Higher Ed Through a Learning Innovation Lens

Beyond digital learning.

September 11, 2019
 

We've been writing for IDL for about the past seven months (together … Josh has been doing this a lot longer). More and more recently, we've been asking ourselves about the scope and scale of our pieces as they touch on issues that might be considered tangential to digital learning.

The topics that IDL customarily addresses are, today, mostly rooted in areas directly related to digital learning. The readership of IDL is assumed to be directly connected to areas of digital learning in greater proportions to the general Inside Higher Ed community.

Topics in IDL range across the landscape of digital education, from online learning to OPMs to the shifting role of instructional designers. But the articles and opinion pieces in IDL are always identifiable as conforming to the topic areas and target audiences connected with digital learning.

We wonder about the wisdom of following this approach.

We've been wondering if those who read and write for IDL each week should restrict our conversation and content to areas that are traditionally recognized as within the purview of digital learning? Or, alternatively, is it possible to develop a perspective that can be applied to analyze issues across the spectrum of challenges related to higher education?

For us, it is the full range of challenges and issues that our colleges and universities face that animate our interests.

We are as curious about issues of access and costs as we are about advances in digital learning.

We want to know as much about university economics and faculty labor markets as we do about the changing composition and methods of online education.

Questions about the future of the higher education ecosystem, and place in society of the university, interest us as much as anything related to technology and learning.

For us, these questions and more fall under the category of what we call (in our forthcoming book from Johns Hopkins UP) learning innovation.

Compare the following definition:

The emerging interdisciplinary field of learning innovation is the study of how universities align their organizations with the research on learning.

with

Economics is the study of how individuals and societies choose to allocate scarce resources, why they choose to allocate them that way, and the consequences of those decisions. (from Khan Academy)

There are, of course, many definitions of the discipline of economics. Among economists, the goals and the methods of the discipline are hotly debated. What is not arguable, however, is that the discipline of economics has been highly influential in shaping how those outside of the field think about a wide range of issues.

Economists have been wildly successful in using the frameworks of incentives, supply and demand, and scarcity to guide both thinking and decision-making across most domains of social life. We understand what it means when an economist looks at a problem or a question from the lens of the discipline. Economic thinking, and the place of economists, have transcended the narrow confines the economy.

The question we wish to debate is if scholars associated with the emerging interdisciplinary field of learning innovation can do what economists have done?

Is it possible that training in, and affiliation with, learning innovation might enable its practitioners to make valuable contributions to areas outside of domains of digital education from which the field was born?

These questions on the place of learning innovation -- as both an emerging scholarly field and a set of applied academic practices -- have important implications for this Inside Higher Ed "Inside Digital Learning" (IDL) community.

Our desire is that we can bring our learning innovation brains to the broad set of questions and challenges related to higher education. We want to contribute to the advancement of the larger ecosystem of postsecondary education, and of the institutions in which we work, by employing the digital learning expertise that we have on the wide set of challenges that our schools face.

We think that IDL has the potential to evolve from a website/newsletter/community that focuses mostly on digital learning topics, to one centered on a digital learning perspective.

The language that we think that might help this evolution is that of learning innovation. Connecting the research on learning with how universities are changing is one way to broaden the conversation while also grounding the discussion within the expertise of the existing IDL community.

We hypothesize that the existing IDL readership is likely to be immersed, or at least familiar with, some aspects of the science of learning. Under the learning science umbrella, we include the scholarship of teaching and learning (SoTL), as well as research and practice around learning analytics and instructional design.

The readership of IDL is also likely to be involved with, and may likely be leading, initiatives designed to change their universities. These initiatives may be at the micro-level, such as the work that instructional designers do with faculty to design residential, blended or online courses. Or the work may be at the meso level, contributing to cross-department/school/institutional initiatives such as new online programs or course redesign programs.

Connecting the science of learning with the practice of university change is what the interdisciplinary field of learning innovation endeavors to practice and understand.

IDL should be a place where those involved in the work of learning innovation, work that almost always overlaps with areas of digital learning, can bring their expertise and perspectives to the full range of issues relating to the future of higher education.

A narrow focus on digital learning topics, as opposed to the development of a digital learning perspective, artificially narrows the contributions and influence of the digital learning community.

An approach where only digital learning content is present in IDL articles and discussions makes IDL a less interesting place to visit.

A digital learning content approach, as opposed to developing a digital learning (or learning innovation) perspective, will limit the appeal of the IDL community to those outside of digital learning jobs.

We want professors and deans and provosts and grad students and presidents and other higher ed enthusiasts to come to IDL to get a digital learning perspective.

We want to develop and demonstrate that the frameworks and methods of digital learning -- including scholars within learning innovation -- have something to contribute to the larger conversation about the future of higher education.

What do you think a digital learning perspective has to say about the big questions and challenges facing higher ed?

Inside Higher Ed's Inside Digital Learning

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