Disruption in Higher Education

I just finished reading Siemens’ blog post “Duplication Theory of Educational Value” and article he and Matheos wrote “Systemic Changes in Higher Education” and his thinking about the future of higher education really resonates with me. While lots of shifts in technology and globalization create a rich environment and are key ingredients, the changes that enable individual control of content is the really disruptive shift and is the big catalyst of the changes. Some of the ingredients can change.  So as long as the individual, rather than the institution, controls content and what s/he does with it, the changes are coming and in many ways upon us.

Siemens says “What is valuable, however, is that which can’t be duplicated without additional input costs: personal feedback and assessment, contextualized and personalized navigation through complex topics, encouragement, questioning by a faculty member to promote deeper thinking, and a context and infrastructure of learning. Basically: human input costs make education valuable.” He goes further and states “The vast majority of universities that will educate humanity in the coming decades will be those that structure their value point on elements that cannot be easily duplicated and scaled, or at minimum, require input costs to do so.” Siemens is right on target and what he proposes requires a huge shift in how institutions conceptualize their business.  It will be a difficult transition and some will tumble.

As individual access and control of content explodes, the higher education institutions that move toward the integration of services such assessing learning, helping students organize what they know into meaningful packages and then credential that learning will get the cheese.  There will be new are the new institutions that build on what is currently happening and some will remake themselves. 

I would like to learn more about this topic, how people are thinking about this.  Please share some other resources on this topic and let me know what you think. 


Linkedin Network Toy

The MOOC also includes considerations about networks and social networks in particular.  I so much get the network concepts, but then I am much better at that kind of thinking.  I have spent a lot of time over the last several years thinking about connections and relationships in the student information systems.  I once drew something that looked like the diagram below, but with fewer connections and nodes and far less organizational structure.  It that depicted the various applications that made up a student information system and I called it spaghetti.

The analysis of these networks through matrices is a bit dense for me to follow, but I surmise that it is that kind analysis that got the really neat application called Linkedin Maps.  It built a network diagram from my Linkedin connections and it amazing in how accurately it clustered the connections.  The big blue blob is nearly all from Empire State College, my current institution; the red on the right are my long standing connections from prior learning assessment; the purple on the left are high school friends; and the rest are from when I lived in Washington DC and was at American University nearly fifteen years ago.  Even the groups from AU are logically organized into admissions, financial aid and school of education.  This is not spaghetti.  I like little gadgets so this was kinda fun.


Reading about connectivity — trying to connect…

I’ve been poking around and finding resources for the course and decided to start by reading George Siemens’ article Connectivism: A Learning Theory for the Digital Age. Since this is my first foray into the idea and I have not immersed myself in all of what has been shared, I can’t promise to agree with what I am thinking right now and reserve the right to change my mind.

I am struggling with a some elements in the article and wonder if this is truly a learning theory, but rather an analysis of the current landscape, and the pedagogies and literacies needed to support learning.  The article describes the new context for learning, the challenges presented by complexity and chaos, and the implications for learning within that context along with some approaches.  His final line “Connectivism provides insight into learning skills and tasks needed for learners to flourish in a digital era.” is a more accurate description of what is included in the idea of connectivism. I find the idea that connections are necessary and inherent in learning a useful concept.  While I struggle with some of the elements, I’m not condemning the whole idea, far from it.

Another area where I struggled with Siemens’ presentation is more a fundamental difference how I understand the locus of knowledge and thus, where learning occurs. In discussing behaviorism, cognitivism, and constructivism Siemens states: “These theories do not address learning that occurs outside of people (i.e. learning that is stored and manipulated by technology). They also fail to describe how learning happens within organizations.” Siemens also asserts “Learning is a process that occurs within nebulous environments of shifting core elements – not entirely under the control of the individual. Learning (defined as actionable knowledge) can reside outside of ourselves (within an organization or a database), is focused on connecting specialized information sets, and the connections that enable us to learn more are more important than our current state of knowing.” I do not see how the article makes the case for “learning” as a process outside of a living being(s), or the case that knowledge or learning exists outside a living being(s). It also does not sort out the human collective from the organization and pairs “organization” with “database,” which is a bit of a stretch for me.

I would argue that the external symbolic representation, whether it be linguistic, mathematical or artistic, of what a person or a collective knows is really no more than information for the next recipients. It may be sophisticated and highly nuanced, and may have been manipulated with software to reshape it, but it is just data that the recipient(s), in order to claim knowledge, must comprehend and/or use. I get “connect with” as a way to know something and as a necessary component of comprehension and use. The communication may be networked and even from multiple sources, but until a person (or a group of people) grapple with it, it is only information.  I guess this puts me more in a constructivist seat, although I am comfortable with Downes notion that learning is “grown anew by each learner” which connotes to me that learning is some sort of internal process.

I agree with Siemens in the the need for new approaches and skills and the implications for the environment in which we now work, communicate and learn, but I struggled with was the idea that the need for new skills was a new theory of learning. Siemens states: “Learning theories are concerned with the actual process of learning, not with the value of what is being learned. In a networked world, the very manner of information that we acquire is worth exploring. The need to evaluate the worthiness of learning something is a meta-skill that is applied before learning itself begins.” This could well be defined as information literacy and in this complex web 2.O world, metaliteracy as defined by Mackey and Jacobson in “Reframing Information Literacy as a Metaliteracy” may be a more apt term, especially since we are really considering not just acquisition, but active participation in the vast networked environment.

I am fully onboard with the need for skills to engage among the ever-expanding complexities and to deal with the rapid decay in the usefulness of what one knows and the unpredictability of the knowledge that will be needed. One of his conclusions wraps this up well: “Our ability to learn what we need for tomorrow is more important than what we know today.” The implications of connectivism for how learning is facilitated and who has access are where I see the real potential of connectivism.

So is my newbie understanding and I would appreciate others sharing ideas and reactions. 



I am in pre-course anticipation mode. I have registered for the MOOC and the start is still a few weeks away.  I keep looking at the bit of material available on the course web site.  The facilitators are from all around the world and the topic is intriguing.  In the course we, maybe a thousand of us, will consider future of education and how it is shifting in the face of multiple disruptive forces including technology.  I’m eager to get started.

I’m curious about the tools and so I started in the blog because it is a familiar medium.  I’m still trying to decide if blogging is for me.  I think it probably is and a focused project like this course will help.  I have also begun finding other blogs to follow.

Besides setting up this blog, I started playing with diigo based on a recommendation from a colleague and found that on my college owned computers, I had to use Mozilla to load the toolbar instead of IE.  Apparently, active directory can’t stop me from downloading addons with Mozilla.  With the college’s incredibly restrictive implementation of active directory, small victories, even workarounds make my day.  I decided to try working on a couple of projects using diigo as a way to track and tag online resources.  I immediately started bookmarking resources for other things too.

For now, I’m poking around the edges and playing with a few tools and anticipating a wonderful new experience.  Maybe by the close of the course, I won’t be such a newbie.

A little free association: as I was writing, this song kept running through my head and so it should run through yours too.