[iDC] Getting started: Equity or utility in the future of learning?

Nancy White nancyw at fullcirc.com
Tue Jun 8 18:48:17 UTC 2010

I'm ready to jump in with two thoughts to stir the pot that George 
has just put on the fire. I know - poor form to put in two thoughts 
in one email, but expediency wins today!

#1 Think Beyond Institutionalized Higher Education
The first is to say coming from OUTSIDE of higher education, I have 
repeatedly had the chance to go back for an advanced degree. Instead 
I chose the "school of life in the networked world" over the 
formalized degree because I can get what I want and need, I can get 
critical feedback and critique, and I can get it at a price I can 
afford --> my time and attention. The cost for a degree for me, 
someone working mostly with non profits, could not be recouped. I 
have too much income to get a scholarship. And I have the savvy to 
figure out how to do this.

My learning lives beyond formal institutions. My learning has been 
globalized  since 1996. Between my options as a solo learner, as part 
of a defined cohort/group/community or out across the networks I 
connect to, I am living it. I don't have to wait for any university 
to catch up. What are the implications?

I don't think I am unique, nor do I think my uniqueness is restricted 
to North America or Europe. While the contexts vary widely, the full 
set of "costs" of going to university or for graduate degrees are significant.

So why do we want to continue a model that amplifies these problems? 
And why do we assume a formalized degree is the "right and proper" 
path for our learning trajectory? What about informal and life long 
learning? How can we create contexts where this adds the kind of 
value that a) gets people in jobs b) provides them with the learning 
they want/crave/need and c) is scalable?

It is interesting that the 2010 EFQUEL meeting in Portugal this year 
will revolve around the theme of 

So the question is, learning FOR WHAT? For whose interest? For 
keeping universities in business? I hope not. ;-)  I hope I can 
contribute from the "outsider" perspective. ;-)

#2 Duality Everywhere
The second bit I want to throw in comes from facilitating a number of 
meetings around "e-learning in Africa" where I hear things that both 
excite and scare the *&$&%*&$ out of me. For every "solution" there 
is the flip side that I believe we should include in our 
explorations. Things like
    * the "massification of learning" a term that also worries me 
which I heard from university administrators from a number of Africa 
countries-- the duality of providing wide scale access, and the 
challenge of resisting reinforcing the "factory" model of education 
and concerns about quality (and what that means!).
    * The adoption and rejection of technology as an enabler 
(computer, mobile - everything,) See Karyn Romais' recent posts from 
E-Learn Africa and my notes from IST Africa. Links: 
(the actual notes, not the process info about how I made them!)

While I am at heart an optimist, exploring the dark with the light is 
crucial in examining our choices for education going forward.

So there are two big elephants in the room, right off the bat!

Waving from Seattle, Washington


  At 04:38 AM 6/8/2010, you wrote:
>Hi all,
>A few thoughts to get started:
>Education has been described as "the last field to globalize". This 
>is not for lack of trying. Attempts by universities to develop a 
>global presence result more frequently in failure than in success 
>(such as Johns Hopkins failed move into Singapore). For-profit 
>entities such as Apollo Group and Laureate Education (who recently 
>announced Bill Clinton as an honorary chancellor) have had more 
>succes, growing to multi-billion dollar internationally distributed 
>university systems. In contrast, some investors are predicting a 
>large scale implosion of the for-profit sector 
>Enrolment in higher education is growing rapidly, from 29 million in 
>1970 to 153 million in 2007. Growth has occurred in all regions - 
>sub-Saharan Africa, Pacific, Asia, Latin America, etc ( 
>). At the same time, governments are turning to education as a 
>saviour of sorts in economic innovation and transformation 
>If we focus on enrolment numbers and the role governments turn to 
>higher education to fulfill, this does not look like an industry in 
>decline. Add irritating terms like massification and education for 
>all, particularly light of globalization, and we have what looks 
>like a healthy system (oh, and throw in a dose of student mobility).
>Universities that have traditionally relied on equities-based growth 
>now need to find alternative revenue sources 
>"Knowledge commercialization" has not yet provided a suitable 
>replacement. International students is a more promising approach. 
>For example, in Australia, education is one of the largest export 
>However, recent change in immigration laws has significantly 
>impacted this sector with fears of 20-40% drop in international students.
>Costs of education continue to increase, with a greater portion of 
>the tuition falling on the learners. Government support, as a 
>percentage of total tuition, shows a long line of decline. Learners 
>are forced to pick up the slack. The connection between a university 
>degree and economic gain is being questioned 
>Many developing regions of the world - eager to play an active role 
>in the so-called "knowledge economy" - face significant constraints. 
>Once educated, citizens often leave their home country, choosing to 
>remain in countries with better research or academic opportunities. 
>Faculty often take on part-time work to compliment their poor 
>earnings in the university. The gaps in equity produced by the 
>industrial economy may be more pronounced in the knowledge economy 
>(see this report for a more detailed analysis: 
>The theme that will frame our discussions over the next few weeks - 
>equity or utility in the future of learning - occurs against this 
>backdrop of increased enrolment, increased state reliance on the 
>education sector as a competitive advantage, reduced public support 
>for education, and a systemic groping for revenue not based on equities.
>We see and hear of the changing higher education sector. What we 
>really need is some sense of what the higher education sector is becoming.

Nancy White | Full Circle Associates | Connecting communities online
nancyw at fullcirc.com | +1 206 517 4754 | GMT - 8 |skype - choconancy | 
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