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.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

What Employers Want from Higher Education 2

What Employers Want from Higher Education 2: public policy that supports better teaching and learning.
There is a rising tide of concern that the post secondary enterprise is becoming too expensive while under-performing its core function: effective teaching and learning at the undergraduate level. All of this in a time when financial resources are declining with no apparent end in sight. While there is great hope in certain academic policy efforts currently in development (the Lumina Degree Qualification Framework being one such example), public policy, especially state policy, needs to change as well. There are several things that state policy makers can do to facilitate a more effective, efficient, and qualitative higher education system in their jurisdictions.
1. Aspiration and attainment. Identify what it is that learners are coming to school to achieve and measure their attainment and satisfaction in achieving that goal. Too often, we don't know what learners want and, within that cycle, too often they don't know what they want or the implications of course and program choices that they make. These two questions, "why are you here?" and "did you get what you came for?", would allow policy makers and stewards of quality far deeper insight into the quality and effectiveness of the different parts of the higher education community in terms of what really matters, student attainment.
2. Make all college courses credit bearing and certificate or degree oriented. Many learners, young and old, come to post secondary education unprepared to do the work at the level required for success. But when we remediate them by taking them out of degree tracks and putting them in non-credit bearing remedial courses we are making two mistakes. First by taking them out of the degree track, we are costing them time and money, making it more likely they will drop out. Second, by remediating a whole course, such as Algebra 1, we are potentially asking them to cover topics they already know and understand instead of focusing in on the specific things that they don't know. By integrating adaptive elements into the regular curriculum, we can assure that learners proceed at their own pace, and that they get the support they need to practice the things they do not understand or cannot perform as those moments arise, a far better pedagogical technique.
3. Determining specifically what we want to buy with our post secondary investments. If institutions have multiple mission components, it is far more difficult for policy makers to hold them accountable. If, for example, we want to buy teaching and learning that leads to certificates and degrees, then we can evaluate effectiveness and attainment within that context. If climbing walls or fancy student centers fall outside of that priority, he institutions will have to either identify other sources of money or pay for those services with user fees. And, correspondingly, if research is critical, other sources of money will be identified to pay for that function as well.
4. Transfer and Articulation. The loss of time, money, and recognized learning in the transfer and articulation process is a blight on student progress and a  driver of the higher costs of higher education as well as longer time to attainment, whether it is a degree or a certificate. Employers want to know what their employees know and are able to do and they want to get a good return on the money they spend to develop their work force professionally and personally. Public policy that requires accurate articulation and transfer within and among institutions of higher education is an important step forward. And asking businesses to require that institutions who do their professional development must count the credit given towards attainment standards - certificates and degrees.

The walls between business and learning are coming down. And the tools are at hand to provide better, more effective and efficient learning at lower costs in a wide variety of settings. There are challenges to realize the potential of these tools, but changing policies in the ways suggested above would incentivize better higher education in a time of lean resources. Importantly, serious business groups, such as The Committee for Economic Development (CED), are looking hard at these issues and preparing recommendations to bring the business community to the table in the months ahead.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

What Employers Want from Higher Education 1: Effectiveness with Quality

For years, we have tracked the academic curriculum, created by faculty, to the needs of the workplace using advisory committees and other mechanisms to "be responsive" to the needs of employers. There has, however, been little or no progress in tracking the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed at work back to the institution and actually building the curriculum around them.
Thee are several reasons for this. First, it has been argued that there is a dichotomy between skills needed for work and the intellectual benefits derived from a general or liberal arts education. I believe that is a false dichotomy, articulated by people who believe that the liberal arts or general education is content defined, not defined by the possession of demonstrable higher order thinking, reasoning, writing and quantification capabilities. Indeed today we know that we can integrate learning outcomes that measure critical thinking with more professional outcomes that measure the hard skills needed in a particular occupation. And the hard and soft skill requirements for most occupations and professions have been defined.
Second, tied closely to the first assumption is another: that doing so lowers standards and, therefore, academic quality. But we know now that both can be integrated in the same course curriculum. And, using learning outcomes and rubrics that assure consistency across multiple sections, we can develop metrics which guide us to course improvement, teaching improvement, and student performance improvement simultaneously.
These enhanced capacities have big implications for employers and workplace-referenced post-secondary education. They also, therefore, have similar implications for traditionally organized post secondary education institutions. They create, for the first time, a way to build curriculum around the hard and soft skills required to do a job well and then place that curriculum in an outcomes degree framework, like the Lumina Degree Qualifications Framework, organized by hierarchy of competence in both skill and cognitive areas. And they invite drawing a direct connection between ability to perform in the workplace and the assignment of academic value for that performance.
Technology adds a third "energizing" component to this mix. It gives us the capacity to do gap analyses between learners' skill and knowledge profiles, job skill and knowledge profiles, and course content skill and knowledge profiles. This three way gap analysis defines at a far more granular level what a learner (or employee) already knows and what they have to learn in order to perform well on day one. And it also lays the groundwork for understanding what the curriculum is actually organized to teach and what it is not.
The implications for tying work to post secondary education in a far more efficient manner while defining and enhancing the standards for quality in learning achievement are enormous. When the working place becomes a learning place as well, the odds of certificates and degrees reflecting the intellectual and skill levels needed for the jobs in question will go way up.

