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Weekly Briefing: ​Is This Change Real or Just Another Prediction?

NextThought team — July 19, 2019



It's that time again. Everyone is squeezing in their predictions about the three, or five, or eleven, or nine trends that will have a big impact on education this year.

Trend predictions on higher education

One of the biggest such lists for higher education is the Horizon Report from the New Media Consortium. Lately, however, the report seems increasingly like an attempt to re-prioritize common knowledge rather than actually provide a meaningful analysis of the possibilities for educational technology in higher ed. Perhaps this is because, as Stephen Downes points out, the report lacks a consistent methodology and is too "strongly influenced by the popular press and marketing campaigns." Audrey Watters echoes this observation, but says:

I'm less interested in the accuracy of the predictions about the future of education technology that the Horizon Report has made over the last decade than I am in what those predictions now might tell us about the history of ed-tech. I'm interested in the history of our imagination about education's future and the role technology - and influential ed-tech storytelling - is assigned in shaping that.

Competency-Based Learning

One significant trend on most prediction lists for 2015 is Competency-Based Learning. It continues to gain in popularity as an alternative to the traditional Carnegie Unit, and as a way to bring greater personalization to higher education curricula. In the past week, we've seen news about colleges in Washington state expanding their competency-based programs, and a nice article on New Hampshire's journey along the competency-based path. In addition, Ted Curran chimed in his support for competency-based education, saying that "the big" problem facing higher ed today is "that students are too seldom required to demonstrate mastery of content and critical thinking skills, taught these skills explicitly, and fully supported to reach mastery."

While the focus on competency-based learning shines a welcome light on curriculum and learning design, however, a word of caution is in order. As this Google+ discussion points out, competency and mastery are not universally defined for all skills and knowledge sets, and a competency-based approach may not fit some disciplines as well as others.

Another big trend is open education, and this past week Tony Bates has been releasing a great series of posts on the topic . In particular, I think his section on the implications of 'open' for course and program design merits reading.

While many want to improve the delivery of higher education in the U.S., we find it difficult to effect real change.

As Bates emphasizes in his conclusion, however, the actual outcomes of the future are still up to us to realize. Perhaps that's part of the frustration and urgency Michael Feldstein expresses in his call for a "theory of change" in higher education. It seems that, while many want to improve the delivery of higher education in the U.S., we find it difficult to effect real change.

Critiques of some aspect of education or other are pervasive, but I almost always feel like I am listening to an underpants gnomes sales presentation, no matter who is pitching it, no matter what end of the political spectrum they are on. I understand what the speaker wants to do, and I also understand the end state to which the speaker aspires, but I almost never understand how the two are connected. We are sorely lacking a theory of change.


Participating in the EDUCAUSE meeting on Next Generation Digital Learning Environments, Phil Hill also noted a number of challenges to changing the paradigms of educational technology in higher education. In the end, I wonder if some of this tension about "how to change" might be related to a theme Maha Bali brings up in her recent post Coloring Outside the Lines. In it, she writes:

The lines provide structure and the school tries to control the child within it. The key is to make sure that even though my child can see the lines, she knows she is free to color outside them occasionally.

Perhaps the key to improving curriculum and technology design for higher education is to pay less attention to what already exists within the lines, and focus our attention instead on imagining what might exist outside those lines. As Maha adds, "Kids have it right when they want to color on the walls and floors, when they want to sometimes read from left to right or right to left." This also echoes one of the points Phil makes in his post. "The real gains in learner-specific functionality have arisen from applications that don't attempt to be all things to all people."

Why Higher Education Should Change

Finally, let me close this week's briefing with Cathy Davidson's 3 Most Important Reasons Why Higher Education Should Change. I think her list reminds us that, while predictions about the future are fun, there are important, tangible reasons for working to make real change happen. Here's her list.

  1. The way we learn in school is not natural.
  2. Higher education is voluntary.
  3. Testing should value what we count--and count what we value.

Associations Can Structure Online Learning for Millennial


Briefing Resources

NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition -- http://cdn.nmc.org/media/2015-nmc-horizon-report-HE-EN.pdf

NMC Horizon Report: 2015 Higher Education Edition | Stephen Downes -- http://www.downes.ca/cgi-bin/page.cgi?post=63412

Moving Ahead with Competency -- https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2015/02/17/two-year-colleges-washington-state-expand-competency-based-project-business-degree

New Hampshire's Journey Toward Competency-Based Education -- http://educationnext.org/new-hampshires-journey-toward-competency-based-education/

What's THE BIG PROBLEM in Edtech? Depends how you define it. -- http://tedcurran.net/2015/02/17/whats-the-big-problem-in-edtech-depends-how-you-define-it/

Google+ Conversation on Competencies (via Laura Gibbs) -- https://plus.google.com/111474406259561102151/posts/KVKYHDJHeMg

What do we mean by 'open' in education? -- http://www.tonybates.ca/2015/02/16/what-do-we-mean-by-open-in-education/

Making sense of open educational resources -- http://www.tonybates.ca/2015/02/16/making-sense-of-open-educational-resources/

Integrating open textbooks, open research and open data into teaching -- http://www.tonybates.ca/2015/02/17/integrating-open-textbooks-open-research-and-open-data-into-teaching/

The implications of 'open' for course and program design: towards a paradigm shift -- http://www.tonybates.ca/2015/02/18/the-implications-of-open-for-course-and-program-design-towards-a-paradigm-shift/

OCLC Works Toward Linked Data Environment | ALA Midwinter 2015 -- http://lj.libraryjournal.com/2015/02/technology/oclc-works-toward-linked-data-environment-ala-midwinter-2015/#_

Coursera details next round of companies joining Specializations capstones -- http://www.educationdive.com/news/coursera-details-next-round-of-companies-joining-specializations-capstones/364026/

California Community College OEI Selects LMS Vendor -- http://mfeldstein.com/california-community-college-oei-selects-lms-vendor

NGDLE: The quest to eat your cake and have it too -- http://mfeldstein.com/ngdle-the-quest-to-eat-your-cake-and-have-it-too/

The 3 Most Important Reasons Why Higher Education Should Change -- http://www.hastac.org/blogs/cathy-davidson/2015/02/12/3-most-important-reasons-why-higher-education-should-change-futurese

Wanted -- A Theory of Change -- http://mfeldstein.com/wanted-theory-change/

Adding Depth to Our Comparison of Face-to-Face & Online Learning -- http://etale.org/main/2015/02/15/adding-depth-to-our-comparison-of-face-to-face-online-learning/

Techniques for Unleashing Student Work from Learning Management Systems -- http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2015/02/techniques-for-unleashing-student-work-from-learning-management-systems/

Coloring Outside the Lines -- http://blog.mahabali.me/blog/parenting/coloring-outside-the-lines/

NextThought team
NextThought team

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