Better and More Education Using Information Technology

Education is vitally important today. This is not a new statement – it has been argued for thousands of years. Education enables people to be productive, get jobs and participate in society and most people have recognised this. Today, these arguments are still true but they have been added to with others that were perhaps less important in the past.

The knowledge economy needs people with higher levels of education. as developed country economies have reduced the extent to which they are based on manufacturing and towards services and technology, more jobs have required more education. This has been one of the main factors behind the growth of the education sector. More students have completed high school and more have gone on to get bachelors and, increasingly, masters degrees. Programmes in universities and colleges have grown quickly.

Today there are two new factors that make education even more important. As technology has increased the pace of change in most countries, the nature of work has also been rapidly changing. While manufacturing jobs have been in decline for many years, automation is resulting in further decline in manufacturing and service jobs . It is thought that automation will accelerate in future years, resulting in significant employment disruption for many.

Job related disruption is expected to increase as a result of automation and other technological change based on artificial intelligence and the proliferation of the internet of things. A range of political responses to this situation are possible. Some populist movements have argued that governments should introduce barriers to trade and immigration that are based on the incorrect assumption that job loss and change is largely based on the expansion of globalisation. Statistics show that much of the change that has occurred is based on automation and that trade and immigration restrictions that are proposed are likely to make the situation worse.

It now appears clear that the technologically based disruption that people in most countries are experiencing today is not a temporary phase that will eventually be resolved with minimal government action. We are now recognising that governments will need to act to help their populations adapt to the new economic and social environment, to develop new policies that will ensure appropriate distribution of wealth and provision of services and support that minimise exclusion. Political discussions are now taking place in these areas.

Education will be a critical element. Education is necessary to enable people to acquire the new skills that the new jobs that are emerging will require. New skills are needed in technological areas as well as in the areas that are necessary for the creation of new businesses – entrepreneurship will be especially important as a key element in the ability for economies to change.

Education will also be important in broader social areas as economies and societies change more rapidly. People will need skills that enable them to adapt more easily, to understand the changes that are taking place in their lives and participate in the positive development of  civic society.

The changes that are occurring in the world today make education ever more important. Conventional thinking suggests that doing more with the  same or less resources will lead to a decline in quality. That was the way that we used to think about manufacturing and service operations. That belief has now been modified to understand that our approach to operational design, including our use of information and other technologies, can enable more to be done with less. But, we have to be careful how we do this in education.

Demand for post K – 12 education has increased in recent years. many more people are obtaining degrees and pursuing other programmes of study. At the same time supply of education has also been expanding. Most existing universities have increased their enrolments and new providers have entered the market. Some of these have maintained a traditional classroom model while others have applied information technology and offered courses online. It has been argued here that more education is necessary for the technology enabled world that exists today and which will increasingly feature in the future and information technology is likely to have an important role in its provision.

Previous posts in this blog have considered the application of technology in education and introduced the importance of pedagogy – the approaches that are taken to education design and delivery. We have seen that different beliefs about effective learning methods will lead to different course designs in the physical classroom and in online courses. The way that information technology is applied will reflect these beliefs and create limits on and possibilities for the pedagogies that are can be applied in different classroom and online learning environments.

In traditional universities information technology is now widely available. Most will have a Learning Management System, usually from Blackboard, Moodle or Waterloo’s Desire2Learn. Often support for the use of the LMS in classroom based courses is provided and many professors have developed and are offering courses that are wholly or substantially online. Students find the flexibility that is offered by online courses attractive.

The impact that online courses will have in traditional universities is as yet uncertain. Will we see the decline of the traditional classroom, will there be growth in support services for online learning, how might the application of technology support and strengthen the whole university, its research, teaching and administration?

New learning organisations are also emerging. Online universities, offering whole degree programmes are now common with a range of pedagogical approaches and a resulting range of quality. Students also now have access to new sources of online learning, some free like the Khan Academy or at low cost such as MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) with very large numbers of students taking each course. Questions exist about the business models that will be successful for MOOCs and there is some uncertainty about their sustainability, but they present new options for significantly expanding the availability of education.

The debate on the application of information technology in the higher education world has many aspects to it. First there is the debate over pedagogy – which learning models are most effective and then what will the impact of technology be on these. In the traditional classroom model, information technology is believed by some to be a threat to educational quality. In other pedagogical approaches information technology offers substantial potential for the creation of high quality online education.

The need and demand for more education at an affordable price will strongly influence the growth in the use of information technology in education.

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