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The Education Pendulum Has Gone Wild (Part 1)

The Education Pendulum Has Gone Wild (Part 1)
Technology is a huge force for change in the evolving higher education space, as instructional designers and educators have more capacity to engage students like never before.

In more than 40 years of work in the higher education sector, I’ve witnessed pendulum swings impacting educators, learners and instructional delivery. Looking back over the years from the 1970s to the early 2010s, it’s amazing how much — and how little — has changed in lifelong learning.

In the first article of this two-part series, the spotlight will be on what has changed in higher education over the past four decades. The second part of the series will focus on what has not.

The role of progressive educators has changed over the years, starting with a shift from ‘sage on the stage’ to ‘guide on the side;’ a blend of online, mediated class content coupled with more instructor guidance and feedback on in-class individual and group assignments. Truly progressive instructors have adopted the role of ‘expert consultant,’ organizing online content and/or links to content and simply being available as a consultant to address questions that cannot be resolved by other learners; an example of this is the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) instructor.

The focus of learner expectations has changed from reception and practice to engagement and interaction. In the past, learners attended classes and took notes, later recording lectures when the technology allowed for it. Assigned questions or problems, often from textbooks, provided learners with content interaction. Papers required learners to read beyond the text and summarize their learning. Exams typically required identification of correct responses to questions. Now, in the blended or flipped classroom, learners come together to engage in small groups with assigned situations such as case scenarios to resolve, issues to debate or complex problems to solve. In the online classroom, learners engage with content on their own, reflect on their learning and then interact by contributing to activities such as online discussions, group projects and collaborative writing. Research may be formalized into papers or simply shared with peers through their interactions. Exams may be formalized into randomly-generated test items from test banks. Or, learning may be assessed through a combination of self-evaluation, peer evaluation and instructor evaluation. In competency-based assessment, learning may be assessed by professional reviews of each learner’s e-portfolio — a collection of created products, from classes and/or life and work experiences, as evidence of learning.

Instructional delivery has also changed, perhaps most dramatically of the three. Past delivery focused on the textbook, with a few instances of film, filmstrip or video embellishment, and even fewer occasions of group interaction, hands-on activities or discussion. We’ve progressed past early technology to an explosion of delivery options that are digital, readily available and, now, mobile. With technology, a broad spectrum of instantly-available media could be added to classroom instruction or placed in an online management system. Online education is now available to learners of any age, and these learners have access to a wealth of content available anytime and anywhere.

Please check back in July for the conclusion of this series.