Pick any community anywhere and take a day to step away from this online education ‘disruptive’ revolution and you will find communities that remain untouched by any of the existing digital learning conversations. Stop and do a head count of those in-the-know and those who are not. Welcome to the future scarcity model. The Information Age appears destined to benefit one side of a Digital Divide.
I am all for opening up access to online learning and applaud the hard work so many people are putting into making it a practical reality. Nevertheless the more I follow the myriad related conversations surrounding education, the more I see ‘experts’ missing the boat. The baseline computer literacy necessary for the success of existing online learning strategies is still weak among learners and educators. Worse, the percentage of people with access to the necessary technologies is extremely small.
The Open Source technologies that have, for the past couple of decades, built the platforms and support networks that foster critically necessary online literacy and competency find themselves over-burdened, and occasionally derailed, by venture capital’s bull-in-a-china-shop approach to online university and K-12 platforms. This, I admit, concerns me because we have yet to find an alternate means of empowering the public self-directed learning of emerging media tools. Nevertheless, venture capital is important to the advancement of innovation in education.
Historically, visionaries and their financial backers have been critical to the discovery and development of new frontiers. We are finding that breaking ground in new educational frontiers follows historical patterns that are not appreciably different from, for example, the Elizabethan era. The earth is not flat and computer literacy and competency will not eliminate face to face experiences. Digital technologies will not smother a learner’s capacity to learn or a teacher’s capacity to teach anymore than the invention of the calculator eliminated excellence in numeracy dependent fields.
Quality 21st Century Learning outcomes demand that both learner and educator share a functional understanding of digital mediums and the technology that enables them. In order to offer practical access and achieve quality outcomes, technical literacy needs to develop together with conventional literacy. Unless we understand computers and the web the way we understand pencil, pen, paper and book, outcomes will be abysmal. More importantly, educators and learners had best engage in some bottom up teaching by force-feeding decision makers the realities of the medium and tools that they are either promoting or denouncing.
In an interesting (and timely) Blog post, Computing and Systems Control teacher, Marc Scott, illustrates the Achilles Heel that compromises learning and teaching outcomes in digital learning environments, as well as in our bricks-and-mortar environments. He writes:
via Kids can’t use computers… and this is why it should worry you – Coding 2 Learn.
So this is the state of the world. Let’s make up some statistics to illustrate my point. If 20 years ago 5% of us had a computer in our homes, then you could pretty much guarantee that 95% of those computer owners were technically literate. Today, let’s assume that 95% of us have a computer in our homes, then I would guess that around 5% of owners are technically literate.
Marc Scott’s post uses common every-day examples we all deal with regularly as he speaks to the unique type of dissonance we all struggle with in this era of rapid-fire changes in information technologies. We are all using tools and mediums that we do not fully understand, and what we understand today may change tomorrow. Worse, the tools we understand and use today, are often poorly understood by those we seek to interact with using these tools.
Scott goes on to quote one of his technician’s pet phrases:
As my lead technician likes to state, ‘the problem is usually the interface between the chair and the keyboard.’
A few years ago, this wasn’t really a very big problem. Computer literacy was largely elective for the majority. If there was one person per office that was a bit of a computer geek, everyone else in the office could get by. Everyone had a neighbor down the street or around the block that ‘fixed’ the invisible problematic interface between the chair and the keyboard. Parents were encouraged to set limits to minimize their children’s computer and gaming time. This message served to mute the parents and teachers lobbying for increased funding and curriculum geared towards computer literacy.
Enter Web 2.0 and few are ready for the realities that come with the rapid explosion of technology driven communication, knowledge building, and knowledge sharing. Contrary to popular belief, not everyone has access to the tools and bandwidth required to maximize the experience and even fewer understand the tools they need to use. Somehow, critics of online learning are in fact expecting optimal outcomes from experimental methods using tools that are still being developed and disseminated.
Enthusiastic and motivated MOOC participants are busily sourcing out courses, tools, websites and creative commons licensed materials that will serve to help them improve their writing and math skills. They are scrambling to ‘get up to speed’ when it comes to social media and computer literacy in general. Educators and online learning platform developers are equally busy with the same learning curve from the opposite side of the table. Meanwhile, the gap between those who know, and those who don’t know grows.
So many established Higher Education ‘specialists’ are denouncing digital ‘open source’ teaching and learning initiatives. They often cite the merits of ‘scarcity’ as justification for limiting access to the knowledge building content archived behind ivy league walls. What should be concerning us all is the reality that we are creating a new scarcity tier. Not only are we seeing protectionist behaviors by those who insist on keeping content archived behind proprietary firewalls to make sure their scarcity models remain affluent, we are seeing a digital competency scarcity developing. Only those with access to the new digital teaching and learning technologies and who are establishing competency as new tools are developed and offered, will benefit as we move forward in the Information Age. We are unintentionally creating a new divide. A digital divide that limits access to the full potential of the Information Age.
- Getting Online Learning Working (edtech2learn.wordpress.com)
- How Digital Learning Is Becoming The Fourth Literacy (edudemic.com)
- POST: Why Digital Literacy Should Include Privacy Education (acrl.ala.org)
- My Digital Literacy Contextualized (themindofalicia.wordpress.com)