Information Digitization – a Paradigm Shift

There is a paradigm shift taking place in learning today. I have written before that there is a paradigm shift in education, but the status quo is reinforcing the traditional trenches in a way that is unbelievable in today’s world. Just as the Germans simply zipped around the impregnable Maginot line (the massively reinforced trenches from WWI) at the beginning of WWII, learning is preparing to zip around the heavily reinforced educational institutions of today.

The music industry, the publishing industry, the newspaper industry, the postal systems, the public libraries, the traditional bookstore, video stores, movie theatres – these and other sectors of our society have had to (or are in the process of) reinventing themselves to fit into the new world of digitized information. Only in education have the powers that be refused to engage in a critical self-examination to ask what digitization really means to this sector of society.

As long ago as 30 years, the education sector “embraced” digitization with the beginnings of the e-learning revolution. As time has unfolded, the rush to embrace e-learning has continued unabated – even though it has become increasingly clear that this is not the answer. The entry of private providers – introducing competition into the moribund higher education sector – has been hailed as either the saviour or the satan of learning. It too is in the process of becoming irrelevant. There is a fundamental reason for this that has been glibly ignored. The education system was never that good at fostering learning, and all that has happened with the digitization age has been the transferring of poor learning experiences into a digitized format.

David Price, in his book Open, articulates his realization of the massive shift in perspective as follows:

Mine was when I realised formal education could no longer look upon learning which happens socially as either inferior or complementary. Rather, it’s a direct challenge to centuries-old orthodoxies, and simply can’t ignored

And, the vast majority of teachers/lecturers/professors still look at the mobile information tools as a distraction in the classroom, and tell their students to turn them off!

As I have talked about the over the years, I hear the same refrain echoed over and over again – higher education’s strength lies in its ability to ignore fads and whims, and just keep going as it has always gone. A millennium of achievements can’t possibly be wrong.

How wrong they are. A big part of the strength of higher education today lies in its ability to absorb change and make it a part of what it is. Universities have not always done research. In the thousand years history of HE, research is merely a 150 year old phenomenon that didn’t take firm root until a mere 6-0 – 70 years ago. The massification of HE is only about 50 years old. HE has changed dramatically over the centuries to embrace new activities and ways of doing things. It may survive this fundamental shift, but I’m unsure, given the power of the entrenched interests.


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