“The Future of…” – Three Contrasting Views



At some point in the fall I have to dust off my crystal ball for a presentation on ‘the future of LMS’ (yikes!) so I’ve been keeping my eye on various ‘Future of…’ presentations of late, and recently came across these two.

The first, a report by Kineo and Intel, promises to be on the “Future of E-learning in Universities.” While it looked promising, I found it ultimately pretty disappointing; fairly safe predictions on a very near future in which universities plod down the same CMS/VLE path of elearning with a little wireless thrown in for good measure. It’s likely pretty accurate in the 2-3 year range, but uninspiring at best.

More interesting to me is the piece by Morton Egol in the latest Educause Review titled “The Future of Higher Education.” While comparing these two articles is maybe a bit of apples-to-oranges, the vision he presents of “Community Learning Centres” is for me a far more interesting one to contemplate and seems to fit much better with some of the dissatisfactions with current models that I regularly hear grumbled in the edublogosphere. Undoubtedly many will be troubled with the vision of corporate entities entering the formerly public space of education, but (at least in the US and perhaps elsewhere) this burgeoning reality does need to be engaged with, as does the notion that K-12 represents a competitive threat to higher education. What!?! The argument goes that in the new model, “that with self-paced learning, thirteen years (K-12), including internships, provide ample learning to qualify for entry-level positions.” If it seems unlikely, maybe contemplate the phenomenom of kids jumping from high school directly into professional athletics, which 25 years ago was unheard of. I heard a similar notion almost 10 years ago by the president of Mount Royal College who described the greatest threat to the College as not the neighboring colleges and universities but large corporate entities and commercial certification bodies that would take students direclty from high school and train them in the workforce.

Which brings me finally to the prognostication which I’ve recently enjoyed most, John Seely Brown and Paul Duguid’s Social Life of Information which I revisted over my holiday. I wanted to go back to the final chapter on ‘Re-Education’ (an earlier version of which can be found on the web in this paper titled ‘Universities in the Digital Age.‘) While the book is now 6 years old, I think much of it holds up well, and the message (summed up by one reviewer as “it’s the people, stupid”), especially in the education chapter, challenges the predominant “informational” picture of learning with a social one, tries to preserve the positive aspects of the university while asking what new forms ‘degree granting bodies’ could take, and I think also resonates really well with many of the dissatisfactions with the status quo apparent in the edublogosphere.

The caveats at the end of the chapter are well worth noting – it is entirely possible that higher ed institutions will prove to have more staying power than any of us could predict and survive the current digital revolution largely intact. But somehow this seems unlikely. For a while I’ve been carrying around the question of “what would a post-secondary institution that took seriously the disruptions poised by social software and emerging visions of learning (and the mass amaturization of everything) look like?” But after re-reading this book I’m wondering if I’ve framed that wrong; maybe the question is “how can we preserve the positive aspects of how higher education currently creates and shares knowledge while designing learning technologies that compliment, improve and expand that social formation?” – SWL

“The Future of…” – Three Contrasting Views