Online Blogucation

The Future Of Education?

I've been at my job with (Pearson) eCollege for 10 years this October. I've seen trends come and go. I've watched bells and whistles become staples while staples disappear from existence. Some things change while others stay the same. But during my tenure with the company, in addition to the 17 years of teaching in higher education for which I've never stopped, I am also tired.

I'm tired of defending the same points to people who don't really care about the answers. I'm tired of trying to show people what it's like to move a mile, just to get them to move an inch. I'm tired of the assumptions based solely on "gut" feel or (worse yet) on tradition. You know the fallacy - "We've always done it this way, so we should continue..." I actually heard the head of one of the largest eLearning institutions in the world start a keynote address with this: "We all know that face to face is the best option. But when that isn't possible, here are the best ways to use eLearning."

Huh? Forget the studies that show how online is BETTER in some instances than on-ground. Forget the research which shows how online, with greater transparency and accountability is a better method for getting students through outcomes-based assessment. Forget that data, which can transform education into a personalized learning environment allowing exponentially more students to pass, succeed, and thrive, only comes when we digitize content, delivery, and assessment. And by all means forget that online education is changing the paradigm of learning from those who cannot (be accepted, matriculate, complete, etc), to those who can (pass, graduate, accel). Forget all of that. Let's just keep doing what we're doing that is and has been failing for decades...

...or not! Instead, why not focus on what we can accomplish if education embraces technology like almost every other facet of our world. What would happen if we really opened ourselves up to delivering incredible content, authentic assessments, and practical tasks to help students work, live, and thrive. Imagine.

Flying cars painting from the late 1800'sImagine a student sitting on a bus. Maybe a flying bus. (Ok, maybe not - did you know we have pictures of "future" vehicles flying dating back to the 1700's?) But this student is looking at her tablet device. She's a pre-med student going through A&P. So, she clicks on her device, powered by the sun of course, and goes into a lesson on the heart. Immediately a 3-Dimensional heart starts slowly turning above her device. This heart can be turned by her, examined by her, and even sliced open to reveal its contents. Of course, with her ear bud in, she can hear the instructor going through the sections as she views them. Or, she can watch a real heart pumping in a video based on various contexts like during exercise, when in distress, or while sleeping. When her bus arrives, she simply clicks off the tablet and heads to work.

Another group of students is studying statistics. There is a problem that asks them to discern numbers within a given culture. They are in a late night study session in their school's commons area. One of them suggests they step into a room where one wall is made entirely of an HD monitor. A student touches the monitor which switches on. He logs into an account and sends a video conference request to a friend in another country. Immediately the wall is transformed into a window for another classroom 10,000 miles away. Now two student groups on two continents start working the problem together. They share ideas, data, and learning methodologies as they also connect on a personal level. They simply use their fingers to draw facts and figures on the wall - many of which are translated into another language, all of which are dually usable by both groups. The session lasts for 45 minutes when both groups decide to take their new understandings and craft a solution. The wall becomes a wall again.

An instructor begins class. Students login to their devices (mobile, pc, etc) to hear her speaking, but only seeing blackness. Soon though, the blackness becomes gray. Her talking continues as she describes the geothermal tunnels she is walking through. She is trying to research potential problems with the Earth's crust through a research grant, but what better opportunity to illustrate her findings with the next generation of scientist? The entire class experience occurs through the camera attached to her helmet, with the students able to ask direct and poignant questions along the way.

A class of 400 is broken into groups of 15. The instructor begins the simultaneous lecture / webcast, "Welcome to History 215. You have been placed in groups and have been given a packet which includes journal articles, websites, riddles, and puzzles. Your job is to find out who Nymon Lester is and stop him from harming our school. This 55 year old has more power than you can imagine and is using it to destroy something valuable to everyone hearing my voice. You only have 48 hours. GO!" Immediately students scatter as they devise strategies, assign roles and tasks, and establish norms for their immersive group experience. The course will be over in 2 days and only one group will win.

Finally, we find a woman in her early 50's. She has gone back to school after raising a family, but she doesn't remember much. She needs help. So, as she opens her Algebra eBook during the lecture, she watches the instructor start to piece together a problem on the eBoard. Soon, he asks the students to try it on their own. When she tries to do a similar problem, she gets stuck on step 2 and the book pulls in some content from a remedial math course to show her a video, give her a simpler problem, and help her get to a place where she can succeed. By the end of the lesson, she is caught up. Her digital course remembers what she struggled with and will remind her the next time she logs on to cement the learning, but she is not nearly as far behind as she could be.

