Monday, April 8, 2013

IT-Transformative or Not? The Education Experience

One of the most important things leaders do is to anticipate.  Indeed, Eliot Cohen identifies "failure to anticipate" as one of the three sources of fundamental leadership failure.  Technology is a well known driver of change so it is smart for leaders to look to technology developments as a way of anticipating change.

I first came to this subject while in a fellowship at George Washington University in 1994-1995...18-19 years ago.  At the time, the internet was in its infancy but it's potential was being seen.  There was a sense that the proliferation of information technologies and communicative devices would "change everything."  Entire business models would be overturned, industries transformed, old hierarchical structures swept away and replaced my new yet-to-be defined network centric organizations.   The recent publicity in the United States about the transformative effect of Massive Open On-Line Courses(MOOC) on universities in the United States caused me to reflect on what has actually occurred over nearly two decades.  For those in other countries who may not be aware, some of the most respected universities in the United States including Stanford and MIT are offering some of their courses for free on-line to as many as 100,000 students at a time.  The conventional wisdom seems to be that this will fundamentally transform the nature of the university education system...if a student can get world class content for free on-line, why go to the expense of on-campus tuition, room, board and transportation expenses?

I'm not so sure, and I say that as a former zealot who was convinced education would be transformed by information technologies and communications devices.  The thinking then was that the "sage from the stage" who "pushed" content to learners would be replaced by a model where the learner "pulled" content from information sources when and where they needed it.  The expected shift from a teacher centric "push" model to a learner centric "pull" model hasn't actually  come to pass.  To be sure, some university courses  are now offered on-line and a form of blended learning design referred to as a flip model are being employed both in universities and corporate education.  The point is people still need to come together to learn some things.    They need to apply their insights to solve problems, do practical work, and get feedback.  They need an instructor to introduce new concepts, explain relationships and tutor when the learner is stuck.   Yes, the "sage from the stage" model has been replaced but not entirely....the nature of what happens in the classroom is what has changed.

I believe there are a couple of leadership implications from this.  One is that technology innovations may indeed drive change but not necessarily in the way initially believed.  The second is that technology innovations, and information technology innovation in particular, will have an uneven impact across industries....what transforms one industry will be incremental change in another.  This means the leader must be forward thinking yet to anticipating changes yet carefully evaluate pilots and run experiments.

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