Listening for Weak Signals at #ELI2014

New challenges for our learning tech community.

February 9, 2014

The reason that I go to conference like ELI is to listen hard for weak signals about the future of higher ed.  

Weak signals are those ideas that have not quite yet made it into the vocabulary of future think.

For instance, everyone is talking about the importance of data and analytics in shaping postsecondary change. Analytics are strong signals.

The weak signals that picked up at the ELI conference have less to do with either learning or technology than I would have expected.

Rather, the higher ed ELI weak signals that keep bouncing around my brain are about leadership, finance, and competition.

What was striking about the ELI conference this year was the extent to which the learning and technology community is ascendant in higher education.  

For years we have been talking about the potential for technology to catalyze authentic learning.  About how explorations in online and blended teaching open up new opportunities to think about learning.   

Up until the MOOC craze we were mostly having this conversation with ourselves.    

Every now and again we’d have some opportunity to influence the strategic direction of our institutions, but this influence was usually at the margins.   

A few institutions of higher learning (mostly for-profit, some not-for-profit but with extraordinary leaders), were able to put learning technology at the center of their long-term strategies.   

At most colleges and universities, however, any changes in organizational structure or educational models afforded by new technologies were, at best, incremental.

Today, all that has changed.   

Edtech folks are having conversations with deans, provosts, and sometimes presidents.

CIOs are championing learning technology. 

Resources are beginning to flow into academic computing, with lots of talk about how dollars can be re-purposed from the administrative computing side of the house.

Developing a strategy to leverage learning technology, a strategy that may or may not include open online education but will definitely include blended learning, is emerging as an institutional must have.

What I did not hear enough of at ELI was discussion about the larger business of the university.   

How higher ed finances work.   

How to be an effective change agent and leader within the university organization.

Do we know enough about how the university works outside of our world of learning technology?

Are we as fluent in university finances and organizational structures as we are in technology platforms and theories of how people learn?

Do we understand how the economics of higher ed are changing, and how these structural shifts will influence the business side of our own operations?

Do we have a good sense of what is driving our costs, and about the difficult choices that lay ahead in re-aligning our higher ed cost structures to the new postsecondary economic realities?

Will future ELI conferences need presentations from more economists and business school professors?  

More training in finance, marketing, and organizational change?

Where should today’s learning technology professionals go to develop the skills necessary to lead organizational change?


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