Who will survive?

This is the first in a series of posts entitled 'Shaping Education for the Future'

The dynamics of education in the 21st Century are very different from those witnessed in previous years. In the last century, education (in all its forms) was based on the assumption that knowledge content was scarce, and that formal education (university, college, school) was the only place it could be accessed. Then along came the World Wide Web. Things changed, and they changed dramatically. Within a short space of time, user generated content in all its forms began to assume prominence. In the age of social media, content is no longer scarce.  It is abundant, and although questions still remain over the accuracy and provenance of some content, much is usable and useful for informal learning. Do you want to know how to make Baked Alaska? (with Gordon Ramsay as your personal tutor no less!) Need to know how to build a computer? Like to learn how to waltz, or play blues guitar? Interested in the link between quantum physics and consciousness? It's all there on YouTube, waiting for you to watch it. For free. Wikipedia, the online crowd-sourced encyclopaedia, hosts over 14 million articles on just about every subject under the sun. They are constantly being updated as events occur around the globe. Citizen journalism is now a regular feature in much of mainstream media news coverage. We could go on, but I think the point has been made. Content is now abundant, accessible, and can be created as it is required. Content isn't king anymore. Context is.

What will the future hold for education? The education systems of the previous century are outmoded, based on factory models of mass instruction that was fit for the period. There is a new world of work now. It demands change from education. Many universities and colleges are traditional and conservative, but change is constant and exponential. Institutions will need to respond to these changes if they wish to survive. Fortunately, new models of education are now emerging, many of which avoid content and instruction, and instead focus on expertise, tutoring, mentoring, guidance and specialism. Student centred approaches focus on personalised learning, and exploit the potential of personal technologies that enable any time, anywhere learning. This is quite a departure for education. It is a seismic shift that will have profound implications for formal education in the coming years. We can expect to see many institutions scrabbling to change their business models over the next decade as they compete for ever shrinking markets, and more demanding students. The more conservative institutions, placing their trust in their tradition and past reputation will stay as they are, resisting change. Many of these will die. In the worst case scenario, we can also expect to see many institutions going under, because they will not be able to respond to the new demands, or compete in the new market. At best, some institutions might expect is to be subsumed into more successful institutions.

The successful institutions will be those that see the gaps and exploit them; they will be leaner, more efficient organisations that understand why knowledge is no longer a commodity. They will be institutions that can clearly discern the connections between learning and business, between technology and pedagogy, between individuals and society. The successful, surviving educational organisations will be those who have the ability to adapt, respond quickly to global trends. They will be the universities and colleges that are agile enough to change when needed and stand their ground when required. Will we see the death of the educational institution? No, we will not. There will always be a need for sound, organised education. What is in question is the nature of that organisation. The factory model of educational provision is no longer relevant, and no longer desirable. Universities and colleges that persist in this mode can expect hard times. What we will see is a drastic pruning of the dead wood, to make way for new shoots of growth to emerge.

Next time: How institutions can respond to the challenges

Creative Commons License
Who will survive? by Steve Wheeler is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported LicenseBased on a work at steve-wheeler.blogspot.com.


Martin King said…
We talk about the 21st century inverting the value propositions on which businesses have been built – in education our raw material (information) is quickly becoming a natural, plentiful and free resource – We can no longer operate or construct our identity on the premise that information is rare and imbues power. Institutions and individuals are generating and consuming our natural resource at an exponential rate – we need to look where our value lies in a time of “infinite” and exponential information.
joannachidgey said…
Although I can understand the benefits of a collaboratory approach I'm not wholly convinced about Wikipedia. Yes, it's free and readily available, but I know teachers who urge caution when using it to research information. I find Nicholson and Goldberg's proselytising of Wikipedia quite irritating and cannot agree with their view that because lots of people are contributing to it, it must make it right. That's a simplification I know, but it seems to be the general drift.

My comments are not driven by a desire to protect my traditional hierarchical pedagogical role within the classroom but I do sometimes think that just because it's on the internet, doesn't make it right. How are 350 inaccurate contributions via the web better than 35 contributors by more traditional means (book anybody?) whose expertise and knowledge has been "tried and tested."

There are also some fairly acidic articles out there that raise questions with regard to the political and editorial credibilty and general goings on behind the scenes at Wikipedia - (http://pyropus.ca/personal/writings/wikipedia.html) .....although you can't help wondering whether this article was written by a disgruntled ex-employee - like I said, just because it's on the internet, doesn't make it true! Recent articles in the media haven't been exactly favourable and I suppose it doesn't help when someone cuts through their cables... ;-)

Collaborative learning is all well and good, but if you are setting yourself up as a provider of factual information on the scale that Wikipedia has, do I really know that the information they provide is accurate? Teaching colleagues at school have come across numerous occasions when Wikipedia has quite simply got it wrong. In a recent ICT audit, our History department said: “such use of the internet (to research) is not something we encourage in History: there is a lot of rubbish on historical topics, and it can be hard for younger pupils to distinguish the wheat from the chaff.”

