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.