Do you see it? More importantly, are you preparing for it? Because it's coming. Every technology described here is being worked on somewhere and even a few exist today. Oh, and don't forget the administrator who can call all of it up on her computer, create a report of the institution's teaching and learning efficacy, and email that to three accountability groups for quick perusal.

So my friends, when you get tired of the fight, remember these things. If you hear the fallacious arguments from those in power, just nod and smile. They will retire. Or, when the change is finally too great, they'll simply leave. In the meantime, keep setting up the foundations of education to prepare for this reality. It's coming. And it's going to be more than's going to be transformative.

Good luck and good teaching.

Dr. Jeff D Borden
VP of Instruction & Academic Strategy
Pearson LTG



Do you remember the haunting words sung by Frank Sinatra - "When I was was a very good year..."? As eCollege turned 13, which incidently is 118 in Internet years, a LOT happened. But more happened to set up 2010 than many people may know. Let's look back for a moment as we look ahead.

Do you know the saying, "Measure twice, cut once?" That is exactly what Pearson is getting ready to do with LearningStudio OE (formerly eCollege). For the past year, we've spent tens of thousands of dollars, hired dozens of new employees, and worked overtime to move the current systems into tighter integration so as to be able to measure more than was ever possible before. Measurement of (and subsequently) performance on outcomes has already proven to make online education stronger in some situations than face to face ( But moving forward, and as technology becomes increasingly seamless with life, the measurement that online education brings to the table will change teaching and learning.

For example, we've always had the ability to correlate time on task or clicks in the system to grades, completion rates, retention, etc. In 2009 we helped a number of schools identify hierarchies of outcomes that could be tagged and reported on at any level. Every day we give statistical measures of outcomes, activity, grades, portfolios, etc., to schools so they can better understand their students. Does time in threaded discussions lead to higher completion rates? We know the answer. Does the amount of time a student has to wait for an assignment to be graded lead to program retention? We know that too.

But in the next decade...heck, in the next couple of years, all of the measuring will become much more significant. A much more holistic view of students will be available based on more than formative & summative feedback. It will be based on more than activity or grade data. The LMS is almost to a place where we can both report on and predict behaviors as they lead to learning. This individual learning path that students will be able to take will come with complete measurement by the faculty and the institution.

I'm talking about measuring students on a lot more than tests and project feedback. We're talking about measuring the intensity by which a student acts - the number of clicks, the types of interactions with peers, the amount of time spent with a teacher, the number of hints needed to succeed, etc. We're talking about the measurement of far more than raw scores on tests. We're talking about understanding the p value for a question, the median scores for the class, the confidence by which students answered a question - all much more than the answer itself.

All of this measuring will give teachers and/or schools the ability to set students along a path that pushes them into higher levels of learning, regardless of how much time or how much interaction takes place between the student and the system. We'll measure when learning happens, how learning happens, and we'll give individuals the tools to reshape their learning priorities so as to make it more meaningful.

That is the future of the LMS. That is the decade before us.

Will Apple release a tablet in 2010 that will revolutionize that market? Maybe. Will the iPhone 4G come out in conjunction with Verizon, thereby making it even more prolific in all circles, including education? Probably. And a dozen other cool technologies will change the landscape of how we interact and communicate. But what matters to me as I advise Pearson about education and technology isn't each cool new toy. It's not the fun new widget that Sony or Microsoft or Google brings to the party. (Have you seen Google Wave yet?...)

No, what matters is the big picture. We are heading to a place where technology is simply an extension of ourselves. A place where homework isn't done at home and school work isn't done at school (at least as we know it). Christensen predicted 50% of all K-12 happening online by the end of our new decade. I agree. And if that's the case for K-12, imagine higher ed. We're coming to a place where technology, school, work, life, and everything else just merge together. It's the ultimate mash-up. It's teaching, learning, and living. It' will be what we just call "life". Not virtual life - just life.

So, if you are looking for what's coming in 2010, it's the set up for all the rest of the next decade. It's going to be amazing I think. I hope you think so too.

So here is to 2009. May all of the preparation and activity help us get to that educational dream as fast as possible. And here is to 2010 - where that dream is going to start to be realized. Here is to changing education and, ultimately, to changing lives for the better.