Thursday, 24 November 2005

E-learning industrialization - will the 'customers' like it?

by Derek Morrison

This post was written some days ago. But I found it very stimulating.

I have been arguing that the current school system, based on an industry age model, is failing. I have also argued that at least for the developed countries and if we are to maintain today's living standards, a school system which produces "replaceable" workers will not meet the need of the job nature in the future. Basically, for developed countries, we have passed the industrial age.

I don't disagree with business process re-engineering fundamentally. However, I have more than once been amazed by the partial execution which resulted in a collapse of a company. In many cases, BPR are driven by employed CEOs who have very short vision and time frame. In order to see short term rewards, BPR may produce long term damage. I use an example of a hot-air balloon. When the outside condition changes, you may find the balloon falling. There are two choices: easy option is to dump some load, other is to increase the burning. In many situation, BPR is like dumping the load. Eventually, when all the employees are gone, there is nothing else to dump!

Obviously, lining up industrialisation and BPR are not my cup of soup, even if it came out from an ex-Vice-Chancellor of University of Melbourne (and the evangelist of the Universitas 21 venture). Adding "a content-centric" view into the soup, yak!

Yes, many western governments are decreasing the funding to higher education while HE are faced with increasing diversity of the student population under the policy of " user pay". So HE leaders need to rethink the operation and the financial situation of operating HE. But disconnecting with the customers IS not a good long term solution.

Technology can be good AND bad. It is the way it is being used, it is the people who use the technology need to be responsible for the result of applying the technology.

I agree with Derek in his observation and worries.

... universities may be increasingly forced to consider institutional changes in order to maintain alignment with the system.

... the application of the new technologies is generating a myriad of demands for re-institutionalisation of the university

Both of these quotes are true, but the conclusion is quite different from where I stand.

To maintain alignment with the outer system (i.e. the society), universities should aim to produce more diversified, intelligent and adaptive citizens to meet the job demand in the future.

Technologies are generating demands from students who want more flexibility, more interaction any time anywhere. Technologies are decreasing the value of content rapidly (because the marginal cost of reproducing information is near zero). Students can find information anywhere any time. They don't need to be fed with content. Students need support to learn. So the re-institutionalisation of the university is to foster things which can differentiate a good university from an online information source, the learning experience that a good university can provide.

Although e-learning industrialisation may be discussed by BIG name leaders, I just cannot agree. Excuse my honesty.