On the Horizon for Education: Blended Learning, New Learning Spaces, OERs & Cross-Institutional Collaboration

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nmc.org

What’s on the horizon for education? What technologies and trends will drive changes in curriculum development and teaching in one, two or even three years? New Media Consortium’s latest Horizon Report (2015) written by an international team of educators, gives readers evidence and insights into how developments in education will (and are) influencing changes in teaching and learning. 

In last week’s post I discussed the report “Grade Level: Tracking Online Education in the United States” which presented data and analysis on participation trends in online education, MOOCs, as well as perceptions on the value and legitimacy of online learning. The news was rather dismal, quite depressing really. This report by New Media Consortium and EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative released this week, is not only more upbeat but is instructive and forward-thinking. It takes a different approach; it gives educators insights into trends and behaviour patterns in online and face-to-face education influenced by technology. The report is the result of a collaborative research effort where the panel worked in the ‘open’ via a public wiki where they shared, discussed and identified the education’s most pressing issues. The panel identified six trends, categorizing each by the level of challenge for implementation and time frame. (image below).

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Six trends identified in the 2015 NMC Horizon Report, pg. 2 via cdn,nmc.org

What the Blended Learning Trend Means for Educators and Institutions
I suggest the blended learning trend is the most significant and challenging. Blended learning has numerous definitions, though common to all is the concept of a student-focused education approach where learners access content, instruction/or and learning communities via the Web to augment or supplement education delivered in the classroom. Yet ten years from now, I predict that the concept of blended learning will fade away—not the learning approach but its description. The technology will become invisible. Learning won’t be classified as blended, or online, but just ‘learning‘. In the short-term however, there are barriers to overcome. Today the idea of using a web-enabled device and the web itself to replace or augment structured learning disrupts traditional practices of education— higher education and K-12. The NMC report suggests that in order for education institutions to adapt and respond effectively to educational tools and platforms, continuous visionary leadership is required. I agree. Integrating technology takes thoughtful planning, analyzing current practices, professional development and a supportive culture that embraces change.

Authors ranked blended learning into the ‘solvable’ category, as opposed to ‘difficult or ‘wicked‘; I rank blended learning as ‘difficult’ and though it is solvable, the challenge is the many dimensions of learning affected when integrating technological tools and methods that include: curriculum design, instructional delivery, professional development and training, IT services, policy development and infrastructure. Even the design of the physical classroom space and type of furnishings is impacted. The latter, ‘Redesigning Learning Spaces’ is another of the six trends identified in NMC’s report.

‘Advancing Cultures of Change and Innovation’ is another trend identified, yet it’s ranked long-term. I see a culture of change as necessary now—it’s essential to make the transitions and changes needed to deliver quality learning experiences.

All over the world, universities and colleges have been gradually rethinking how their organizations and infrastructures can be more agile. The thought is that if institutions are more flexible, they will be better able to support and promote entrepreneurial thinking — a long-term trend.  NMC Horizon Report, page 7

How Educators Can Prepare for Change
As our culture changes in response to technological innovations and economic shifts, institutions and educators (ideally) should adapt according. The NMC Horizon Report is a starting point for educators wanting to keep ahead of developments in education—to anticipate change, be proactive rather than reactive. This report is an essential read for educators, institution leaders, administrators, policymakers, and technologists who want to do just that.

References

Need-to-Know-News: What’s Trending Now and How it Affects Education

This ‘Need-to-Know’ blog post series features noteworthy stories that speak of need-to-know developments within higher education and K-12 that have the potential to influence, challenge and/or transform traditional education as we know it.

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Each year leaders, entrepreneurs, and analysts from a range of sectors, including technology, healthcare, and business closely analyze Mary Meeker’s Internet Trends report. I’m optimistic that many leaders within the education sector are part of this group and are analyzing Meeker’s ‘trends’ and considering the implications for their own institutions and the future of education in general.  Meeker is a former Wall Street analyst and partner in a venture capitalist firm, which contributes to her expansive research of global industries, insight and acumen that come together in her much-anticipated annual slideshare. It’s packed full of statistics and facts, and I’ve no doubt readers will find something of interest (Meeker’s full slideshare is below).

