One of the exciting things about the Internet is that anyone with a PC and a modem can publish whatever content they can create. In a sense, the Internet is the multimedia equivalent of the photocopier. It allows material to be duplicated at low cost, no matter the size of the audience.
Clearly Gates was a visionary and an astute businessman. Whilst it’s undeniable that many hardware businesses have been very successful, it’s arguable that even the most successful, Apple for example, has done so more on the back of content – i.e. the operating system, App Store, iTunes and other content streaming services etc.
Of course, reducing the internet to simply its capacity for making content abundantly available, is a huge oversimplification. Layered over this mass-production there needs to be a user interface to surface the right information for the right people. In the first decade or so, that was fulfilled via a tool like Google but that required the user to ‘search’. That clearly still happens but most content providers rely on targeted adverts masquerading as content which are promoted to users with a certain profile or based on search terms they use.
The internet has fundamentally changed our lives, including the way it has democratised information. Distilling a degree experience to being simply an exposure to high quality content would not remotely do it justice but challenging content wrapped in expert interpretation is the essence of what learners expect. The interpretation may be theoretical or more demonstrable and quantifiable but it’s about applying learning. Virtually every HEI globally boasts a digital education strategy to either enhance face to face provision or replace it entirely. Central to that strategy for 20 years has been an LMS which hosts the learning content and structures the learning delivery as well as and variously push and pull information from and to various other systems. It has long been a criticism levelled at the LMS that it is just used as a content repository and that institutions and technology providers haven’t effectively cracked the learning delivery.
Twenty years ago when I started my Undergraduate degree at Newcastle University, I had access to a vast amount of books in the printed form over several floors of the Robinson Library. These were digitally chronicled and could be scanned and loaned via a self-service machine. In the back corner of the ground floor was a computer cluster which we used primarily for word processing. We physically attended lectures, took seminars in smaller groups, sat exams with pen and paper in a large hall, and module assignment essays were word processed but physically submitted via a tray in the course secretary’s office. During my third-year we started submitting these assignments via a very basic LMS where we could also access PowerPoints and scans of OHP slides. It’s not such a stretch to say pre-Covid, many university students were ‘enjoying’ a broadly similar experience of the LMS as I had.
Successful institutions which host content within the LMS but also use other economies of scale made possible by the technology, have fared remarkably well during the Covid pandemic. UCEM, one of our clients shared their experiences in this same magazine earlier this year. The LMS, when effectively used, shouldn’t simply look to replicate the campus experience, it should enhance where it allows.
Whilst Google enables a user to filter content based on search terms (plus some clever predictive tools), the majority of the content an LMS user sees has traditionally been curated for them. A huge change in approach has been to move to a degree structure where learning is chunked and offering the learner more flexibility to build their own programme of study.
I found this article in TES last month hugely interesting. Particularly this paragraph:
We, as teachers in modern university settings, can think of ourselves as community figureheads and team leaders. The students are part of our community, our team, and we are there to manage them, coach them, guide them, to be mentors, to help teach them over a longer journey, and to corral them through this common goal of thought, understanding and mastery.
This relationship re-definition made me think of the way a manager in the workplace may look to interact with their direct report. If we agree that the university experience is largely designed to develop autonomous individuals ready to conceive original thought from interpreting data in a critical way. Highly curated student experiences with very specific routes to follow, arguably goes against this.
What’s your perspective?