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When Will We See Mixed (Residential / Online) Education?

When how we work runs ahead of how we learn.

November 28, 2016
 

We are in the age of the mixed meeting. Of work arrangements that seamlessly blend local and remote workers. 

We are witnessing the disappearance of geography as a determinative variable in productivity.  

Some people work on-site. Some people work remotely. Everyone works together.

When will education catch up with this workplace trend?

The reasons that work has become a mixed local / remote activity are varied.  

Part of this trend is driven by better technology. The cheapness, quality and ubiquity of online meeting software - with reliable webcams and voice-over-internet  - means that working remotely is no longer a technical challenge.  

Online meetings are about as good as face-to-face meetings, sometimes better.  It is now easy to bring a remote person into an on-site meetings. Collaborative tools such as Slack make asynchronous communication natural, fast, and sort of fun. Synchronous communications platforms are now either free (FaceTime, Hangouts, free Skype) or inexpensive (check out BlueJeans).  

Part of the remote working trend is cultural. Terms such as telecommuting now seem quaint, if not anachronistic. We work where our laptops, tablets, and phones are - and these devices are with us all the time. Work happens where we are, not where we go. 

This does not imply that we will all be working remotely. Gathering in one place is still the most efficient way to share information and collaborate. It is just that we will not always be gathering in that place. Sometimes we will be in other places -and that is just fine. And sometimes some of us will spend most of our time working remotely - and that will be fine as well.

So why it that education is not mixed? Students are either online, or they are on campus. The same student may spend some time in a physical classroom and some time in a virtual classroom (blended or low-residency learning). But seldom do we have some students in the same class that are simultaneously remote and residential.

Can we imagine a different type of higher education? One where some students choose to come to campus, and some students choose to learn at distance - but where both groups learn together?

Can we imagine a program or course design that is unconstrained when it comes to place? Where students can choose that month, that week, or that day where they want to learn.  

What would have to change so that learning relationships more closely work relationships?

How would a program or course be different if it were designed with a clean sheet for mixed learning?

Is there a business case to be made for mixed learning - programs that are completely flexible by location?

What are other examples of where higher education lags, rather than leads, the workplace?

 

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