Bryan Alexander and the Independent Scholar

Thought leadership without a net.

June 19, 2016

Dr. Alexander (Bryan) published a behind the scenes piece last week on his life as an independent scholar.   

If you know Bryan - and everyone seems to know Bryan - then you know that he is our generation’s thought leader at the intersections of learning, technology, and postsecondary change.   

If you don’t know Bryan - or if you have an event coming up that needs to be keynoted or facilitated - I highly recommend that you investigate the potential of securing Bryan’s participation.  

Working with Bryan Alexander will provide you with the highest quality product (be that product a speech, a report, analysis, consulting, or facilitation), at the highest possible value.  

Since BAC consulting carries very low overhead costs (no office, no staff not adding direct value, etc.), every dollar spent engaging with Bryan Alexander goes directly into creating the experience / analysis that you are looking for. 

Okay … enough nice things about Bryan Alexander. Nobody will disagree.   

What I do want to talk about is the idea of Bryan Alexander. 

Is it really possible to be an independent thought leader in 2016?   

How can an academic engage in impactful scholarship and organizational change without the security of an academic affiliation? 

At first blush, Bryan’s choice to be an independent scholar appears risky. What he gains in autonomy he loses in security.  

How many of us (especially those of us with college age kids) could forgo a regular and predictable paycheck?

Bryan seems particularly credible when talking about both the risks and the benefits of our emerging gig economy, as for Bryan this is not a theoretical discussion.

It may be, however, that Bryan is making some smart career choices. As his network grows, and the demands on his time increase, his economic resiliency will also improve. By not relying on any single source or income or any single employer, Bryan is able to diversify his income streams.  

As long as he can diligently put away some dollars in when business is robust, and keep his overall costs down, my guess is that Bryan’s consulting business will be sustainable over the long run.   

Does this mean that the life of an independent scholar is one that more folks should pursue?  Probably not. 

First of all, Bryan spent years and years building up his reputation and network.  

A University of Michigan Ph.D. ( English language and literature), Bryan began his academic career as professor at Centenary College of Louisiana, where he was the creative force behind the development and teaching of  multi-campus interdisciplinary classes and a highly regarded information literacy initiative. 

Most of us got to know Bryan during his tenure (2002-2014) at NITLE (National Institute for Technology in Liberal Education), as Bryan put NITLE on the map as a forward thinking and innovative organization in all things emerging technologies and learning.

In other words, the decision to become an independent scholar was not taken at the beginning of his career, but in the middle - after he had the brand, relationships, and working methodologies had already been well established.  

Second, from what I can tell, Bryan works all the time. His productivity is stupendous. His scholarly and social media output (which he combines in ways that are changing the meaning of both vectors) is impressive in both frequency and quality.  

The fact that Bryan’s life and his work are so deeply entwined (you get the feeling that he’d sooner stop breathing than writing/analyzing/connecting) is at least partly owed to the fact that thought leadership is a family business. Bryan is able to devote his full energies to moving higher ed forward because his wife Ceredwyn (a novelist and EMT), also serves as the chief operating officer of Bryan Alexander Consulting.  

Finally, Bryan is committed to reinventing what it means to be a public intellectual. That means a commitment to full transparency and a comfort with showing vulnerability.

Very few of us are willing to blur the lines between our professional and private passions and challenges in the way that Bryan does.   

Our higher education community has a self-serving interest in supporting independent scholars.  

The part of our community that works at the intersection of learning and technology particularly benefits from the independent voice of thinkers such as Bryan Alexander (and Audrey Watters).  The need for autonomous and independent thought leadership in edtech is particularly acute given the creeping corporatization of postsecondary educational technology. 

Whoever is in charge of the MacArthur Fellowship (genius awards) should be looking at our independent scholars  (and learning / technology gurus) who are leading our thinking without the benefit of a net. 



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