Product vs. Experience

The more I see what things other institutions are doing with online learning, the more I continue to notice a similar theme taking place across higher education.  It seems that so many of the “successful” initiatives in online education become grounded in, and dependent upon, technology and tools that are temporary or have a relatively short lifespan.

You can probably think of more, but what comes to my mind are things like: a particular LMS, a particular software, hardware, etc…  Then, when the need comes along to dump these tools for other options, the entire initiative (people, program, offering, etc…) is thrown in jeopardy.  The necessary programmatic processes, from student support to course development and teaching, are being developed around a particular technology.  When this happens, even pedagogy becomes a slave to what the technological tool will or won’t do.   Rather than strategically developing faculty skill in teaching and learning and using technology effectively in the educational experience, higher education has been trying to create a product that can be scaled to mass production with minimal effort.

The future of education is not found, I believe, in creating the best product for as many people as possible.  The future of education will be found in institutions whose faculty members are highly proficient with technology in the learning environment (note: I didn’t say ‘can teach with technology’) and can, therefore, create a transformational learning experience.

Products are dependent upon specific tools and specific technology.  These things change over time; and as our world uses more and more technology, the lifecycle of these tools shortens dramatically.

But, experiences are not dependent upon anything but the people who participate in them.  The leader (faculty) who knows how to design and create a rich environment where participants can contribute and learn will be able to offer educational experiences no matter what technology is available.   And, perhaps most importantly, no matter if that experience needs to be online or in a physical classroom!

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