Meeker devotes a handful of her 164 slide presentation to education (#23 – 28). There’s not many surprises, yet the real value comes when considering where the education sector is now in light of what’s in the rest of the report.  I highlight three themes that may impact providers and educators working within higher education.

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Screenshot of slide 9 displaying chart of Global Mobile Usage

I. Mobile Computing is BIG:

  • Mobile computing continues to grow; fueled by decreasing costs of devices and internet access
  • People’s lives are entwined, virtually embedded in their mobile devices. Apps facilitate users to socialize, communicate, share, track physical activities, etc.
  • Mobile use expanding globally, led by Asia and Africa

Implications for education: Education institutions need to meet students on their mobile device, i.e. creating apps and a platforms that allow students to study, register for classes, communicate with tech, homework and other support 24/7  •  Opportunity exists to reach students in countries where education is inaccessible due to geography or cost • Delivering quality education on mobile platform, that is regionally specific and relevant, will be the next challenge for education institutions • Opportunities are endless, too many to mention in this brief post

II. Cybersecurity in the Spotlight:

  • Millions of resources, dollars will be invested by businesses, government, non-profit institutions, banking and more to combat the pressing and increasing threats to security of government intelligence, business, financial and personal data.

Implications for education: Who will prepare the next generation of workers needed to address Cybersecurity? •  Will our institutions be ready to educate students in diverse areas to address the challenges? • Programs of study that go beyond computer science, and expand to ethics, communication, law, computer science engineering, etc.

III. Tablet and Smartphone growth.

  • Laptop and desktop sales continue to decline—mobile device growth, both smart phone and tablets continue to rise globally.

Implications for education: Students will show up on campus, [and are already], with more than one device, putting demands on brick-and-mortar institutions’ infrastructure to support demand for bandwidth • Big opportunities [driven by student demand] for education institutions and educators to integrate, embed mobile device use in classroom and distance learning •  E-textbooks likely to take over hard cover texts within next few years, affecting how students interact with content • Increase in interaction with classmates, faculty, administrators, facilitated by mobile device and apps such as whatsapp, allowing for customized, personalized learning.

2. Three Trends in Non-Traditional Education

The American Council on Education’s (ACE), shared via its blog three trends specific to non-traditional students —a vast share of the higher education market. As per the blog post, Three Trends Worth Watching for Continuing Education Leaders on May 5, 2014:

I. Variable Wrap-Around Services and Flexible Tuition Models
Non-traditional students represent a wide range of sub-populations and their needs are as varied as their characteristics and experiences. There is no one size that fits all for these students, so institutions need to be flexible and innovative in serving them.

II. Analytics and Data-Driven Management
As more tools to measure all aspects of institutional performance become available, it’s increasingly possible for colleges and universities to use that data to improve student learning outcomes and improve decision-making. This trend will only grow as more performance measurement tools become available.

III.  Alternative Credentials
The four-year degree is the gold standard and will continue to be for some time…However, many new forms of non-degree credentials have emerged that may be helpful to many students in the current educational and economic contexts. Though most students will pursue associate or bachelor degrees, others now have the option to earn high-quality certificates with labor market value. Still other students may consider a series of highly specialized micro-credentials recognized by employers.

Implications for education: Non-traditional students are the primary driver of changes in higher education. MOOC growth for example, is not fueled by undergraduate-age students, but by working adults, professionals and educated individuals. Mature students continue to seek education and credentials for specific and job-related skill sets as technological advancements increase access and reduce costs. Institutions interested in serving this population, need to be ready with adequate support services and infrastructure.

