Hiding in Plain Sight

This week has been full of ‘hidden history’. Last week, Mike Caulfield launched the Hidden History of Online Learning, a federated wiki project. Today, Audrey Watters presented on the Hidden History of Ed-Tech at CETIS. Both projects start from a supposition that popular fascination with high profile elearning and ed-tech projects like Khan Academy and LMS’s have pushed to the background individuals, technologies, and ideas that tended toward the progressive and decentralized.

A regular response to this seems to be surprise.  How did progressive and decentralized education get so marginalized?  Audrey gives an important clue.

AllLearn, short for the Alliance for Lifelong Learning, stressed that its classes were just that: an opportunity for continuing education and lifelong learning. Udacity stresses something different today: it’s about “advancing your career.” It’s about “dream jobs.” 

There’s been plenty of hype about these new online platforms displacing or replacing face-to-face education, and part of that does connect to another powerful (political) narrative — that universities do not adequately equip students with “21st century skills” that employers will increasingly demand. But by most accounts, those who sign up for these courses still fall into the “lifelong learner” category. That is, the majority have a college degree already.

Centralization and control are a logical path forward if the whole higher ed process is first and foremost on of capital development.  The task of equipping learners with marketable skills invites the economy of scale that the xMOOC movement has at its core.The rising costs of postsecondary education push the entire sector towards an economic justification and orientation, and ed-tech follows.  The work of Papert,   Ted Nelson, and Jim Groom reminds us that there is another way, just as the work of Maria Montessori and John Dewey reminded us there is another way.

There’s another way.  We know this.  We know what it is.  Why don’t we choose it?

We choose what we have because we believe it gets us what we want, economic advantage at low(er) cost.  This week Udacity announced nanodegrees, just enough MOOC certificates to get the promotion. If you were asked to create a system whose primary purpose was to allow learners to get a leg up in the rat race without burying themselves in debt, it would look a lot like the current collection of MOOC silos.

Maria Anderson quoted the following at Learning Analytics 12:

(If I find out the source, I’ll update this)

There’s the crux.  We — society — have the education system that we want: one that values economic efficiency and human capital.  The things we don’t like about institutional structures, the LMS, or online course design are a symptom of that emphasis.

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