Is online learning a complex adaptive system?

Discussion in 'General Distance Learning Discussions' started by ebbwvale, Apr 24, 2013.

  1. ebbwvale

    ebbwvale Member

    I have been indulging in a little futuristic thinking about where online education may go in the future in the informal and more formal sense. I think informally that online learning has eclipsed newspapers and books for the passage of information. I think more formal education is set for global shift of seismic proportions.

    Online learning appears to me to be a complex adaptive system. My reasoning is that is more connectively aligned with the educational consumer in a more global sense and is largely beyond usual regulation. If a person is a complex adaptive system then the educational mode that is more responsive to the collective sentiment will be the market leader in education. IT enables this connectivity.

    In a more practical sense, this means to me that online learning will eclipse all other forms of formal education, if it has not already done so. Its flexibility cannot be matched by B & M in the longer term and companies by Google may move into the arena and become major suppliers of educational content because of its research capability, electronic library access, google fiber (fast internet speed), and global market power. Is Google University a mere click away?

    The question may be more how Google and others will get into the online educational market than if it will. It seems to me that those who argue for B & M over online learning are in denial. The next question is what relevance will accreditation be in this environment? A degree from a future "Google University" may not need much accreditation for industry acceptance because of Google's market power.

    I would be interested to hear what others think about the liklihood for major technology companies expanding their base into educational product provided via their advanced technologies and what will the face of accreditation look like if this happens.
  2. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    I think the likelihood of what you're describing is low. Providing content for higher education is outside of the core business of most tech companies, the revenue model there is uncertain, and they would alienate their customers in the education sector. Therefore, I also think the effect on accreditation will be low. The effect of state and federal power grabs on accreditation, however, may be significant in the next decade. We'll see.
  3. ebbwvale

    ebbwvale Member

    The strategic fit is everything I guess, but information is power and developing a teaching capacity may open up other strategic options as well. I could see areas where partnerships may be struck. Publishing companies, for example, now produce texts that are almost complete learning packages and I note that some academics are using these texts for courses, thereby reducing the instructor input into the learning outcome. Like cake mixes, everything is prepackaged. Ebooks are becoming more popular as are ejournals.

    Universities may decide to partner as well. A well branded university together with a big IT company may be formidable. You already have Google Scholar, Google Knowledge, Google Books, Google Image, Google Translate, Google Correlate, and no doubt others that I have missed. It seems to me that a lot infrastructure is already there. It would not be terribly hard to find an institution to issue the degree while all else is delivered through google or another major IT company.

    If it does come, I think it more likely to start in the competency training area first (a large number of online providers already), rather than the humanities or human services. I am not sure how easy it will be to manage a global business such as this, particularly if it networks with other businesses of size to deliver an educational product such as a degree. It just depends which business model suits the dollars more. I think a lot of structure is already there.
  4. ebbwvale

    ebbwvale Member

    Maybe they are already there: Google Analytics

    A useful tool for online learners anyway. I certainly did not know about it. I see they call it Conversion University. I guess the question is how far they want to take it.
  5. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    Training and certification aren't new, this seems to be along those lines. Google does have Course Builder, but I don't think that's exactly what you mean?
  6. cookderosa

    cookderosa Resident Chef

    I don't know where we'll all be in 20 years, but I think it won't look anything like where we are today. My kids (homeschooled) have never had any formal schooling, and they've never had a computer course, yet they are all amazingly resourceful. They can find anything very efficiently and quickly; the internet has changed their intuition about the exclusivity of information, and I think that's a MAJOR aspect of learning that is changing everything in the landscape as we know it. I don't know how companies will ultimately use technology, but you're on point that the argument for B&M learning OVER online learning as maintaining the lead is denial or naive or just simply a case of tunnel vision.
    I believe that it isn't so much the specific flexibility, or cost, or convenience, but I think it's a bigger issue of access. Once upon a time, access to information was held sacred. Only available to a select few. The door has been blown off every library, every lecture hall, and every conference. It's all a click away, and generally it's free. You can't go back.
  7. ebbwvale

    ebbwvale Member

    I was just puting forward the idea that these huge "information obtaining" machines have the capacity to reshape education as we know it. I am not sure that the degree will even be that relevant. You can see that Microsoft have their own certification for engineering their products, accredited by Microsoft. The IT industry seems to regard industry certificates as industry standards, more than degrees in some cases.

