Title

Why Learning Innovation Can Seem Invisible

An unseen renaissance.

October 27, 2016
 

We all know that there are incredible things going around learning innovation.

Each of us has amazing stories to tell about professors doing new and interesting things in their teaching. Courses that have been redesigned to maximize active learning.  Programs that offer innovative opportunities for flexible, experiential, and immersive learning.

All of us can point to ways that the advances in learning science are filtering into teaching practices. Many of us are involved in programs and initiatives for blended, low-residency, online, competency-based, and open learning. We are working on personalized learning applications, project-based learning, and the introduction of progressive and forward-thinking pedagogical techniques to our courses, programs, and degrees.

The challenge is that all of this learning innovation - and there is a ton of learning innovation going on across higher education - can seem invisible to our larger higher ed community.

We know all about the exciting learning innovations that are going on in higher ed. We know about them because we work on these projects. We work with the faculty - or we are the faculty - who are engaged in disciplined experiments within their courses to make non-incremental improvements in learning.  We work on new online, blended, and low-residency programs - programs that depend on constant improvement and iteration to stay current with the research on how people learn.

And we talk to each other about the learning innovations occurring on our campuses. We go to meeting like EDUCAUSE, ELI, OLC, WCET, SXSWEdu, POD, and other conferences. We blog and tweet about our work.  We keep up with the literature on learning innovation - and we share what we are learning with our extended networks.

The challenge is that most people in higher ed - most faculty and administrators (and students) - don’t read what we read. They don’t go to the conferences that we attend.  They don’t talk to the people that we talk to.

Many of us try to tell the stories of the learning innovations through the channels and platforms that we think will get the message out. We try to put the information on our departmental / unit websites. We work with our campus communications professionals to tell the stories. We host talks, and discussions, and workshops to have faculty talk about their own learning innovations. We go to lots of meetings. We have lots of conversations.

None of these strategies seems to be adequate in getting the word out about learning innovation.  

Even the best of these approaches to communicating are effective only within an institution - within an individual campus. They do little to enable someone to evaluate the scope, size, and intensity of learning innovation across the higher ed sector to draw any conclusions.

Everywhere I look I see exciting things going on with learning innovation. I see big investments in bringing in non-faculty educators such as instructional designers - professionals critical for the creation and running of initiatives in blended, low-residency, online, and open education. I see amazing excitement and energy amongst the Teaching and Learning Center and the Academic Computing communities. We are in the middle of a renaissance of learning science, data-driven educational decision making, and the move to active and experiential methods of teaching and learning.

Learning spaces are getting re-designed around models of faculty coaching and collaborative group work. Flipped classes are getting better and more interesting, as we understand how to create more compelling digital learning content and to make better use of precious classroom time. The quality of personalized and adaptive learning platforms is rapidly improving.  There is a wonderful movement towards students controlling their own digital identities, and constructing their own learning paths. Mobile learning is taking off, digital curricular materials are ascendant, and the line between residential and online learning continues to blur.

How many instructional designers has your campus hired in the past couple of years?

How many new low-residency or online degrees or new educational programs has your school launched?

How much has the conversation on your campus changed about how people learn, and how we should teach, during the past few years?

It is nearly impossible, however, to accurately measure all this learning innovation. We have a hard time pointing to, counting up, and making sense of the learning innovations that are occurring on each campus.

This difficulty is partly a function of the de-centralized organizational structure of most colleges and universities. The learning innovations are spread throughout our institutions. They are not controlled, managed, funded, or communicated about by a central entity.

Do we know which colleges and universities to point to as leaders in learning innovation?

Most of us would probably say that the college or university that we work for is a leader in learning innovation. We think this because we are involved in that work - we see it up close everyday - and we don’t see all the learning innovation work done at other schools. 

But we can’t all be leaders in learning innovation - can we?

How can we talk about - and then tackle - the invisibility of learning innovation?

How can we get the message about the innovations in learning that are occurring across higher ed out to the larger higher ed world?

 

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