Next Week: What Employers Want from Higher Education 2: public policy that supports better teaching and learning.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

You Don’t Need a Weatherman…

You Don’t Need a Weatherman….
Early in the last decade, Roger Benjamin and his associates at the Council for the Aid of Education (CAE) developed the Collegiate LearningAssessment (CLA) which, along with the National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) and other instruments subsequently developed, has dramatically re-drawn the assessment landscape from a predominant focus on multiple choice and high-stakes approaches. Among other characteristics, the CLA’s attractiveness stems from reliability, affordability, and comparability; all from an independent and validated third party source. Perhaps most interesting, to me at least, is the assessment’s scope. It gets directly at the value-added in cross-cutting intellectual areas that heretofore have gone unmeasured, like critical thinking.
To be candid, we live in an educational world where our understanding of quality is dominated by the status model and the reputation of America’s top historic universities. But the rest of us, the other 95% where most of the work is done and the societal challenge for equity through education is joined, need this type of measure to validate our qualitative contributions. As we move towards learning outcomes in higher education, having good, independent measures will encourage us – traditional and innovative institutions alike – to focus on quality that can be demonstrated so that our learners and our policy-makers can be confident in the investment they are making.
Now, along comes another tool of disruptive innovation, the Individual, Student-based CLA. Benjamin and his team are at it again. Imagine a learner being able to assemble their personal learning plan (with or without expert assistance), engage with open education resources (or any other resource for that matter), and then assess their learning growth once or twice each year with the individual, student-based CLA. Now, as a learner I have in my portfolio not only the courses and experiences that I have engaged in and the products that I have produced as evidence of ability to apply what I know, but also an independent, valid, and reliable assessment stream that charts my growth, or value-added in the cross-cutting intellectual areas measured.
In my estimation, this development, the Individual, Student-based CLA, is the tip of an iceberg that brings valid and rigorous assessment away from the major corporations and universities and puts it in the learner’s tool box. The implications for scale with consistency and quality where it matters most – learning outcomes – are enormous. And the consequences for those of us who want to be part of the value-add that is higher education throughout life, include a required re-thinking of what we add to the proposition.
The last three blogs, under the title “You Don’t Need aWeatherman…” have attempted to suggest that the web and web-enabled technologies as well as related developments, have and will continue to disrupt the traditional model of higher education in every manner possible. They signify the “game-changing” capacity that is now available to virtually everyone. And while I cannot predict the rate of change or the pace of acceptance, I am certain that the future, while inclusive of college degrees and certificates, also includes multiple learning modalities and an understanding that any recognition of learning is but one marker on the long term pathway and management of a lifelong learning plan. 


Wednesday, September 28, 2011

You Don’t Need a Weatherman…..