    I think IT has almost deconstructed education as we know it or, at the very least, open the gates to education. Business certificates, for example, offered and accredited by global companies may be an alternative qualification to the traditional MBA. Some things can be done as well by IT, and, of course, some things cannot (I suspect not that much). There may be a "shake out" with companies like google and publishing houses getting into the arena. I think that the basic infrastructure is or has been laid and once that expense has been recovered, then those companies will seek to exploit an existing resource and an educational product may be a low cost option for a global company.

    You can imagine what sort of package the University of the People in partnership with Yahoo or Google could offer to developing countries. The potential is enormous, particularly in the area of educational aid. I do think that it will be in the competency area to start with but there is nothing to say that postgraduate research could not be catered for by large information technology companies. Research is a survival requirement for them and expanding the base of knowledge must be a priority for them. Inhouse scholarship may be a way to expand this and maintain some ownership over it.

    It does not have to be just IT either. Recently, I was reading a 1989 book on the concept of a "nonlocal mind" and I was immediately struck with the comparison to what was being stated and cloud computing. I wonder how much research in biology and psychology is being "mirrored" in IT product? All navel gazing, but I think that the traditional controls and rites of passage are being radically undermined.
  8. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    The people who actually run Google -- the Google Board of Directors -- are loaded with degrees with from highly-ranked B&M universities (particularly Stanford and Berkeley, but also MIT, Ivies, Cambridge, etc.)

    Based on their biographies, it is clear that the Google directors have a wide range of interests and experience -- yet none of them have any apparent interest or experience with non-traditional forms of education. On the contrary, it looks like the Google leadership values traditional degrees from traditional name-brand schools.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2013
  9. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    Note also Google has awarded "Google PhD Fellowships" to about a dozen US/Canadian students annually, since 2009.

    It appears that every single winner of a Google Fellowship (around 50 total so far) has pursued their studies at a top-ranked traditional B&M university. For some reason, there don't appear to be any DL or non-traditional schools on that list.
  10. ebbwvale

    ebbwvale Member

    While I have used Google, I think that it is a possible industry wide direction. The background of the Board of Directors will not inhibit the business case in the operational setting. Harvard may not, for example, hire faculty from online colleges, yet it teaches online itself albeit for a Harvard Extension award.

    I acknowledge that it is not there yet, I do see some foundations being laid for educational institutions to use. It is not unusual for a business to go upstream or downstream from its product. Google, Yahoo and others have developed technologies that support online learning. The question has to be asked,"Why not enter the global marketplace for education for ourselves".

    It makes sense if you can obtain a good partnership to do it. Here is something from Microsoft:


    Microsoft has a partnership with the Hawaiian State Library for training in Microsoft Certifications. It is interesting that these (nondegreed)microsoft courses that are now delivered through a state library system are non accredited by regional or national accreditation. If they are, then please correct me, as I could not find it. Mind you it is difficult to see how anybody would be able to know more about Microsoft packages than Microsoft or although perhaps they might about educational process.

    As I understand it, industry recognizes these awards and the government in Hawaii can hardly not recognise them when they are in partnership in delivering them. Perhaps the partnership includes the possibility of the State Library requesting other packages from Microsoft. I have always envied the library system in the US which I consider to be superb and these guys have just consolidated that envy.
  11. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    It is widely known and accepted that commercial vendors may offer training and certification in the use of complicated products. Microsoft has been offering certification programs since 1992. In fact, such programs long predate the computer era -- for example, General Motors certifies auto mechanics, and Caterpillar certifies heavy equipment operators. This has been going on for decades.

    Nobody disputes that these certifications have professional value. And nobody cares that they are unaccredited -- these programs are not even eligible for accreditation, since Microsoft, GM, and Caterpillar are not universities, and their training is not meant to be applied towards college credit or degrees. It's true that some schools (particularly non-traditional ones) might grant academic credit for some of these programs, but that's not their primary purpose.

    So what is their primary purpose? Well, here are some clues:

    - Microsoft sells software.
    - GM sells cars.
    - Caterpillar sells excavators.

    These companies offer training and certification programs for one simple reason: to help promote the use and sales of those products.

