Higher Education: Late to Online Learning

Higher Education: Late to Online Learning

For CLOs, that’s a good thing.

In his book “Thank You for Being Late,” Thomas Friedman analyzes why the world seems to be accelerating away from us at a remarkable pace. His explanation: Humans are adaptable, but no generation has experienced technology, globalization and climate change at the rate we are seeing. As an example, Friedman suggests that if advances in microchips had instead occurred in cars, today’s successor to the 1970s Volkswagen “Bug” would cost 4 cents and have a top speed of 300,000 miles per hour.

The book’s title comes from a remark Friedman shared with a friend who was late arriving for their scheduled meeting. The extra few minutes gave the author time to actually think before diving into yet another in a string of meetings. Sometimes being late is a good thing.

I believe that’s the case for higher education. Being late to the world of online learning has positioned universities to take advantage of technology that’s now far less expensive than it was when originally conceived in the 1990s. All one has to do is compare the array of applications and devices for mobile learning available today with concepts like performance support and clunky, unfriendly software such as learning management systems.

Twenty years ago, companies were investing millions of dollars trying to define, build and tag knowledge and map it to a worker’s needs. Now a high school student with a smartphone can get an immediate contextually suitable result from a search engine of their choice or even by posting a question to their preferred social network.

Higher education has begun to embrace the fluidity of learning and the realization that each person in the workplace isn’t the sum of their experiences leading up to a given situation. More and more colleges and universities are realizing that learning isn’t necessarily comprised of all the things we did to prepare ourselves for a job along the way, but the ability to access resources in the moment to solve problems.

A neophyte on the job has the ability to perform at the same level as a veteran if the rookie knows how to immediately access contextual information via technology. Just-in-time learning and tacit knowledge that was so elusive even 20 years ago is more accessible than ever before, and this access to on-demand know-how bridges the boundary between companies and higher education.

Huntington Lambert, dean of Harvard University’s Division of Continuing Education, said, “By providing world-class, affordable credentials ranging from open-access courses to certificates to degrees, we enable our students to enrich their careers. … Now is the time for higher education to maximize our practical and creative capabilities … as we continue to transform into an information-based global economy.”

The practical and creative capabilities Lambert speaks of are a model of shared know-how at the precise time in your career that you need it. Even today, companies still try to create “systems” for taking know-how from workers and putting learning into a knowledge base instead of drawing on a fluid network of people who respond as they are queried for help.

CLOs are the stewards of knowledge and human capital. They need to work with universities because institutions of higher education have access to a treasure trove of expertise and data that can improve a company’s production, processes and profit. Instead of corporations and universities developing employees and students in two separate silos, there needs to be a fluidity of learning that mirrors how workers and students want to learn.

According to Lambert, “This leads to increased potential for economic mobility and equips citizens with the tools they need.”