Redefining Education for the 21st Century?

I am about 60 days into my new role here at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. With each additional day I become more and more aware of just what an incredible institution I have been privileged to join.

The vision of the administration, the caliber of the faculty and the sharpness of the students are truly something that must be experienced to be understood.

Besides my teaching role here at Fuqua, I am also tasked with identifying key leverage points where web 2.0 and 3D internet technologies can be leveraged create distinct and differentiated learning modalities for our MBA programs.

If you stop to think about it, as Kevin Kelly so ably recounts, the web is just over 5000 days old. The amount of change that this innovation has brought to society at large and to industry and business is quite astounding.

On the societal front, the Myspace generation is truly wired. Or is it wireless?. In either case, their connectivity to others is both pervasive and persistent. They view the computer as a connector not a cruncher. They are not willing to be passive consumers of broadcast media, instead they demand to be active co-creators of content and insights and they want ongoing push-pull/dialogue to occur in the sensemaking process that amounts to traveling on many vectors of successive approximation toward the truth.

On the business front, we are moving to the era of the Globally Integrated Enterprise, one where work seeks its own level and supply and demand for various components of the business are optimized in real time through the IP network.

As I thought about my new role I began to wonder how my perspective on the thoughtful application of technology to learning would change if I put on my IBM Consulting hat and thought of my students as clients. How would they rate my service as a teaching professional? How would they rate me in terms of engagement and transformational learning given that they live in an age of permanent, persistant and pervasive access to information and experts with the touch of a button. How would I stack up relative to the array of technological affordances they have at their disposal to figure stuff out for themselves?

If I reframed my role from that of professor teaching student to one of service provider educating client would my strategic approach to the application of technology to improve the educational experience be different?

Suddenly my mind flashed to a great video by Michael Wesch, Digital Ethnographer from U of Kansas (you probably know him from the Machine is Us/ing us fame). The video below provides a pretty compelling look at what my clients most likely want to say to me but don’t dare to because I am not their service provider or experience coordinator, I am their Professor.

As a student of disruptive technology who has spent the past 20 years working in enterprise learning I believe we are now at a true inflection point where one of the most powerful sets of transformational technologies of our time is training its sights on the one institution/enterprise function that has heretofore managed to emerge unscathed from the application of technology: Education.

So here I sit in the nexus. In one corner, a set of technologies that are fundamentally transforming how we live work and play and, in the other, an institution (i.e. University or K-12 School) and or enterprise function (i.e. Learning Function) that has largely deployed technology not to transform how we facilitate learning but simply to automate how we teach.

There is an old adage that says that the diffusion of innovation follows a predictable path: A scientific discovery, informs the creation of a new technology, which ushers in a new set of business opportunities that end up reshaping the structure of industries and organizations. An apple falls on Newton’s head leads to the creation of the laws of physics, leading to the invention of the internal combustion engine, which dis-intermediates the thriving “buggy whip” manufacturing business and ultimately leads to Sloan’s notion of the Bureaucracy and Ford’s Assembly Line.

The is another adage which suggests that for change to occur there is a precondition that learning take place. With all the change that has happened in Society and Business over the past 5000 days due to the arrival of the internet and significantly more on the way in the wake of Web 2.0 and the 3D internet, I believe it is safe to say that individuals and organizations will have more than their faire share of change to deal with in the next 500 days.

So the real question is, how will they learn to deal with that change? Will it largely be self taught through the network or will those of us in the education business recognize the huge opportunity that lies before us and begin to redefine what education should look like in the era of the first-person interface.

Technology has fundamentally transformed society and business, can it do the same to transform education to help us cope with change in the 21st century. In his video on the next 5000 days of the web Kevin Kelly suggests we need to get better at believing in the impossible because if we don’t we will be more unprepared for the future when it arrives.

I don’t know about you, but I am ready to rumble ; ) Let us all reach for the impossible when it comes to changing the game in learning rather than speeding up the past.

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3 Comments

  1. Well said, Tony. We are glad to have you on board at Fuqua. As someone who worked in the private sector for a number of years, I have to say that the buzz at Fuqua now reminds me of my days in the mid-90s at an internet startup.
    Dan

    Reply
  2. Grant

     /  September 3, 2008

    The application of present and emerging technology to education is long overdue needed at every level. It will happen, but its a long journey. There are many things standing in the path, politics, constricted budgets, and ballooning populations. But let’s see where this road takes us and be catalysts of change. 😉

    Reply

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