Changing Landscape of Learning

We live, work and teach in an amazing era where the vast storehouse of human knowledge is readily available and easily accessible – quite literally at our fingertips (or from Alexa or Siri). Using devices from laptops to mobile smartphones, we can connect to the Internet from anywhere and in moments search for and find information that not only helps us answer questions, solve problems and complete tasks, but also entertains, inspires and confounds us. This fairly recent ability means that anyone with a computer/phone and a connection to the Internet can readily publish text, images, audio and video – something few could do at the turn of the century. In the past twenty years, the web has become a space where human knowledge is stored, reshaped, accessed and redistributed. Information is abundant and knowledge has been set free…or purposely misguided to misdirect a public.

This state of affairs is unprecedented in human history.

One could argue that a significant driver of this change is technology, and in particular, digital technology.

Kevin Kelly in The Inevitable (2016) suggested that much of what will happen in the next thirty years is inevitable, driven by technological change.  He was optimistic, stating that these forces – like almost all surfaces now acting as screens, or the way we access as oppose to buy things – will completely revolutionize the way we work, play, and learn.  Thomas Friedman was less optimistic.  In Thank You For Being Late (2016), he warned that we now face chaotic issues due to simultaneous accelerated changes in technology, globalization, and climate. I am sure you have felt these changes in recent years yourself.

Clay Shirky in Here Comes Everybody (2007) noted that new digital media have allowed for mass amateurization, where groups can form and perform in manners previously available only to formal organizations.

Substitute “students” for “groups.”  What does that suggest for education?!?  And with our mass move online due to COVID-19, so we not see new groups forming … previously called “classes”?

In our current society, individuals at all levels of an organization now have as much capability to develop and publish ideas as countries and companies previously had…and that has huge implications for learning.  Think about the implications – in a short twenty years, we have reached a time when you as a teacher have as much capability to publish in any media format (text, image, audio, video) as corporations did two decades ago.  And so do your students!!!

David Weinberger in Too Big To Know (2011) suggested that we can now leverage networks to make organizations smarter, but smarter differently than in the past.

But moving online is not without risks.  Siva Vaidhyanathan in Antisocial Media and Singer and Brooking in LikeWar warn of nefarious uses of the web, spreading misinformation.

The common theme across all these authors is that you as teachers or trainers – teaching in a distributed and knowledge intensive world – will need new attitudes, skills and practice in order to be successful.

Mike Wesch, an anthropologist at Kansas State University, put it this way:

“This is a social revolution, not a technological one, and its most revolutionary aspect may be in the ways in which it empowers us to rethink education and the teacher-student relationship in an almost limitless variety of ways.”

He wrote that almost a decade ago … do you agree with what he said?

Technology is accelerating the rate of change impacting education and schools. Teachers – and students – will increasingly influence, and be influenced by, digital technology. 

This guide is designed to provide a foundation for understanding the impact of the internet and digital technology on education.

I have believed for a decade that the practice of teaching online requires a shift toward practices that facilitate learning in web-based environments. My experience suggests that these shifts are not always transparent to those wishing to make the transition to teaching courses online.

State of Online Learning Nationally

In Grade Increase: Tracking Distance Education in the United States, Seaman, Allen and Seaman (2018) noted that distance education enrollments increased for the fourteenth straight year, growing faster than they had for the past several years. From 2002 to 2012 both distance and overall enrollments grew annually, but since 2012 distance growth had continued its steady increase in an environment that saw overall enrollments declined for four straight years and the largest for-profit distance education institutions continued to face serious issues and lose their enrollments.

The number of distance education students grew by 5.6% from Fall 2015 to Fall 2016 to reach 6,359,121 who were taking at least one distance course, representing 31.6% of all students. Total distance enrollments were composed of 14.9% of students (3,003,080) taking exclusively distance courses, and 16.7% (3,356,041) who were taking a combination of distance and non-distance courses.  Year-to-year changes in distance enrollments continued to be very uneven with different higher education sectors, with continued steady growth for public institutions, similar levels of growth (albeit on a much smaller base) for the private non-profit sector, and the continuation of the decline in total enrollments for the private for-profit sector for the fourth year in a row.

Of course, these figures were for higher education only … and before the COVID-19 outbreak.