You Don’t Need a Weatherman…..     
I recently sat in a policy discussion where people were chewing on what the next “moon shot” or “game-changer” in higher education was going to be. While there was general consensus that “moon shots” were over-rated and rarely worked, I was puzzled that there was less consensus about the “game-changer”, which I took it as a form of denial. The next game-changers are already with us and they are both transformative and disruptive. They are the web and web-enabled technology. In plain terms, these game-changers rob the university of its historical function of knowledge creation and dissemination precisely because they lie beyond the university’s reach, embedded in the larger surrounding society. And they simultaneously pierce the access, learning support, and employment guidance functions that the university historically has controlled. For the first time, universities do not control their own futures any more than do publishers and newspapers.
Here’s an example. Anya Kamenetz, whose DIY U, caught so many peoples’ attention, recently published a follow-up work, The Edupunk’sGuide to Certificates. The Guide is organized in a sequence of steps that a self-directed learner can take to understand where they are, how they learn, and how to chart and follow a learning path that they select for themselves. The Guide’s organizational structure rests on dozens of urls, apps, and programs that already exist to support learning and its validation in multiple forms at every step in the self-directed learning process. And soon enough, someone will produce a software version of the Guide and then other versions as well. It is a simple matter to imagine a variety of approaches following this general scenario with varying levels of support, guidance, and control.  
In fact, a working early-stage model of such a platform exists at KNEXT. When self-directed learners access the platform, they can reflect of what they know, what they want to know, and look at simulated degree programs and educational pathways based on where their journey is going to take them. They can also organize all the learning they have done, formal as well as informal, in a portfolio organized to place them clearly on their learning path, standing with their learning history and looking forward to their learning future. And finally, if they want to get a third party assessment of the academic value of their accumulated learning, that is available as well. In short, there is activity across the entire spectrum of learning, from pre-engineered and self-paced to open sourced and self-directed with more conventional models in between. All are enhanced and scalable as never before by the web and web-enabled technology.
What we are verging on with these developments is what I call a new “pedagogy of learning”. While this may seem like a confusion of terms to some (and I readily concede that there may be better language to describe what I see), I see that actual engagement with knowledge – what I know and am able to do and what I want to know and be able to do – and associated reflection and assessment is a teaching-learning strategy in and of itself. If reflection is the process of deducing meaning from broad experience, then the act of planning, implementing, engaging, and evaluating your learning, however you conduct it, is a pedagogical exercise that can be joined and supported by peers and experts alike.
Perhaps most exciting, this approach to learning also prepares the learner for life in the knowledge economy and information society that is so much discussed these days. The actual exercise and activity of learning becomes the personal laboratory for the learner, strengthening their abilities to synthesize and think critically, write and analyze, distinguish reliable from faulty information as an integrated part of their educational journey. It is the ultimate engaged learning experience, done right.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

You Don’t Need a Weatherman…

You Don’t Need a Weatherman
As the old Bob Dylan song lyrics told us back in the ‘60’s, “You don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowin’”. And, as I listen in on the policy conversations and read the blogs and chats today about disruptive forces in higher education, I get that feeling all over again. Too many people, good and earnest people, think the future of higher education and change is negotiable. My strong belief, stated bluntly, is that when it comes to disruptive change in American society generally and higher education more specifically, it is not negotiable. Or, referencing Dylan, you don’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing.
The denial can be comprehensive. For example, some people ask, somewhat defensively, whether disrupters can meet all of the market’s needs. Respectfully, in an environment when we need to increase the college attainment rate by 75-100% over the next 10 years, that is the wrong question. It will take years for the value proposition behind the traditional model to be significantly compromised. And it will probably never happen completely. Other innovations will allow traditional colleges and universities to adapt and change and survive. Having said that, the challenge of educating those who have been failed by the system to date, will not be met by the traditional sectors and models alone. In short, what got us where we are won’t get us where we need to go.
As new inventions emerge to shape and support learning in unforeseen ways, however, a new balance between old and new will emerge. And the collective impact of these disruptive activities on the academic value proposition among “alternative providers” is impossible to predict. In short, cannot predict the future shape of learning and learning support any more than Justin Morrill could have predicted the shape of land grant universities in America today. I do believe, however, that it is practical and possible to predict that, over the next 10-15 years, good, then better, and then best practices will emerge and be embraced. Quality will be defined and embraced. I also believe that cost/price structures will change while users’ behaviors will continue to evolve based on further IT and software developments in the broad society. Ultimately that is a chilly north wind for the traditional higher education model.
Then comes the tornado. There is a traditional response in the academy to change: hunker down and out-wait it. Hide in the cellar. The problem this time is that the academy, collectively and individually, does not control the change than the family in the storm shelter controls the tornado. So the traditional academic and economic model is not in charge of and does not control in fundamental ways the future in which they will live. This is unprecedented. And the consequences include that “waiting it out” will only lead to a bigger gap between practice and promise down the line. We cannot channel disruption, but if we are adroit and tenacious, we just might be able to surf it the way board riders catch wave after wave.
And finally comes the soft summer breeze. What technology and disruption will give us is unparalleled consistency and personalization in a multi-dimensional and mobile environment. We will be able to customize, adapt, and respond to the expressed needs of learners in a learning-centric environment. On-line seminars and self-paced instructional models will be two of many choices, not the main stream. And consistent learning outcomes will allow multiple forms of pedagogy towards the same end.
As an educator, what excites me about this trend, however unknowable the ultimate “destination” remains, is the potential it contains. The potential, among other things, to combine liberal with career-oriented learning, to integrate knowing a lot about selected areas of knowledge with refined higher order intellectual capacities like team-work, ethical thinking, problem-solving, critical thinking, to focus on learning, not teaching. So, consistency of learning outcomes actually can permit far more comprehensive reflection about what is being learned if we are smart about it.
These are just a few of the myriad possibilities that are available in the emerging “learning” space of high education, enabled by disruptive forces. My core point, however, is that the direction is set, the wind is blowing.  