3.  Zappos Ditches the Traditional Recruiting Method, the Job Posting

Zappos, an off-shoot of Amazon, embodies the new generation of workplaces; offering an offbeat work environment, unique culture, and way of doing business.

Now it’s turned recruiting upside down. Who needs traditional [and mundane]  job postings? Instead Zappos encourages potential applicants to become ‘insiders’, where the applicant, or real person as Zappos states, gets to know how the company works and the culture before even sending a resume, which is also now passé.

Screenshot  ZAPPOS web page, 'Insider FAQ' inviting potential applicants to become an 'Insider' and join a team.  It's  Zappos alternative to the 'careers' page on a company website.
Screenshot ZAPPOS web page inviting potential applicants to become an ‘Insider’ and join a team.  It’s  Zappos alternative to the ‘careers’ page on a company website.

You’re not just a number; you’re a real person with a real personality and real skills and we want to treat you that way by getting to know you before making any decisions one way or the other. This is your chance to shine and show us how perfect you’d be for Zappos. And we recognize that this getting-to-know-you stuff is a two-way street!   Zappos, Insider FAQ

Implications for education: Why have I included this news story readers may wonder. Because it is an example of how organizations are taking a traditional and routine function common to an organization, recruiting, hiring and training new employees in this instance, and reinventing the process. Zappos identified the problem, what wasn’t working in its hiring practices, determined how the traditional process was outdated in the context of today’s culture, and reinvented the function. Note, they are still hiring candidates, yet they are going about it in a completely different way; using a method that fits the needs of the culture in which we live. I need not elaborate further to draw parallels to the processes and functions within higher education.

That’s it for now. You can keep up to date with developments in education and related sectors by following me on Twitter, @OnlineLearningI 

If Change is Inevitable–Is Progress Optional? Four Education Institutions Opting for Progress

“Change is inevitable. Progress is optional.” Tony Robbins

change-architect-sign1The above quote from author and motivational speaker Tony Robbins sums up Dr.  Richard DeMillo’s presentation The Fate of American Colleges and Universities delivered in May of last year at Dartmouth University. Readers might be familiar with DeMillo—professor of computer science, speaker, author of several articles and books including Abelard to Apple: The Fate of American Colleges and Universities (2011). He currently serves as Director of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities. His talk carried a similar message that’s outlined in his book— colleges and universities in the Middle will need to change—and if they don’t they’ll be headed for irrelevance and marginalization‘ (MIT Press). It’s been three years since the book’s publication and many of his warnings about higher education appear close to reality.  In the book and in his talk at Dartmouth, DeMillo doesn’t candy coat his message, wrap it up into a more digestible form, but serves it straight.

The system of higher education…is not a sustainable system. I don’t know anyone who has seriously looked at American higher education that can come to the conclusion that what we are doing is financially, socially, pedagogically and morally sustainableRichard DeMillo, Dartmouth University, May 7, 2013

Though the message may be grim, the education sector needs individuals like DeMillo with their extensive experience and knowledge of higher education to tell it like it is. Granted, some will say DeMillo is wrong, is only making predictions and value judgements. However, three years after Abelard to Apple’s release, events described are no longer predictions

Responses to The Message
DeMillo describes leaders’ reactions to what he has to say—some are open, eager to look for ways to adapt to change and move forward, and others are unaware, dismissive, or even defensive.

University leadership in the United States for the most part is unaware that the crossroads is ahead.  […] The obvious question is how so many smart people could miss what seems to be an inevitable crisis?”  Richard Demillo, Abelard to AppleThe Fate of American Colleges and Universities (2011)

But many institutions are listening, are opting for progress, embracing change and striving to remain relevant. Below I share four examples of institutions that are choosing to implement strategies for change. Some projects are complex, are institution-wide, engaging the majority stakeholders. Others are on a smaller scale, yet no less bold.

Readers may question whether all initiatives are progressive, a way forward. Some appear to be going backward, as the University System of Georgia where several institutions are merging, resulting in some institutions names disappearing altogether. Though institutional leaders of these schools might say that it is progress for the long-term, with changes in the short-term that are difficult.

