In the Globe and Mail on December 19, Leah McLaren wrote:
‘We are living in an Era of Perpetual Advice – and almost none of it is any good….the truth is, if you had a monkey throwing darts, you’d have a better chance of predicting the future.’
OK – so you can’t say you weren’t warned! Nevertheless, here are my predictions for 2010.
1. Follow the money.
In many countries, 2010 will be a difficult year financially. Governments are going to have to take control of their large deficits, and their options are limited: cut expenditure, increase taxes, borrow more money. But you won’t be able to borrow more money to pay off the old because it will be too expensive, and who is going into an election with a promise of more taxes? With a majority of the electorate becoming seniors (well, almost), you can’t cut health budgets. So we’ll have to cut the universities (after the civil service and the wages of elected officials, of course). See, that decision wasn’t so difficult after all, was it?
The USA and Britain in particular face some very difficult financial decisions over the next few years (and I believe 2011 will be worse than 2010 for public sector cuts, so it won’t be a question of trying to ride out things until the situation improves – it could be a long and increasingly bumpy ride).
The big unknown is how governments and public post-secondary institutions will respond to lower revenues. Here are some possibilities:
- more of the same: larger classes, more adjuncts, higher tuition fees, poorer service. (Well, at least it’s a strategy that has been well tried and tested.)
- cut enrolments: well, that can’t be done quickly – students are already enrolled and will need at least four years to work through the system – and most governments in economically advanced countries still recognise that they need an educated workforce. Even more importantly, students and their parents are voters.
- greater differentiation between institutions, with a few rich research universities maintaining current levels of funding, with the rest being even more severely cut. (A solution proposed by the ‘elite’ Canadian research universities – equivalent of throwing women and children off the life raft so the strong can survive.)
- a multi-tiered and increasingly differentiated faculty: a very few research-only professors, slightly more teaching-only professors, and many more adjunct faculty, but with poorer pay
- closing of educational support units, cancelling or not renewing licenses for LMSs, and reducing IT support staff, to enable the institution to focus on ‘core’ activities (such as college football in the USA).
- or will at least some governments or institutions look at new models for post-secondary education that focus less on expensive buildings and more on virtual learning?
I suspect we will see all these (and some other) developments in 2010, but every challenge is also an opportunity, and the increasingly dire state of public financing does offer a real opportunity to re-think current teaching and learning environments in ways that will not only help control costs but also produce the learning needed in the 21st century.
So, especially if you are not working in a privileged first-tier research university, brush off your revolutionary plans for e-learning (no, NOT clickers) and have them ready for your sorely pressed administration in 2010. It would also help if you could show how this could save some money as well, but that might be another challenge.
Well, e-publishing has been around for some time, and the Kindle was Amazon’s biggest selling item in 2009. Thus I predict that 2010 will see e-publishing overtaking traditional printing for academic textbooks. The simple reason is cost. Students are paying more for printed text books than for tuition fees in many programs, whereas increasingly, through online publishing, e-textbooks can be downloaded free or at much lower cost.
Within e-publishing there are two separate trends. With open textbook publishing, books go through a similar review process as print textbooks, but the business model is completely different, since open textbooks can be downloaded without cost. For instance, from Flatworld
We preserve the best of the old – books by leading experts, rigorously reviewed and developed to the highest standards. Then we flip it all on its head.
Our books are free online. We offer convenient, low-cost choices for students – softcovers for under $30, audio books and chapters, self-print options, and more. Our books are open for instructors to modify and make their own (for their own course – not for anybody else’s). Our books are the hub of a social learning network where students learn from the book and each other.
Traditional book publishers are also moving to e-publication. For instance, Jossey-Bass sold more electronic copies than print copies of ‘Effective Teaching with Technology in Higher Education‘ in 2009 (despite the electronic option not being very clear on the ordering web site). However, most publishers charge the same for downloading as for print copies. I suspect this business model will change, with electronic copies becoming cheaper (but still not free) from traditional publishers, who will have to respond to the competition from open textbooks. Nevertheless, there will still be a market for traditional publishers of textbooks (even though these will increasingly be electronic versions) because most authors want some financial reward for the considerable effort required in writing a best-selling textbook, and professional editorial help (I know of what I speak).
I use the term e-publishing, not e-books, deliberately. I don’t see a long-term future for e-books, at least for study purposes. Despite its high sales to the general public, the Kindle does not provide the kind of interface that makes it appealing to students – nor does the Sony Reader:
Complaining about usability, device issues and poor value for money, students who routinely get their movies and music online are still consistently opting for thick, clunky old-school books when given a choice. Johnson, 2009
The problem is that e-books are stand-alone devices that do not directly integrate with the other tools students are using, particularly a desktop or laptop computer. The interface of e-books is not really well designed for study purposes.
