty years ago, the assessment of experiential learning was done randomly and without a core set of principles and standards. Even with the development of principles and standards, the practice remained a boutique practice because of the paperwork and sheer logistical overload involved to prepare a portfolio with proper documentation. What KNEXT, and another similar program called Learning Counts, has done is put the process online, strengthen its rigor and validity and allow it to be taken to scale for thousands of people. Imagine a portfolio assessment process that integrates all the formal and informal learning you have done along with your experiential learning into a single portfolio. You now have a way to track your learning throughout life, drawing on its value explicitly as life’s demands evolve. And, again, the OCWC offerings, or iTunes University become the raw material for learning that can be documented later, and validated by other experts.
These four examples are the tip of an iceberg of innovation that will be revealed over the next few years. They challenge the economics, the academic assumptions, and the organizational structure of most colleges and universities. As Jeff Selingo asks “Where Will the Innovation Begin?” in the October 21 Chronicle ofHigher Education, I answer, “Everywhere”.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Where’s The Innovation? Part 2

Where’s The Innovation? Part 2  
Since 1970, there has been a steady progression of alternative forms of higher education, different ways of assessing learning, and efforts to improve the portability of educational credentials throughout life. So, when Jeff Selingo asks “Where Will the Innovation Begin?” in his Chronicle of Higher Education article on October 21st, the story of these reforms and their collective impact can be seen as a cautionary tale.  Collectively, they give the lie to any assertion that change is not possible. What their existence illuminates, precisely because they have not been duplicated in any serious way, is the quality and durability of the resistance to serious change inherent in our historic “system” of higher education.
RioSalado Community College (RSCC) and The Community College of Vermont (CCV). Established in the mid-‘70s by the visionary Paul Elsner as a stand-alone institution in the Maricopa county community college district, RSCC has operated for over thirty years through learning centers and as a non-campus institution. Drawing the vast majority of their faculty from form the part-time ranks and focusing on technology-enhanced delivery and learning outcomes, RSCC is an educational and economic model there to be duplicated. Equally so, the Community College of Vermont. Operating online and through learning centers strategically placed around rural Vermont to enhance access, and drawing on part-time faculty for their teaching, CCV now serves more Vermonters every year than any other institution in the state. And with a pipeline to the Vermont State Colleges External Baccalaureate Degree program, any Vermont adult can negotiate their way to a BA without quitting work or substantially altering their way of life.
ThomasEdison State College (TESC) and Excelsior College (EC). These are not only fully accredited colleges, but they share an important distinction. They are both “transcribing” colleges, committed, as is WesternGovernor’s University, to giving each learner as much advanced placement (credit awarded towards the attainment of the degree) as he or she can successfully claim through testing or other ways of validating the learning.  For example, they will accept CLEP test credit, Serviceman’sOpportunity College credit, and ACE-validated credit as well as using portfolios to validate experiential learning. These “learning and learner-friendly” policies and programs are there to be duplicated. They are cost-effective, efficient and great education practice. And yet, many other institutions still largely ignore their model and their practices because they lie outside the conventional mainstream of traditional higher education.
KaplanUniversity (KU) and The University of Maryland University College (UMUC). Although newer on the scene than the institutions mentioned above, KU and UMUC make the case, in both the proprietary and non-profit world, for robust, scalable high quality online programs with learning centers at the BA and MA levels. UMUC offers a global outreach, offering online programs in dozens of countries. And, while a unit of the University of Maryland, they operate independently in terms of academic decision-making and decisions like tenure, which they do not offer. KU exhibits a nimbleness and flexibility, both in program and policy that allows them to stay up with market changes on the one hand while improving student services and support on the other. So, as the learning outcomes movement has gained credence and velocity recently, KU was able to re-design all of their courses to include course-level learning outcomes in both professional, general studies, and liberal arts areas. Although it is true that there is more and more on-line learning, too often it is offered piece-meal, as an expensive extra instead of as a core offering. And using the consistency which media-based learning provides to gather metrics on the learning and teaching going on is an even rarer event.
These six examples are intended to do one thing: illustrate the range (and this is only a small sample) of innovations already in play and proven in America today. They are there for all to see and use as they look into amending their models and trying different innovative practices to solve budgetary or educational effectiveness problems. Next week, I will write about some emerging innovations which have the capacity to actually disrupt the higher education landscape from one of campus-constrained scarcity to community-based abundance.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Where’s the Innovation? Part 1

Where’s the Innovation? Part 1

In an article for The Chronicle of Higher Education published October 21st, Jeff Selingo raises the urgent and important question, “Where Will Innovation Begin?” And, in his conclusion, he asks for feedback and examples. In my next three blogs, I will discuss, with examples, the obstacles faced by existing institutions when they try to innovate, where innovation has already begun and where innovation will come from in the future.
Credit to Selingo for raising the question and offering a good example in the very interesting new institution Harrisburg State Technical University in Harrisburg, Pa. And further credit for suggesting four areas, including price and tenure,where innovation is needed. Although it is too soon to know for sure, I agree with his argument that the top 100 institutions don’t have much to worry about (although it may be a few more than that), the lowest 100 will go out of business or get bought (actually I think it will be more than that), and that all those in between that must change or die.
Beyond that, however, I think his analysis lacks context, failing to include the reasons why higher education needs to produce dramatically better attainment; while his field of vision is too narrow, focusing as it does on existing institutions and the innovations that they can make.  All the analysis that I have seen, most recently a presentation by Jim Appleberry of the Lumina Foundation at the President’s Forum meeting on October 13th, suggests that even with vastly improved performance, the traditional higher education system cannot, alone, meet the goals of the Obama administration. The long term consequences of this failure include both a weakened economy and an increasing earnings gap. So, there is a social and economic imperative here that must be put at the heart of any discussion regarding innovation in higher education. This means that we need our existing institutions  to innovate and improve, but we also need entirely new models, both proprietary and non-profit to meet the goals for employment and prosperity that we have set.
In his theory of “disruptive innovation”, Clayton Christiansen describes the economic nature of resistance to change. In higher education terms, it might sound like this. “Why should I admit students who are not my historic  alumni body, charge them less and move them through faster, while offering them pathways that are not like the pathways I currently have established?” Put another way, why would someone jeopardize their existing largely successful model for an expensive unknown that might lose them money while alienating their faculty and alumni. Good question.  Then add unions, tenure, research, and a commitment to the semester/quarter system and you have a morass that is virtually impenetrable.
Change in this type of environment will not come through exhortation. Indeed, it will only come through firm and continuing leveraging by traditional bystanders to the higher education process, like employers, parents, and students of all ages.  Otherwise, the “iron triangle” of higher education finance will continue to operate, driving tuition's up as other sources of revenue stagnate or decline.
What makes this moment in time so compelling is that, just as we see the need for a vastly better educated citizenry, the tools to do just that have been revolutionized by the web. For the first time, the tools to drive change and improve learning lie beyond the scope and the control of the academy, in the community which surrounds it. So, for the first time in our history, colleges and universities do not control either the conversation or the drive to innovate. As a consequence, also for the first time, if they stand still, they will be left behind, bobbing in the wake of rapid change.
So, Selengo is correct, both in his question and his initial answers. But there is much more both in the problem and the solutions than his article implies.   Next week I will write about several institutions, many of which have been around for 30 years or more which illustrate, by their very example, that change is possible within the non-profit as well as the for-profit sector. I will also describe some of the obstacles they continue to face as they try to serve 21st century learners. And in my third blog, I will describe totally new, wildly innovative institutions and efforts that presage an entirely different future for our understanding of where higher education comes from, how it will operate, and what it might look like. Please stay tuned.