Friday, September 9, 2011

Blog - the frog and the scorpion

Blog -  the frog and the scorpion        
There is the old story of the frog and the scorpion. It goes like this. There is a wide river and the scorpion, needing to cross to the other side but not knowing how to swim approaches a very hesitant frog. Will you let me ride on your head as you cross this river?” asks the scorpion. “But why, Mr. Scorpion, should I trust that you won’t sting me when we get to the other side?” asked the frog. “Because”, said the scorpion, I give you my word and also, if there are threats en route, I can scare them away, assuring your safe passage”.
The frog agreed, with some trepidation, to carry the scorpion and they set out. Once or twice along the way, they were approached by a fish or a diving bird of prey, but in both cases the scorpion scared them away. Eventually they neared the other side of the river and, as the frog carried the scorpion out of the water, the scorpion jumped down and promptly stung the frog. Mortally wounded, the frog moaned, “Why did you sting me? We had an agreement.” And the scorpion replied, “Because that’s what scorpions do.”
Granted, the imagery may be a little extreme. But I see that “frog” of higher education being seduced and then stung by the twin foes of performance distortion and academic tradition. This is happening exactly when higher education needs to break free of the damaging aspects of tradition and develop new forms to educate the learners on the 21st century in the numbers, at the levels, and at a price that society and individuals can afford.
In this week’s Chronicle of Higher Education innovation section, Richard Vedder blogs about the “scandal” of having between 40-50% of all Pell recipients graduate. And he opines that the more Pell recipients there are in an institution, the lower the graduation rate, thus blithely skipping by a) the whole reason Pell grants were instituted (to provide financial support to poor students needing financial grant assistance) and b) the known fact that children (and adults) from more affluent families do better  and receive higher allocations of resources in higher education than those who are 1st generation college-goers. Furthermore, he ignores the important fact that even some success in higher education without the award of a degree is better than none at all when it comes to economic participation in the society.
In last week’s blog, ………, I discussed at some length the emerging data on what tuition really pays for and the “back room” economics of higher educational institutions that bear, in too many cases, little connection to the actual costs of teaching.
In this case, the “scorpion’s bite” lies in the law of unintended consequences. The tack that Vedder has taken in his recent blog, and the drag of the traditional higher education economic model on the need to provide higher quality, lower cost learning opportunities, is that each points the country, its quality of civic and social life, and its workforce in the wrong direction, towards 2nd class citizenship in an increasingly global and information-driven economy. Even as it is unintended, this sting is, ultimately, just as problematic.
The conversation we need is about quality, effectiveness, and efficiency. Currently that  conversation being driven by, among others, the Gates Foundation with its work in metrics and the Lumina foundation with its Degree Qualifications framework organized around learning outcomes. When those conversations can be merged with the power of the Open Education Resource movement and emerging socially net-worked support services, we will be on a revolutionary cusp of a new education age. Our focus must be forward and upward to success for many more learners with the capacity to succeed.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