Thinking a little more about colloration, if a group of your students sets up a homework support group via Skype or some other social networking site all well and good. But....what happens if the mutual support and help they are giving each other is wrong? Is it any different from a couple of mates copying another mate's homework at breaktime (we've all seen that one!) and copying down wrong answers.... or a well meaning mate trying to help his other mates in the library after school but again, getting it wrong? Is there a danger that if teachers are not part of this participatory way of learning their pupils could end up struggling in a vacumn? Don't students need an academic anchor to return to to check that what they are doing is correct?

Hmmm, I think I've just answered my own question really. Teachers do need to be part of this process but it is going to take something fairly big to jolt them out of their traditional roles.....I wonder what that will be..... My own school has been around for almost a thousand years now (yes, that's not a typo) and prides itself in its pursuit of independent and critial thought....attributes that can be nutured by new collaborative learning but also more traditional means? I won't quote league tables because they're boring, but we're doing OK.

Funnily enough, not all of the pupils I have chatted to about this sort of thing are advocates of digital learning but quite like a bit of good ol' fashioned chalk and talk. Perhaps, there is room for both approaches?
Simon Ensor said…
Just been reflecting on
Deschooling society. I am not convinced that institutions have eyes to see gaps. Entrepreneurs do see gaps in markets. If we are not to view people as products then maybe we need to reassess our language. Maybe we need to think of education as a movement. I shall go back and read about the founding of the cooperative society...new contexts perhaps require forgotten values. Life on earth inc. has built in obsolescence. SOS.
joannachidgey said…
Interesting point - perhaps schools and teachers won't feel the need to see gaps as long as they are being judged as successful - ie churning out kids who do well in traditional written exmas. Schools are just jumping through the GCSE / A level hoops they have been given. Perhaps change will only come about when we change how we judge how clever children are? That throws up all sorts of questions about what should we be assessing in the first place?
Steve Wheeler said…
Thanks for this astute comments Joanna. Rather than respond here, I aim to incorporate some of your points into a new blog post and comment there in more detail.
Steve Wheeler said…
Yes, good point. I have always believed, since first training as a teacher that the main purpose of assessment is to feed forward to students what they need to do to improve their work. To me, assessment used as a measurement, is and always will be, a mechanism imposed upon schools from above to maintain control of state-funded educational systems. A somewhat a neo-Marxist view perhaps, but I make no apologies for that ;)
James Hobson said…
I'm interested by your use of the terms 'institutions' and 'markets' - I'm starting to look into an alternative perspective on this: http://jimmyhob.blogspot.co.uk/2012/08/the-problems-with-educating-quadriform.html
Martin Sepion said…
Very interesting post Steve. Two points occur to me. It seems to me that the education 'business' is, unlike most other markets, capable of exponential growth - this is due to the demographics of the UK and world = more people and more young people (at least globally). See the current Government's international education strategy https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/international-education-strategy-global-growth-and-prosperity There is also the potential to via technology and the more modern pedagogies you refer to to extend education to those who have been excluded or have had lower levels of participation in the past. I think we could all do more learning and most would given a better more flexible offering.
My second point is about the conservative institutions you refer to. I wonder if they will die. As, sadly, it seems to me that there is a role played by much of HE in enforcing hierarchies and administering discrimination as part of a wider social
process. There was a report recently in the Times Higher asking why so few university vice chancellors are women. Similar questions have come up at my institution and I cannot see that the institution is basing it's decisions on a competitive world as it does not need to. Many people perceive that sending their children to university is to gain a social advantage and therefore the actual educational performance of the university is of secondary importance. As long as this is the case I fear that these institutions will not die or see the need to change. Look at the makeup of the cabinet. Is the cabinet the product of competitive education or social advantage?
Esther Njiro said…
I support your sound alarm about institutions and educators who do not see the gaps of student-centred approaches as a business model. It is happening in the business world for example Telkom which stuck to the old-fashioned wired telephones and the use of post office as flourishing business and source of income for their employees here in in South Africa. They in their time of splendour snubbed the new mobile telephones saying by showing how the latter were not suited to high class business. Today Telkom in South Africa is undergoing what you aptly refer to as death pangs as jobs are shed in large numbers and the future of what used to be the best place to work type of organisation is not clear.
Anyone can see that there is shifting in education today as the move from the content and teacher centred is changing to constructive collaboration of teachers, with students, students with other students and content can obtained from all anywhere. The traditional rules of curtailing students from copying from each other and protecting them from the wrong information in Wikipedia or any other source which teachers from reputed institutions termed trash as it was not from the “accepted “ persons and places is becoming obsolete. People are querying the standards used to warrant the restrictions. Who decides what is reputable? It is clear that education has to change fast as knowledge is becoming commoditised in a globalised and learning technologies are rapidly being generated. It is imperative for institutions to adapt ways of responding quickly to the global trends if they are to be at the cutting edge of the world growing sources of knowledge.
I really enjoyed your blog and the respondent reflections of those who agreed and disagreed with you.

Popular Posts