16 Propositions about the Futures of Online Education

16 Propositions about the Futures of Online Education


This is version three; includes some minor revisions based on my recent (Nov '11) Sloan-C presentation:

#1: Education is entering the age of cybersymbiosis -- fundamentally and irrretrievably dependent on online and other digital technologies.

#2: Online education will attain full scale in 4-8 years in higher education; ~15-20 years in K-12.

#3: Online education will simultaneously grow stronger in importance and disappear; it will be both integrated and distinct.

#4: Technology has created many great vehicles for change, but the real drivers of change for online education are knowledge, access, and authority.

#5: The futures of online education can be described by several scenarios with these traits:

  • All these futures will happen to some extent.
  • The scenarios represent the viewpoints of constituencies that advocate a particular future.
  • Most of these scenarios would be a disaster if realized in full, but their influences can help improve education.

#6: The first era in the history of online education was defined by a focus on providing access; the second era has the potential to be defined by a focus on improving quality -- not just for online education, but for all education. This is the sixth future of online education ("Education Improves") and the most important one.

#7: The confluence of cybersymbiosis and education's newfound cultural importance offers a spectacular opportunity to improve education.

#8: Focusing on quality in online education raises the stakes & increases the potential rewards.

#9: Free Market Influences which can improve online education:

  • Edupreneurs, vendors and other business entities that seek to coevolve with education by creating mutually beneficial products and services
  • More collaboration and permeability in the knowledge creation process
  • Judicious application of business practices which improve the business of education without destroying the culture of education
  • Greater focus on making the linkages between education and the work world smoother and more transparent

#10: Free Learning Influences which can improve online education:

  • Increase access to learning and education resources to support teaching and learning
  • Increase student readiness for formal education
  • Reduce the costs of education through lower-cost resources and interactions
  • Serve as a foil to formal education by being a resource, innovation source, and recourse

#11: Standards Influences which can improve online education:

  • Greater use of collegial, peer-oriented, research-supported quality standards for course design and program improvement
  • Standards which support more customized outcomes within a broad framework based on common agreement
  • Greater use of a broader range of evidence-based practices
  • Standards sets & other structures which expand the realm of acceptable outcomes

#12: Online education has its dark side (Cyberdystopia) which needs to be acknowledged, contained, and managed.

#13: The Never Ending Battle: resistance, inertia, and regressive forces will continue to fight against the adoption of online education (Steady As She Goes).

#14: Cyberdystopian and "Steady As She Goes" influences which can improve online education:

  • Engage in realtechnik -- acknowledge the costs of adopting new technologies;
  • Use education's conservative impulses to recognize what needs preserving and protection from the transformations which new technologies bring.
  • Get better at anticipating the possible ramifications of online education and figuring out workable responses to emergent problems and issues.

#15: Viewing the future of online education within a conceptual framework which acknowledges and accommodates the influences of multiple perspectives is a winning strategy.

#16: Online education can also move us toward a seventh, if distant, future: one in which everyone's education truly matters.

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