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Sunday, July 29, 2012

the on line education revolution: its all about the design

Because on line education is booming there is a sense that something new and interesting is happening in education. In fact, what is new is the venue for education not the education itself. The courses that universities have always offered were meant to put people in seats efficiently so that less faculty could teach more students. On line education is simply an extension of that model. Arguments can be made for how this on line lecture-based model is better than the old classroom model, and arguments can be made for how it is worse than the old one. But, the new on line models really are not attempts to solve the real problems in education.

What are the real problems?

1.   What is being taught in universities is academic material derived from research intended to create students who can do research and become scholars.
2.   The idea that a university education is meant to produce students who can immediately go to work because they have been taught employable skills is argued against at research universities and typically is seen as a second rate educational model.
3.   The methodology of lecturing,  reading, essay writing and test taking, is in direct opposition to a learn by doing, experiential model of education where students go out and do things and learn from their mistakes.
4.   On line education allows, in principal, the creation of simulated experiences so that you don’t have to actually crash an airplane in order to learn how to fly nor do you have to bankrupt an actual business in order to learn how to run one.
5.    New models of education are explicitly rejected by university faculty, who, in general, do not spend much time on teaching and would rather do research. They don’t want new on line models that might force them to re-order their priorities. University faculty have a pretty nice life and will reject changes to their research-focused existence.

The real opportunity in on line education is to change what is taught and how it is taught, in order to create graduates who can be immediately be employed by a workplace that needs skilled workers rather than theoreticians and scholars.

We have been building on line learn by doing models for over 15 years. Universities are afraid of these  models because they are afraid of the faculty revolt that would ensue if these models became the standard. They are also expensive to build. Students love them however because they can get jobs immediately after graduation and because it is really a very enjoyable way to learn.

The mentored, teamwork, based model that XTOL ( uses depends upon building a detailed story and simulation of actual work experiences. This is not as easy to as it sounds.

To start, there needs to be one or more subject matter experts who guide the development. But, such experts are typically professors and professors want to teach theories. So, finding the right subject matter experts can be difficult.

Even more difficult is the design process itself. We use a team of people who have been doing this kind of work, in some cases, for twenty years or more. All of our senior designers have been doing this for at least five years and as far as we can tell it takes three or four years of apprenticeship to actually be any good at it.

The reason is easy to understand, Building an all day, full year, learning experience is somewhere between making a motion picture and writing a textbook. You don’t usually get it right the first time, in either case. Learning by doing is really how we learn and our people have been learning design by doing for a very long time.

Teaching others to do this is the next step in the education revolution.

1 comment:

michael webster said...

This is fairly intriguing. I am interested in the negotiation stories Roger has collected, especially since Roger Fisher just died recently.