Why Consumer Technologies Cloud Our Thinking About Higher Education

And why educational technology leaders need a different set of skills.

July 23, 2015
Consumer technologies and higher education feel like they should be closely related. The tools are now largely the same. 
We use the same laptop for connecting with online communities and managing our finances as we use to teach online and blended courses.
We use the same tablet and smartphone to discover and listen to music and watch movies and TV shows as we use to read class materials and watch online lectures.
The Internet has changed almost everything about how we create, consume, and share information. Our devices have gotten smaller, faster, and cheaper at the pace of Moore’s Law.  We have witnessed the technology based disruption of many of the information industries that feel connected to our own postsecondary ecosystem. Music, news, entertainment, banking, and publishing have all been transformed by the digital revolution.
So why has higher education been so resistant to the positive forces of technology evolution? Why is it that costs continue to rise, student debt continues to soar, schools continue to struggle, contingent faculty keep staying contingent, and so many students keep dropping out? 
The reason that technology has not transformed higher education at the same pace as consumer industries is that higher education is not a consumer good
Higher education is not something that we consume, rather it is an activity in which society invests. Consumer technologies are designed to facilitate private consumption.  Higher education is a public good. 
Many of us working in higher education are frustrated with the slow pace of change. We see non-incremental improvements all around us. We wonder why our industry feels so slow to take advantages of the affordances of digital. We are impatient with the postsecondary status quo. We want to use technology as a lever for change.
My intuition is that edtech leaders will need a different set of skills to be effective. We will need to understand finance as much as technology. Change management as much as learning theory. Organizational leadership as much as learning technology management.  Public policy as much as project management.
A good place for us to start is to lead the conversation on the limits of technology in higher education. 
Our community should be the first to argue for the primacy of the educator over the efficacy of any technology.
We should find opportunities to articulate how education fundamentally differs from consumer activities. We should contribute to the argument around education as a public investment rather than a private consumption choice. We should talk less about educational technology and more about the educational goals that we are trying to achieve.
How has consumer technology influenced, and possibly clouded, how you think about higher education?


Back to Top