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Online Learning and Digital Books
August 12, 2014 - 9:00pm

Before I make the claim that online learning to higher ed is like digital books to publishing, I need to set some things straight.

  • I’m Higher Ed Old School:  Give me every class in a seminar room, lab or studio.  Put students and faculty around a table and throw out all the technology.  If you work in edtech for any number of years you quickly realize that technology has, on balance, done more harm than good for learning.   
  • I’m So Higher Ed Old School That I Never Left Campus:  Yes, it’s true.  I love campus life so much that I never left campus.  If they’d let me live in the dorm (and my wife agreed) I’d be moving in this fall with all the 2018’s.
  • I’ll Be Sending 2 Kids To Your Campus:  Are you ready for my girls?  They are maybe coming to your campus (if your student recruiting is doing its job) in 2015 and 2017.  Where do I send the check?

It is my love for the traditional world of academe that will potentially create my biggest higher ed blindspot.

How many people who got into the book business did so because of their love for books? Not just a passion for reading, but a love for the tactile experience of reading on paper.

The publishing world was too slow to embrace digital books because publishing people mistook physical books for reading.  They assumed that the digital reading and digital book buying experience would always be inferior to the paper reading and bookstore book buying process.  

Is it possible that future students would rather learn online than in-person?  

I’m not talking about a preference for online learning based on convenience or costs.

Rather, a preference for online courses even if residential courses are both available and comparatively priced.

Maybe some future students will be like some of today’s book readers, preferring their mobile devices to physical spaces.

Tomorrow’s student may prefer mobile learning over stationary learning.

Tomorrow’s higher ed student may decide that paying for a traditional campus based residential experience makes about as much sense as paying for a new hardcover book.  

Tomorrow’s student may find the lecture format as attractive as digital book enthusiasts finds the hardcover.

Are existing higher ed institutions (the incumbents) moving fast enough today to be ready for tomorrow’s learner?

Are there some colleges and universities that remain resolutely committed to physical classroom learning that should be experimenting with digital classroom learning?

Can we imagine a college or university that combines the best elements of campus life with more options for virtual learning?  (What is so bad about students taking an online class from their dorm room?).

Will we look back on the move to blended learning as a weigh station along the way to fully distributed online and mobile classrooms?

I worry that my love of the small in-person seminar class and my passion for a wonderful lecture is blinding me to how future students will prefer to learn. 

I worry that just as I would rather have a digital book than a paper book, tomorrow’s student would rather have the online class than the in-person class.

Will we look back on in-person classroom learning the same way that we will look back on paper book reading? 


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