Education hasn’t seen true disruption. Yet.

For the first 10 years of “fairly common internet usage,” newspapers were fine.

There was email. There was AOL. There was instant messenger. There were even some news sites.

But for news, the local newspaper still provided a better product than the others.

Last weekend, my wife and I signed up for a six-week newspaper deal at one of those community festivals where you can get insurance quotes, sno cones, and hours of bounce house fun for the kids.  And as I flipped through the paper this week, I couldn’t help but wish I could scroll through a list of headlines and click on the ones of interest.

At some point, the internet won. Once I had a Twitter feed, Facebook, and push notifications, most of the news I wanted found me. Anything else could be found in seconds.

Personalized. Immediate. Convenient. The internet became the better product.

Higher education has faced technology-driven change, but the real disruption is yet to come.

When the choice is either an online classroom that includes lectures and discussion board posts or an in-person lecture and classroom discussion, the in-person option still wins for a number of people. If online is simply a mirror of in-person but a little less personal and a little more convenient, it’s not a clear winner.

But a new form of education is on its way. Predictive, responsive, technology-driven learning will suddenly make a classroom seem antiquated. Why sit in a lecture with 40 students all at different levels of understanding when I can move through a focused, personalized, adaptive curriculum at my own pace?

Universities and colleges can choose to integrate new technology now and create a radical, dynamic, personalized learning environment, or they can wait and insist that in person lectures are better than online videos. There’s an opportunity. And there’s still a window.

When I worked in newspapers, our publisher frequently compared newspapers to the railroad industry. He said if rail lines had realized they were in the transportation business, not the engine and track business, we’d have BNSF and Union Pacific airlines today. Likewise, newspapers had to decide if they were in the information business or the paper business.

What about education?

2 responses to “Education hasn’t seen true disruption. Yet.”

  1. “Why sit in a lecture with 40 students all at different levels of understanding when I can move through a focused, personalized, adaptive curriculum at my own pace?” Are you creating a straw man? 1) Learning is not only about the individual and his or her own preferences, 2) not all classrooms are lecture, and 3) there is much to be gained from f2f interaction with others. Might your approach be as limiting as the one you criticize?

    1. I agree with you, Kay, about the diversity of learning environments on a college campus (not necessarily about the straw man!).

      Disruptive innovation typically focuses on one piece – low hanging fruit ready for change – not the whole. The viability of large lecture courses impacts the viability of the entire enterprise.

      Deep learning usually happens when students are faced with new information that demands altering their conceptual frameworks or adjusting how they see the world. That happens best in those settings where a professor knows the class, can engage them in big questions or problems, and gives them the opportunity to discuss, wrestle with ideas, and create new solutions and projects together. That’s hard to do online.

      However, most colleges have both. They support the “rich” learning environments with some larger, lecture-based classes. That kind of environment may happen better online, where the learning can be individualized (immediate feedback, explore areas you know less, move quickly in areas you know well, self-paced). What happens when a campus can no longer subsidize the resource-intensive, face-to-face classes with the larger “cash-cows” that are easier on budgets and classroom space?

      I believe campuses need to look at both – deep learning in a face-to-face setting, and personalized learning enhanced by technology.

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