When the Tide Goes Out

When the Tide Goes Out  
In their recent article, “The Debt Crisis at American Colleges” published in The Atlantic Online (8/23/11) and drawn from their book, Higher Education?,  Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus strip away the camouflage that covers up the reasons for the dramatic increases in college tuition and costs over the last 20 years. They reveal an assumptive arrangement in which students (and their parents) pay for the research agenda and myriad other hidden costs that have little or nothing to do with the actual teaching and learning enterprise they think they are enrolling to get. Furthermore,  the authors calculate and introduce into the equation the massive loan debt that accumulates as a consequence, beggaring future generations and weakening the economy.  I addressed this issue in passing in Harnessing America’s Wasted Talent, but Hacker and Dreifus really hit the ball out of the park.
I have heard it said that …”it is only when the tide goes out that you see who isn’t wearing a bathing suit”. And the current economic situation with downward pressure on Pell grants, dropping state appropriations, sagging endowments for those lucky enough to have them, and massive unemployment certainly qualifies as “the tide going out”. Here’s what the “no bathing suit” picture looks like.
Institutions, which for years have raised tuition by the approximate or exact amount of increases in state and federal student aid programs, are caught short with artificially high costs and equally high tuition relative to their sectors. And the learners who for years had only incrementally increasing out-of-pocket costs thanks to the same increases in financial aid and loan availability are now squarely under the gun to meet rising tuition costs with higher personal debt. For the institutions, further tuition increases are the only tool left in the traditional toolbox.
As the article closes, Hacker and Dreifus offer several suggestions about “what you should do” for students and parents going forward. And correctly, they give examples of community college – state university articulation paths and great, low cost campus programs that have escaped wider notice because of our infatuation with what Jane Wellman calls the “medallion” universities and colleges.  I would like to offer two additional suggestions that call on institutions to make changes in order to hold up their end of the bargain.
First, take a page out of Michael Crow’s playbook at Arizona State University. He is committed to dramatically increasing the student population without increasing the University’s footprint. How? By institutionalizing blended learning and requiring all undergraduates to take an increasing portion of their program on line.
Second, do what Kaplan University has done. Give new students the first 5 weeks free to see if they want to and are able to do the academic work required. Dismiss those that are failing or choose to withdraw and assign them to other avenues. And bill those who are engaged positively with the curriculum. This approach, the “Kaplan Commitment”, has cost the university a great deal of money. But it is the right thing to do and has led to a significant increase in academic quality.
I have heard others, usually from the public sector, say that they cannot afford to do this. Not accurate.  In fact, it will cost them less than it costs Kaplan because where our tuition constitutes 100% of the revenue, their tuition is net of other public appropriations. The traditional tool box, and the assumptions within it, need changing. Thanks to Hacker and Dreifus for getting this argument aired in public.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Using IT to increase educational effectiveness 3: Personalized services

Using IT to increase educational effectiveness 3: Personalized services

The KNEXT (Knowledge Extension) program is an online teacher-led or self-paced diagnostic program. Using a portfolio development approach with an independent third-party evaluation of credit claimed, KNEXT provides a comprehensive assessment of learning gleaned from prior life experience. Enrolled students are actively encouraged to make use of all prior learning – degrees and certificates earned, past college experience, professional seminars, and applicable work and life experience.
KNEXT is a form of pedagogy as well as a powerful diagnostic for the learner. Participants learn how to actively and consciously reflect on their experience defining the learning that has been generated by that experience.
In supporting learners in seeing anew what they know and where and how they learned it, the KNEXT process personalizes the degree planning and educational design process for each learner, transforming aspiration and motivation as a consequence. As a result, learners who complete the course enjoy three significant educational benefits.
First, they save time and money on their way to earning the degree. Data from the recent CAEL report, “Fueling the Race”, indicated that students who received credit through a prior learning portfolio process persisted to graduation within seven years at more than twice the rate of those who did not. Our data for KNEXT participants indicates a similarly favorable success ratio.
Second they perform significantly better than other students in the ensuing courses they take. As we track student performance inside Kaplan, KNEXT “graduates” consistently better in each course that they take subsequent to their portfolio completion.
And third, they persist to completion at significantly higher rates. In both CAEL report data and our internal data at KNEXT, students with portfolio assessment persist significantly longer than those who do not. Data gathered from over 1000 students who enrolled in the KNEXT assessment course indicate that more than 80% completed the course successfully, while more than 75% of those who enrolled in the course have either graduated from Kaplan or are still enrolled.
Historically, campus-based programs like KNEXT have been hamstrung by the available communication and information processing systems. There has been no way to scale the programs because of the volumes of accumulated information in each portfolio that could only be processed by hand. Put another way, logistics required that such programs be small and of a boutique nature.
Today, thanks to the tools available through technology and social networking, assessment of prior sponsored and non-sponsored learning can be done to scale with rigorous third party quality assurance. Furthermore, the student, with her portfolio, can then “shop” her transcript at any college electronically, dramatically reducing the time involved in finding out which credits will transfer and which will not at each institution. This technologically-enable approach is a major shift towards the student in pedagogy (active reflection), access (knowing college standards), and responsibility (shopping for the best college fit). 