Thus watch particularly for online book distributors such as Kobo, and devices that use open standards, that will allow books to be purchased (probably at around $10 a copy) from any supplier and also traded, further depressing the cost. More importantly, Kobo and other open standard online distributors do not require you to purchase a specific device to read them – you can read them online from a standard computer or mobile phone, or download them for reading on your own computer. This is why, at least for study purposes, Kobo and other open standard publishing will eventually win out over Kindle and the Sony Reader.
3. The year of mobile learning?
Could 2010 be the year when mobile learning ceases to be mainly promise and becomes an actual reality? Or perhaps it would be fairer to say will mobile learning move from being a fringe or supplementary activity and become the primary delivery medium?
If it does, I suspect it will not be in the USA, Canada, Australia or Europe, but in South Africa, an Asian country such as India, or possibly Brazil. Why? Because their need to move to mobile learning is greater. In these countries, many more people have a mobile phone than ground-based Internet access or a computer. This development is also less likely to be for post-secondary educational purposes, but to enable students to obtain high school qualifications or for lifelong learning and company training (bigger markets, greater need).
Nor will the application be ‘pure’ mobile learning, but more likely a hybrid of mobile learning combined with occasional access to a computer and terrestrial Internet (mainly to keep down roaming charges), possibly at local Internet cafés or conventional educational institutions outside ‘normal’ teaching hours..
I still think though that this is more likely to happen on a large scale in 2011 or 2012, when there will be hand held devices with bigger or expandable screens, and more importantly a better virtual learning environment (educational apps and interactive materials designed for mobile learning.)
4. Convergence through cloud computing
Maybe not in 2010, but perhaps in 2011, we will see the ultimate, all purpose device that will combine a big enough screen/fine enough resolution (maybe in a foldable format), an intuitive user interface, full mobile access, a full range of applications, and still be small enough to carry in your pocket or purse (essential for getting through security at airports, as well). I’m sure Steve Jobs already has this under way. The device will be able to do this through using cloud computing, where most applications and data will be stored.
The interface is likely to be the biggest challenge. Whatever happened to voice recognition? This was heralded in 1999 as the big breakthrough in interfacing with computers, but it has proved to be one technology too difficult to master (if you quote telephone companies’ automatic answering service as an example of where voice recognition has been applied, you’ve just proved my point). The qwerty keyboard is a clumsy device, as are mouses and pull-down menus. The iPhone in particular has introduced some nice haptic interfaces, but we still need at least one more breakthrough to make small, mobile devices really useful for study purposes. (We also need to change our vision for teaching and learning too, to accommodate more rich media, both for instruction and for assessment purposes, thus reducing our dependence on a qwerty keyboard for text).
5. Brazil: the international leader in e-learning in 2010?
Several years ago, the Federal Government in Brazil issued an edict that all federal government IT software purchases should be open source. One result of this was the development of a private industry sector specialising in the development of high quality online learning materials for Brazil’s enormous school system (see for instance WebAula). The government is also requiring a fully graduate teaching force, and e-learning is a critical factor in its in-service teacher training. Every school in the country is to have a computer lab and Internet access by 2010. Similarly there is a fast-growing business sector producing e-learning for corporate and company training. It was one of the first countries to establish an open content program, through the Escola do Futuro at the Universidad de Sao Paulo in 1995, which aimed to make all the classic Portuguese-language publications available free online to schools, and which now has a wide range of e-learning projects.
These are just a few of the many steps being taken in Brazil with respect to e-learning. (We would know a lot more about e-learning in Brazil if we spoke Portuguese.) With its GDP growing at an anticipated 8% or more in 2010, and hence resources for continued investment in e-learning, Brazil is on track to becoming the world leader in its use of e-learning.
Another country to watch is India, with a vast and growing e-learning industry, the ability and resources to innovate in applications of e-learning, and English as a major language. Increasingly we will see the development of online learning materials, courses and quality open content being outsourced to Indian companies.This may have a negative impact on educational technology support units in our universities and colleges. (The best defence will be to focus on the application of educational theory and pedagogy to the design of quality e-learning, where compared to IT development and support, India is less competitive).
China, on the other hand, although it has an equally vast number of e-learning applications, is considerably hamstrung by centralised control over content and a rigid, behaviourist teaching method. Its restrictions on Internet use also hamper the development of the necessary skills and resources needed to develop and grow knowledge-based industries.
6. Something no-one has ever thought of
Well, that’s the nature of new technology, isn’t it? There will almost certainly be something ‘new’ and dynamic in technology in 2010 that we don’t know about yet,which will be jumped on as the latest ‘saviour’ of education. The issue though is whether it will turn out to be really useful, lead to better learning, or impact on our institutions, or whether it will just drift through academe and disappear as quickly as it came.
It should be another interesting year for e-learning. I’d be interested in what you think will be significant e-learning developments in 2010.
In the meantime, I wish you every success with your endeavours, may your faculty be innovative, your administration supportive and your students brilliant. Happy 2010!