The Paradigm Shift is real, presents extraordinary opportunities, has and will continue to lead institutions into crisis, and is believed to be a myth by a small and dwindling community. Regardless of whether you believe the current paradigm shift to a Global Digital Learning Ecosystem is a crisis, an opportunity, or a myth, the failure to recognize its impact and implications can be catastrophic for an institution.
The Paradigm Shift has led to the dawn of the Learning Age. An age characterized by ubiquitous and persistent lifelong learning within, between, and throughout global cultures. For higher education, we already see a significant differentiation of the curriculum architecture serving the learning age versus that serving the industrial age summarized in Figure 1 below.
No disrespect or pejorative context is intended or implied here. We depart the Industrial Age having optimized that paradigm for learning with extraordinary institutions of knowledge, research and learning and most important a dedicated cadre of talented researchers, teachers, scholars, and practitioners dedicated to advancing the human condition. A paradigm shift however, has little to do with the accomplishments of the past, it is built upon what is possible in the future given certain changes in conditions.
Lets examine just three of the conditions that have changed that fuel the fires of the Learning Age.
Ubiquitous digital communications and connectivity defines the first conditional change. The ability to openly connect to global populations instantaneously alters the human condition. This ability to connect changes human interactions and dynamics, establishes a global, cross cultural borderless society that superimposes over the existing geographic boundaries of nationalism. It opens the flow of data, information, opinion, images, narratives, beliefs and creative expressions to all with access. The dimension and utilization of the global digital communications infrastructure is staggering.
The fundamental change involves infrastructure development, connectivity, capacity, and utilization.
Global digital communications define the new learning ecosystem’s functional and operational parameters. Interpersonal communications channels, systems, platforms, and facilitators are rapidly evolving, providing a plethora of options upon which learning processes are built and enhanced. The Conversation Prism provides an excellent visualization of the ever evolving digital communications domain.
Ubiquitous digital communications provides the means to deliver copious amounts of content to individuals. The next condition rapidly evolving and driving disruption across learning and education systems is the extraordinary amount of information digitized, stored and available for open access.
Global Digital Knowledge and Information Repositories
Basic knowledge media (the media by which knowledge and information is collected, stored, and accessed) has shifted from physical (primarily paper) to digital media. Collectively, the mass of data has been referred to as the digital universe.
The shift in media from physical to digital expands access exponentially to the information required by individuals engaged in learning. When coupled with digital search, filter, share and cite capabilities, the impact is dramatic and the implications profound for learning architectures and systems. The impact might be more marginal if the sheer volume of the content were not so extraordinary.
The digital universe is growing at 40% a year. It is almost doubling in size every 2 years and by 2020 the digital universe – the data we create and copy annually – will reach 44 zettabytes or 44 trillion gigabytes. EMC Digital Universe Study
Online Reference Sites abound on the Internet. University of Texas at Austin is a handy compiled list to illustrate a profile of collected links leading to terabytes of indexed information. The vast repositories of data and information are accessed via and used by an ever expanding inventory of learning and creative tools learners are organizing into high performance learning and creativity environments.
Digital Learning & Creative Tools & Environments
Teachers and faculty have recognized the value of digital learning and creative tools from the beginning. The Top 100 Tools for Learning 2014 published in the U.K. compiles the results of the 8th Annual Learning Tools Survey conducted by Jane Hart from the votes of 1,038 learning professionals from 61 countries worldwide and published on 22 September 2014.
The digital learning landscape is rapidly evolving. The same digital paradigm shift is driving rapid evolutionary changes across all sectors of global society and no one is immune. There are numerous examples of institutions that understand the magnitude and implications of the shift. There has been a dramatic impact upon the academic and curricular elements in education.
Start with MIT’s Open Courseware initiative now posting 2,150 courses and clocking 125 million visitors.
In 1999, MIT Faculty considered how to use the Internet in pursuit of MIT’s mission—to advance knowledge and educate students—and in 2000 proposed OCW. MIT published the first proof-of-concept site in 2002, containing 50 courses. By November 2007, MIT completed the initial publication of virtually the entire curriculum, over 1,800 courses in 33 academic disciplines.
MIT didn’t stop their visioning with OCW. I encourage you to visit the website and read the report of the Institute-wide Task Force on the Future of MIT Education. I also encourage you to examine the $7K Georgia Tech, Udacity, and AT&T online Master’s degree in Computer Science. The edX.org organization should be thoroughly examined taking note of the expanding list of partners. Coursera has a large scale course delivery system with over 10 million learners enrolled in 883 courses from 116 providers is an example of courses delivered on a massive scale. There are many more examples.
Pathways to the Learning Age
These three fundamental characteristics of the emerging Global Digital Learning Ecosystem are paving the pathways to the Learning Age. As the dawn of the Learning Age sheds new light on the potential of a Global Digital Learning Ecosystem, education can be expected to pass through at least three stages of change.
- Disruptive change is characterized by two paradigms colliding abruptly. Fear, anger, disbelief, and resistance are natural reactions during this period of adjustment.
- Adaptive change is characterized by educators making use of the functionality of the digital environments but resisting substantive change to the system that controls and manages it.
- Optimized change constructs a new system around the new paradigm and the adaptive learning culture that it nurtures. New realities shape the need for validated credentials and new features and functions evolve within the emerging digitized learning environment.
In the end, the new paradigm means rethinking the higher education model and that means rethinking all things academic. The bad news, there are any number of barriers to an institution rapidly evolving to accommodate and optimize the Global Digital Learning Ecosystem. The good news, there are significant options emerging and more under development that facilitate and enable institutions to adapt, and if done in time, flourish. There are, however, no simple solutions, proven pathways to clone or slam dunk approaches that guarantee success.
Each educational entity (college, university, school, educational system, learning organization…) will move through each of these stages at their own pace. Some will not survive the economic and enrollment disruptions occurring in parallel as the new paradigm takes root. The perils of the shift are exacerbated by corresponding economic, demographic and political factors, frictions and conditions. College and University trustees must recognize the need for dramatic realignment and learn to require, encourage and support institutions through the maze of decisions and options that must be confronted in order to flourish in the new paradigm. Because it is a fortunate institution who has a senior leadership team capable of navigating the turbulent waters of the paradigm shift, we must focus upon developing the human capacity to engage the future. Most, if not all, strategic plans in higher education must be recast to facilitate preparing an institution for the post paradigm shift future.
The magnitude of impact and speed at which the emerging paradigm is developing, coupled with very significant trends directly effecting higher education, make a concerted effort to adapt extremely urgent. This is not to abandon the model we have but to rapidly adapt to emerging new conditions. That means a focus on developing an institution’s strategic position in a global learning market.
MGD+A is currently posting a series in our blog titled Prototype a Learning Age Strategic Plan, to help focus institutional planning on the future. In February 2015, MGD+A will host an Institute on Academic Strategies and Master Academic Planning and in March 2015, MGD+A will be hosting an Institute on Curriculum-Centered Strategic Planning and the Learner-Centered Curriculum to address academic and institutional options and opportunities emerging from the new paradigm.