I like the infographic (see below) “How the Internet is Revolutionizing Education.” It presents an interesting timeline of developments in educational delivery and provides a handy reminder of some things that I’ve forgotten with regard to trends and current industry buzz. And yes, education in all its forms is an industry and has its buzz.
First, looking at the history of distance learning and non-traditional (i.e., non-lecture/classroom) modes of content delivery, writers rarely admit anything that comes before television. Frankly, I never see radio mentioned. Maybe that’s because to most, television is the first “modern” technology. But, that said, there is a long tradition (Boston, 1728) of correspondence education that rises through the Victorian Era (University of London, 1858) that seems important in laying the groundwork of several notable non-residential K-12 programs and even, I suspect, to the acceptance of modern online universities. Perhaps not surprisingly, the British Open University is the first school on the graphic to enter the fray in the early 1970s using television as its primary mode of disseminating lectures to the masses. Funny how television never really materialized as a great training tool. In retrospect, is that surprising?
This is the first of my jogged memories from the chart:
The UO (as it is known) makes perfect sense to me but when it was tried in the US it failed miserably (not so in the UK). You can read about it here. For those of you wondering, the flip side is also true in my case: Schools like the University of Phoenix (as they currently exist) do not make perfect sense to me and yet they are thriving in the US (scroll down the chart a bit), educational bubble notwithstanding. So much for my role as an industry pundit. In ancient times I would have been stoned to death.
Overall this graphic fosters a meme that I consider somewhat dubious: the Internet is changing the way we learn. I think you have to be careful with this one. First and foremost it is probably not the case that we are learning any differently than our forefathers. It is probably the case that we utilize new and different methods for obtaining information, gathering the rudiments of new skills and assessing our mastery of a subject or topic. But beyond that the need for engagement, practice, recall and synthesis seem to be standard among members of our species. As an example of some old wine in a new bottle masquerading as a new instructional form witness the Khan Academy. Is the actual process of learning – that is, the embedding of new knowledge or skills – any different here? Does it have to be to be important? This brings me to the second reminder:
Given the explosion in alternate forms of content delivery, I don’t know anyone who would go to a traditional college or classroom as a first choice.
Isn’t that odd? I have to confess, if I had to bone up on linear algebra or differential equations, say, I’d go to the Khan Academy (note mathematics as the example) or the Open Courseware Consortium, not to the local college. What’s that tell you about: a) my prior experience at university, b) the reputation of quality of American higher/continued education, c) the role of technology in my lifestyle, d) my lifestyle, e) the cost and accessibility of higher/continued education in America, f) the fact that too many of us have (had to) become consumer-oriented with regard to our learning (in contrast to our “certification”). Take your pick.
Interestingly, given the apparent rise of e-learning since 1999, you would think that we have a viable alternative to instructor-lead training in online web-based tutorials. On the whole nothing could be farther from the truth. Sadly, even though traditional classroom instruction might be foundering as designers search for compelling new forms to save live presentations, it’s hard to find evidence that e-learning as a genre ever succeeded in a big way. Taken as a whole completion rates for online courses are and have been deplorable, levels of engagement minimal (possibly explaining the previous point), and even when they are completed online courses don’t often meet educational objectives except in the most superficial ways when compared to control groups. E-learning does have some notable traits that distinguish it in the pantheon of educational delivery methods: it is a cost-effective way to broadcast information to a population that might have geographical and temporal constraints; and, it does drive consumers to virtual and brick-and-mortar classrooms when provided as an option.
Frankly, if I were saddled with the task of saving e-learning, I would go to YouTube.
Maybe what that says is that even though Television failed as an educational panacea in the early days of distance learning, Son of Television is back, bigger and better than ever before. But does any of this change what I have to do to learn linear algebra? Enough said.