Below are descriptions of the strategies of each, and related links to outside sources with further information.

Four Institutions Opting for Progress

1. Corporate Sponsored Degree Program: University of Maryland, Cybersecurity

Strategy: Universities are beginning to seek funding support for undergraduate programs by partnering with corporations and other private institutions to build infrastructure and curricula for specialized degree programs. Companies are motivated to do so, hoping to fill skill gaps within their own workforce by creating a pool of educated potential candidates. This initiative is part of University of Maryland’s overall plan to remain financially sustainable, and relevant; it has also cut costs by eliminating seven varsity sports teams and forcing faculty and staff to take furlough days.

change_image2. Strategic Planning InitiativeBeyond Forward, Dartmouth University

Strategy:  Dartmouth University provides an illustrative example of an institution seeking to embrace change and prepare for the future by implementing a comprehensive strategic planning effort. Dartmouth’s end goal—’to identify significant opportunities and challenges as we consider an ambitious and forward-looking course for Dartmouth’s future.’  The website describing the program is detailed, sharing many resources, including the recorded talks of experts and scholars as part of the Leading Voices in Education series of which DeMillo was one. The two-year effort involved over 3,000 stakeholders including faculty, administrators, staff, students and alumni, and assigned nine working groups a topic to research, report upon and develop recommendations for. Impressive. To learn more, you can read Dartmouth’s Synthesis report of ‘Beyond Forward‘. Other institutions that have implemented a similar strategic initiative and shared the process are Georgia Tech University, Brandeis University, and Brown University.

Strategic planning is the first significant phase of opting for progress, however putting the plan into action—the execution of the plan requires more than talking about and planning for change, it’s about making it happen. Action.

3. Institutional MergersUniversity System of Georgia

Strategy: The primary motivation for education institutions to merge is to realize costs savings through sharing of administrative expenses common to each, i.e. finance, human resources, facilitation services, IT, etc. Universities merging is not new. There’s been several examples of institutions coming together over the years. Though recent mergers are on a large-scale. Not two institutions merging, but in the State of Georgia’s case, eight in all since 2012. As you can imagine, these actions are drastic, messy, often chaotic and stressful for all involved. Even more so when communication is poor, which it usually is. Though perhaps necessary to remain viable, and may be a way forward, no doubt it must appear institutions are taking several steps back. Successful mergers require a tremendous amount of planning, communication and diplomacy. Merging Into Controversy, Inside Higher Ed (2014).

4. MOOC-Inspired Initiatives. Penn State, flex-MOOC and Georgia Tech Institute.

Strategy: There are a few institutions seeking to use the MOOC format to seek sustainability for the long-term. Even though MOOCs continue to enroll and engage thousands of students, few higher education institutions have demonstrated how MOOCs will contribute to its sustainability, relevance, and direction for the future (more so when there is no strategic plan for the future). Two schools that are taking a step forward are Georgia Tech with its Online Master of Science in Computer Science and Penn State.

Georgia Tech: “OMS CS officially launches with first cohort Today about 375 students begin coursework as the first cohort in Georgia Tech’s online Master of Science in Computer Science (OMS CS) program, offered in collaboration with Udacity and AT&T. The group was admitted from some 2,360 applications…”

Penn State: “A flex-MOOC is a MOOC that offers content in modules that the learner can assemble into a personally relevant “course” and giving learners control over content, the sequence and timeline…creating a learning path that is relevant given learners’ individual contexts, strengths, and leaning needs.”

Closing
Change will happen. It is happening. Examining how institutions handle change, move forward is instructive. Is not changing an option and the right thing to do? Possibly. But making a decision not to change but is backed by a strategy, makes sense, not changing with no strategy doesn’t. How does your institution deal with change?

Related Reading:

Image credits: ‘Time for Change’, by marsmetn tallahasse, Flickr