Why Digital Works Against Physical Scale

Courses and conferences.

November 18, 2015

When it comes to education, could digital be the enemy of physical scale?

When I am thinking of scale in education, I am thinking about all those things that we have traditionally done together (synchronously) with many people.  And when I say many people, I mean somewhere between say 50 and 5,000.

The educational scale that I’m thinking about is a large lecture class.   Or an educational conference.

For all of my career participating in a big class, or attending a big conference, felt okay.  I was happy to spend most of my participation time in absorption mode - passively taking in whatever information was being transmitted by whoever was speaking.  The density and speed of the information felt reasonable.

Nowadays, I judge every big educational gathering against a digital standard.  If the educational experience is not superior to what I could achieve digitally than I feel underwhelmed and frustrated.

My standard for interaction, engagement, and connectivity has been elevated by the progressive expansion of digital learning options.

Digital education opportunities have changed how I interpret and evaluate physical educational opportunities.

If I am going to attend a class in-person, I expect that this in-person investment will yield a richer experience than is possible at a click from edX, Coursera, NovoEd, Canvas.net, OpenLearn, etc. etc.

If I am going to travel to a conference, then I want that conference to provide a different experience than watching voice-over presentations and interacting with digital text and images.

My worry in all this is that digital has ended the scaling abilities of physical educational opportunities.  

I’m worried that it is becoming increasingly difficult to effectively scale physical classes past a certain number of people.  (Maybe 50?).  

I’m worried that educational conferences that scale beyond a conversational orientation (again, maybe past 50) may not be worth the investment to attend.

Do you know of any writing on the unintended consequences of digital on physical scale?

Do you share my worries about the physical scale that is the basis of so much of postsecondary education?

What is your experience with digital changing how you think of physical scale?



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