What the Future Holds

How do we recognize the difference between a passing fad and substantive change?

We began a group discussion this week focusing on Doug Thomas and John Seely Brown’s book, “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Change”.

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A member of our group said she wasn’t so sure the change we were experiencing in education today was any different than that of days gone bye. I was surprised to hear this. From my perspective the impact the web and online learning have had on education over the past several years has been upending. On the other hand, it occurs to me that not everyone perceives these changes in the same ways.

How can we know whether an innovation is significant and whether (or when) it will reach that tipping point – the point of no return?

I am reminded of a recent USA Today Article regarding cell phone adoption and the persistent landline.

…35.8% of U.S. households have gone wireless-only, a 77.2% bump over late 2008. In addition, 9.4% of households remain landline-only, a decrease of roughly 46 percent during that same period. The same study showed that 52.5% of households have both wireless and landline service…

I gave up my landline about eight years ago – shortly after I got my first cell phone. Although cell phone service was not available everywhere at that time, it was pretty reliable where I lived and for most of the places I traveled. In other words, it was “good enough” for my purposes. Once cable Internet service became available I had the phone shut off,  as at that point in time, I used my landline only for the dial-up connection.

I was under the assumption that most others had done likewise and was surprised to learn that I was in the minority @ 35.8%. Apparently, the majority of people still have landlines. It goes to show that our perceptions are not always accurate – we see through the lens of our own experience.

Nevertheless, I do not need a crystal ball to predict the landline will one day go away.

According to Clayton Christensen, innovations are disruptive when they provide a service that need be merely “good enough” to customers who might not otherwise access the service or product (my paraphrase).

We have seen disruptive innovations… the printing press, the automobile, the train, the plane, the telephone, the television, film and cameras (still and moving pictures), etc., etc… some things are going away – land lines, phone directories (because they don’t include my cell phone number nor are they interactive), newspapers – not because people don’t like them or use them but because we cannot afford to sustain them – the resources become too costly and lack sustainable revenue models.

As I see it the Web and online learning are clearly upending education today. The world wide web permits learners to access virtually all the information necessary at the very point in time needed.  Therefore, learners no longer require experts to deliver knowledge; they just need to have essential skills and the know-how to search and evaluate the quality of their results. It is fundamentally changing how students learn today.

As educators, our role is evolving to more of a facilitator and guide. We can help set the context and teach students to curate and learn how to apply what they discover in this new time of constant change.

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