Once upon a time, equity analyst Howard Block, Ph.D. wrote a report entitled The e-Bang Theory: Education Industry Overview 1999 Illuminismo, Volume 2 (San Francisco: Banc of America Securities Equity Research, Montgomery Division, September 1999). This report is the one credited with igniting the explosion of interest in financial markets that legitimized what is known today as eLearning.
In this report, Block outlined the tenets of his theory that explained why and how investing in businesses that featured technology to facilitate online learning would probably make investors and the companies in which they invested a lot of money.
I attended a meeting at SRI International in Menlo Park, CA just after this report was released. I still remember the electricity, the "e" in the air. Probably tells you a lot about the times that everyone devoured anything from analysts that talked about investing opportunities using web technologies and the related products and services that accompany them to market, to school and to work.
In making the case that 1999 was the time for a new model of education - elearning - to appear on the horizon, Block noted that:
- "The economy is quickly becoming dependent upon human capital, which forces all of us to increase our aptitude at managing and productively employing human capital, a task incumbent upon all of our learning systems.
- "Political initiatives are inviting more businesses inside the school house door than every before in the history of public education. these initiatives include charter school legislation and voucher programs.
- "The inexorable technological revolution continuously overhauls the workplace, thereby forcing workers to treat learning as a basic part of their job description. Technology is not only a driver for more learning but it is also an enablers of electronic learning (e-learning). The intellectual demands of the economy are outstripping our capacity to satisfy it. (Block, 1999, P.3)
(Danger, Will Robinson. We seem to have slipped through a hole in the time space continuum. Isn't this the same things we are still talking about today??)
Block went on to define elearning as the convergence of the internet and education and identified 15 unique benefits associated with it:
- Available at any time. "It's always there!"
- Accessible from any location "I can always get to it"
- Multimedia content: use of audio, video, interactive chat, text, etc.
- Accommodates individual learning styles: self-paced, asynchronous collaborative, synchronous collaborative.
- Hyperlearning as contrasted with static text, elearning has the capacity to link with the other resources (simulations, other content, study groups, etc) that can enhance the learning experience and avoid the linear learning dictated by textbooks. The self-directed nature of elearning allows hyperlearning.
- Blindness of the learning engagement: some learners who are inhibited in a classroom may increase engagement online
- Learner-centered learning: The learner is not a passive participant but a proactive searcher and finder of information.
- Modularity of presentation: The content's architecture is modular, which facilitates different construction of learning design in both design and length.
- Manageable structure: The electronic infrastructure supports managed and measurable interactions between advisers and learners
- Ability to measure the effectiveness of the program. eLearning software empowers administrators to track performance and measures ROI. In addition, monitoring usage by user is simpler, i.e., the number of downloads per user can be measured. This helps training managers to evaluate cost-effectiveness and provides assistance with license negotiations based on estimated use.
- Simpler data management, The rapid rate with which new learning products are introduced and older products become obsolete creates a challenge for individuals charged with updating libraries. However, if a single version of each product is kept on a host, users get instantaneous access and updated components.
- Cost savings: provides an efficient and cost-effective model for education
- Revenue enhancement: provides a way for campuses to expand classroom enrollments without using bricks and mortar.
- Greater storage capacity. The Internet has so much more capacity than most physical locations or a user's hard drive. This allows learners to access more products and lets the adviser mix and match courseware activities to fit specific needs. Learners can preview presentations of different courses prior to selecting one, or they can access a specific slide from thousands.
- Individual education programs (IEP) can be generated from a combination of the historical record of the student's prior learning (from monitored usage) and the vast data stored on the server. As student's progress, information is delivered based on what they learned and how they've performed. For example, a student would log on to the learning server and a customized course would be generated from the content data base that knows which courses the learner took, how well she did, what her job description is, what problem is most pressing. This dimension serves to focus the curriculum on skill gaps, saving organizations both time and money. A by-product of IEPs, in our view, is increased motivation from the self-centered nature of the experience.
One has to wonder if maybe our agenda for the next gen of elearning, the Web 2.0 era, should be aimed at delivering on some of these promises that Block and the investment communities were making on our behalf as long as ten years ago. Because when I think about some of the big ideas that were shared among the participants of a fantastic think tank experience I had a few weeks ago at Rio Salado College in Tempe Arizona and what we can finally do deliver on these 15 promises described above...well, I have to say, I am excited about all the new opportunities that are startiong to emerge on the horizon.
And THAT brings me to my real subject of today's blogpost.
Imagine how excited I am that one of the hottest new emerging trends that is going to rock post-secondary education is a return to High Quality. Scalable. Online. Howard Block gave us the roadmpap more than a decade ago. And now, as we all try to figure out how to navigate in what Josh Jarrett calls "The New Normal", it seems as if High Quality, Scale and Online easily fit in the same sentence. Again.
There are initiatives on the horizon that will challenge the way we think about our practice. Hopefully give us all some tools and techniques to think about achieving our goals in creative new ways. I have to say, when I think about where the next waves of innovation are likely to emerge in my little slice of the education ecosystem I start getting butterflies in my stomach. Excited butterflies.