    That's fine, as far as it goes -- it just doesn't go very far. Don't expect these companies to start offering education in fields like history, French, calculus, or biology. How would this promote the use and sales of their products ?
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2013
  12. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    Google, Yahoo, Facebook, etc. are advertising companies. Their business model is to provide free online services (search, maps, email, videos, social networking, etc.) that will attract billions of eyeballs to their webpages. Then they sell advertising on those webpages.

    In theory, a company like this could offer free online college courses to attract eyeballs, then sell advertising on the course webpages. But this has not happened as yet. Two problems:

    (1) Free college courses don't really attract that many eyeballs. A very successful MOOC might enroll a few hundred thousand students. That's enormous by traditional college standards -- but it's trivial compared to a viral video ("Gangnam Style" has been viewed over 1.5 billion times on youtube).

    (2) Online companies are great at delivering content, like search results or youtube videos or maps or emails. But for a college course, delivering content is not enough -- there also has to be evaluation and grading of students, to see if they have actually learned the content. This greatly increases the cost.

    Google, Yahoo, and Facebook want to provide webpages that can be operated cheaply, while attracting millions (preferably billions) of eyeballs. At this time, online college courses don't meet those standards -- they cost too much to operate, and they don't attract large enough audiences.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2013
  13. CalDog

    CalDog New Member

    Community colleges in the US routinely partner with commercial vendors to offer professional training.
    For example:

    - Austin Community College (Texas) and Microsoft
    - GateWay Community College (Arizona) and Cisco
    - Central Piedmont Community College (North Carolina) and Caterpillar
    - Macomb Community College (Georgia) and General Motors
    - Garden City Community College (Kansas) and John Deere

    There is nothing new or unusual about this, it's been happening for years.
    Last edited by a moderator: Apr 25, 2013
  14. ebbwvale

    ebbwvale Member

    I don't think that this is worth going on with but I note your points. My observations are:

    1. Companies will swim upstream and downstream from their product to make money. The partnerships that have been identified show that. The exploitation of existing infrastructure to earn money in a branch area is not unusual. Partnerships make it easier ;

    2. The Global online market is huge in Asia. The Asian economies of China and India cannot build enough traditional educational infrastructure quickly enough to service their needs. Indonesia is expected to be an Asian Tiger by 2040 so growth in Asia will be positively loaded for at least 20 years. It is simply a question of scale and online learning covers the gap. Billions of eyes will be on the product. If is coupled with advertising and publishing houses then perhaps there is an even stronger market;

    3. The IT industry seems equally geared to industry qualifications than university quals. It is interesting that the person working in a very vulnerable business area, such as IT, may have a qualification from a company that does not have regional or national accreditation, while a person who is obtaining a liberal arts degree is routinely advised to seek only accredited colleges. One is competency based and the other is not. I think that most people seem to want a competency based qualification that will get them work in the shortest possible time. Some people, like me, want more, but most want the job that pays more and now;

    4. Business qualifications were largely obtained outside the university setting by the obtaining of industry qualifications, like IT. CPA's, for example, were educated outside the university setting in my country and others. I obtained an industry Diploma of Corporate Management from the Institute of Corporate Managers, Secretaries and Administrators. Business practices are almost inextricably interwoven with e-commerce and information technology. Large software companies can supply companies with this training if they want. Persumably, the company would then use that companies software. I think that Google Analytics is a step in this direction. They are efficient and effective platforms for this sort of product;
    5. I agree that they won't get into the humanities or human services such as counseling, but there may be some challenge to MBA's and management qualifications. I note that the UK now professional qualification equivalencies to university degrees. A City & London Guild Fellowship is classed as an equivalent to a Doctorate. National Qualifications Framework - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    6. The costs for global business entering education is cheap, as you can buy the expertise in different currencies in different countries. Global countries do that now. How many cars are build in one country? The last time I looked Brazil was making most of the gearboxes.

    This is really a "back to the future" scenario as industry provided all the competency education while universities provided theoretical knowledge, inclusive of the liberal arts. The universities expanded their business. It remains to be seen if industry snaps back through large IT companies and partnerships. Whether all this is realized or not, or, in what time frame, I do not know, but I think it is possible in the global sense

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