Steady As She Goes: Education's Resistance to Change

Steady As She Goes: Education's Resistance to Change

Resistance to change is one way which education maintains its durability and manifests the Steady As She Goes scenario.

Resistance to change can be different from refusing to change; what appears to be resistance on the surface can often be more nuanced in practice. The resistance can relatively localized, as is the case with certain sectors of education which continue their steadfast resistance to online education, even as others embrace it wholeheartedly. Sometimes, apparent resistance is simply the result of having to deal with complexity. For example, in the previously discussed social networking example, administrators may appear to be dragging their feet, i.e., passively resisting, but in fact they have to make sure that making one change doesn’t open up another can of worms and make things worse. Apparent resistance can also be the result of unmet (and often unrealistic) expectations or even wishful thinking. In Zemsky and Massey's 2004 report "Thwarted Innovation: What Happened to E-Learning and Why", for instance, the authors in effect set up the expectation that online education would create radical change as a straw man and then purport to show how this expectation was "thwarted" for various reasons. In reality, the purported resistance was fanciful; growth was happening in online education elsewhere, outside the notice of the report and its target audience. The Obama Administration’s American Graduation Initiative has spurred calls for community colleges to essentially double the number of graduates it produces with roughly the same amount of resources or even less. When one does the math, one begins to wonder whether it should be called the “Loaves and Fishes Initiative.”

Many other times, however, apparent resistance is just plain resistance. The resistance to online education in certain quarters has been very real and has manifested itself in a variety of ways: resistance to using technology in general, and refusing to accept online courses for transfer credit are a few notable examples. In the early years of online education, there was a palpable sense of fighting entrenched elements and (as a practitioner) of being a fellow pioneer working with allies to gain acceptance. One particularly egregious example of the resistance encountered was exemplified by the 1999 Institute for Higher Education Policy report "What's the Difference?" which called for an absurd level of research verification before full-scale adoption of online learning would be considered acceptable. Even some advocates of online education offer a certain form of resistance to change by holding that online education is inferior to traditional education but is acceptable in circumstances where traditional education is not accessible. I have heard this attitude expressed by both K-12 and higher education practitioners who are in some cases among the leading advocates for online education in their locales. Employer resistance to accepting applicants with online degrees is still a factor, although it continues to diminish as one.

Resistance to change is a little different from stasis, another way which education maintains its durability and manifests the Steady As She Goes scenario. More on that in the next post...

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