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Using IT to increase educational effectiveness 2: Curricular Matrixing

Using IT to increase educational effectiveness 2: Curricular Matrixing
Our use of technology at Kaplan gives us the capacity to embed certain learning outcomes across the curriculum in a matrixed approach. So, in a single course experience, we can evaluate the student’s mastery of the substance of the course. We can also, however, evaluate other knowledge development such as writing, team-work, or critical thinking as well.
For example, General Education at Kaplan is taught through a core curriculum of six courses with other outcomes distributed throughout the undergraduate curriculum. The overall program goal is for the student to be literate and knowledgeable in the following nine areas.
  • ·         Arts and Humanities
  • ·         Communication
  • ·         Critical Thinking
  • ·         Ethics
  • ·         Mathematics
  • ·         Research and Information
  • ·         Science

The distribution of outcomes allows us to “double up” the learning in our undergraduate courses, getting added value for the learner and increased effectiveness and efficiency for the institution. In this approach, the vast majority of courses contain a communication course outcome, key to our writing across the curriculum approach. All required courses also contain course outcomes in Critical Thinking, Ethics, or Research and Information, while elective courses contain evenly distributed course outcomes in Arts and Humanities, Mathematics, Science, or Social Science. Technological literacy is reinforced throughout a student’s program.
As mentioned above, this method provides several other advantages including:
  • ·         Centrally managed curriculum ensuring consistent learning objective distribution,
  • ·         Consistent course outcomes across course sections and faculty,
  • ·         Consistent faculty training on rubric use to ensure inter-rater reliability. And
  • ·         Universal learning objectives with common rubrics to evaluate student learning.

To date, we have conducted two studies on this approach.

In a 2009 cohort study, we used three courses in sequence, with all students remaining enrolled. We reviewed the percentage of students achieving “practiced” or higher in the communication outcome: demonstrate college-level communication through the composition of original materials in standard American English. Students achieving “practiced” or better increased from 76% in the first course to 85% in the third course, documenting steady improvement in core academic skills of students as they progress through courses.
In the 2010 ethics and communications study, the sample included 2581 BS in Psychology students learning at the 1-, 2-, and 400 levels. They were each assessed in ethics and communications. In ethics, the average scores on the 0-5 rubric scale for students were 2.72 (100 level), 3.54 (200 level), and 3.64 (400 level). In communications, the average scores improved from 3.20 (100 level), to 3.49 (200 level), to 3.54 (400 level). Our initial conclusions were that the general education program was resulting in documented student improvement of core general education skills in the areas of ethics and communications.
As students progress through their programs of study, their progress on achieving these outcomes is monitored. CLAs provide feedback to students, faculty, and administration about specific knowledge and skills acquired by a student during the course of his or her education. We use this feedback to improve the quality of our courses and to support our faculty’s ability to improve the proportion of students who achieve proficiency and mastery.
The ability to employ technology to matrix learning outcomes within a single learning experience also has implications for reducing the time and cost to degree without reducing learning. If, for example, the outcomes embedded across the curriculum amounted to the equivalent of 45 quarter credits, we could consider increasing the credit award per course and decreasing the number of courses required for graduation. For a real-life example of this kind of “degree-shortening”, see Southern New Hampshire University’s three-year, 90 semester credit hour Business Baccalaureate.
My thanks to colleagues Kara Van Dam , Jason Levin, and John Eads who conducted this research.  

Next Week’s blog: Using IT to increase educational effectiveness 3: Personalized services