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How is digital thinking changing the analog campus?

The first thing to get straight is that digital thinking is not the same as educational technology or online learning. Digital thinking is not delivery method or a set of technologies.  

Rather, digital thinking is a way of understanding the world.

3 things happen when you bring a digital mindset to a traditional analog institution:

1 - A Bias Towards Relentless Change:

The digital mindset is one of relentless forward progress. The pace of change of all things digital has far outstripped anything built on an older analog model. This is true of not only the core technologies that we think of as existing at the core of the digital economy - the computer, the phone, and the internet - but also the companies that produce these products. 

Bringing people with a digital mindset into the leadership of an institution means inviting in those who will push for change. They will try to drive change at a pace that is uncomfortable within the normal metabolism of a traditional (analog) institution.   

The change that they will push will not have an end point. A place where the change happened, and now they are done. Rather, the change being pushed by the digital leader (working in whatever position she is in - it does not have to be in technology), will never be done. It is a way of operating, a method of seeing the world. 

2 - The Valuing of Rapid Iteration and Minimally Viable Solutions:

People with a digital brain are biased towards action. The digital economy is built on rapid iteration. Successful digital products, platforms, and services almost never emerge fully formed.  The best are those that are released at a point where they are minimally viable, and then are improved based on user feedback and observed (and measured) usage.

Most digital products fail. Rather than being understood as a bad thing, these failures are a critical (and expected) element of the learning process.  When was the last time you ever heard about a project or initiative at an analog campus failing? The digital thinker will push to try new things. The digital thinker believes that the risk of not doing new things far outweighs the risk of trying something and failing.  

3-  A Belief In the Power of Data:

A third reason to bring people with a digital mindset to your campus - and the reason that these people will drive your campus culture somewhat crazy - is that digital people love data. They want to measure everything, and use the data derived from these measurements to design and iterate their services, products, and platforms.

A data centric approach is challenging on the analog campus.  We believe that much of what we do in higher education is beyond quantification. We are weary of efforts to place metrics on efforts that are valuable for their intrinsic worth. We don’t want to reduce the art of teaching and learning to the lowest common denominator what can be measured, and therefore controlled.  

These are valid cautions to the dangers of data-only approach. The opportunity lies in the creative collision of a data-centric approach with a more nuanced and humanistic orientation. Digital learning people - those with a belief in data over stories - should be in conversation with those who want to look beyond the numbers.  

Have digital thinkers started to move into positions of influence on your campus?

Are we starting to see people with a digital mindset moving into non-IT campus leadership roles?


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