Thursday, December 23, 2010

IACE Hall of Fame: Helping Across Generations

I am just completing my term as Chair of the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame.  This fall, we held our annual induction ceremony at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara.  Below is an article about that event that I wrote for the Hall of Fame Newsletter:

After this year’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Guadalajara, I was invited to participate in a panel discussion on the Role of Continuing and Distance Education in the Knowledge Society at the Mexican Association for Continuing and Distance Education. Jose Morales Gonzales (HOF 2002) offered an opening statement that addressed the many ways in which technology and globalization are affecting society and, in turn, education. He then asked each panelist to respond briefly to a question targeted at their special role in the field.

I was asked about how continuing and distance education respond to the needs of the Information Revolution and what role can the Hall of Fame and its members can play in this new era.

I noted that we are already a generation into the Information Revolution. There are many ways to define the beginning of this new era. However, my personal milestone is the publication, in 1970, of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, the book that first planted in the popular mind the idea that things had changed and would continue to change dramatically. The careers of many Hall of Famers span this period. They are the first generation of adult and continuing education scholars and practitioners whose total careers were spent helping our institutions, our students, and our policy agencies adapt to the new reality that was emerging in the first generation of the Knowledge Society. That experience can provide an invaluable roadmap for today’s emerging leaders, who will spend their careers shaping the second generation of the Knowledge Society.

Several of the societal needs created by the Knowledge Society strike to the core competencies of adult and continuing educators. Most will agree that the Knowledge Society will require more individuals to have some level of postsecondary education. This will require that our colleges and universities dramatically increase access to both recent high school graduates and to current workers. This necessity will move continuing and distance education closer to the mainstream of higher education. It will also stimulate new collaborations between institutions—an area where many Hall of Fame members have been innovators.

In short, adult and continuing education has much to offer in the Knowledge Society, and members of the International Adult and Continuing Education can play an important role in helping emerging Second Generation leaders transform the mainstream of higher education in our countries around the world.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Continuing and Distance Education in the Knowledge Society

In October 2010, I had the honor of chairing the 15th annual induction ceremony of the International Adult and Continuing Education Hall of Fame. The ceremony was held in at the Autonomous University of Guadalajara in conjunction with the Mexican Association for Continuing and Distance Education conference. It was a delightful event, in which nine leaders from six nations on four continents were brought into the Hall of Fame’s increasingly global community. My thanks to Jose Morales Gonzales (HOF 2002) for hosting the event.

After the ceremony, I was invited to participate in an AMECYD conference panel discussion on the Role of Continuing and Distance Education in the Knowledge Society at the Mexican Association for Continuing and Distance Education. Jose Morales offered an opening statement that addressed the many ways in which technology and globalization are affecting society and, in turn, education. He then asked each panelist to respond briefly to a question targeted at their special role in the field.

I was asked about how continuing and distance education respond to the needs of the Information Revolution and what role can the Hall of Fame and its members can play in this new era. I noted that we are already a generation into the Information Revolution. There are many ways to define the beginning of this new era. However, my personal milestone is the publication, in 1970, of Alvin Toffler’s Future Shock, the book that first planted in the popular mind the idea that things had changed and would continue to change dramatically. The careers of many Hall of Famers span this period. They are the first generation of adult and continuing education scholars and practitioners whose total careers were spent helping our institutions, our students, and our policy agencies adapt to the new reality that was emerging in the first generation of the Knowledge Society. That experience can provide an invaluable roadmap for today’s emerging leaders, who will spend their careers shaping the second generation of the Knowledge Society.

Several of the societal needs created by the Knowledge Society strike to the core competencies of adult and continuing educators. Most will agree that the Knowledge Society will require more individuals to have some level of postsecondary education. The Obama Administration, for example, has set a goal of increasing the percentage of high school graduates who go on to earn a college degree from the current 39 percent to 60 percent by 2020. This will require that our colleges and universities dramatically increase access to both recent high school graduates and to current workers. It will also require that a higher percentage produce high school students graduate with the skills needed to move onto higher education. Around the country, continuing and distance education units have been at the forefront of innovation in this arena. They have dramatically increased the number and diversity of college degrees available to working adults through online learning, evening programs, and blended programs. They have also pioneered the use of “dual enrollment” courses that allow students to simultaneously earn high school and college credit. The importance of these innovations to the national education and economic development strategy will move continuing and distance education closer to the mainstream of higher education.

The Knowledge Society will also stimulate new collaborations between institutions,as technology eliminates geography as a defining factor in the relationship between the institution and its students and between institutions and faculty in a discipline. Increasingly, online learning allows location-bound students are able to choose to study anywhere in the world. Institutions no longer are restricted to programs that can be taught by local, in-residence faculty members, but can collaborate with other institutions to offer the degrees most relevant to their students, wherever they are located. Examples of this kind of collaboration date back to content sharing consortia of the 1980s, such as the University of Mid-America and the International University Consortium. Today, the online environment has stimulated many new collaborations, such as the American Distance Education Consortium, the Great Plains Inter-Institutional Distance Education Association (IDEA), and smaller collaborations focused on specific professional communities, from nursing to nuclear power.

Many of these collaborations were stimulated and managed within an institution’s continuing education unit. In many institutions, the continuing/distance education unit is one of the few central administrative units that is positioned to work across all academic units to meet the needs of non-traditional constituencies. As such, it historically has been a seedbed for innovation—especially if that innovation requires self-sufficiency. This makes it a potentially powerful force for strategic growth in times of social and institutional transformation.

Unfortunately, much of the work of continuing and distance education units has been done on the periphery of their institutions. Because they have had to be self-sufficient, they are often seen more as cash cows than as strategic resources. As the work of continuing and distance education focuses more on degree programs and on meeting strategic societal needs, it is inevitable that it will move more into the mainstream of our institutions. Some institutions have seen this as an opportunity to decentralize the central C&DE administrative unit, in an attempt to reduce overhead and to integrate C&DE functions within academic departments. This is a shortsighted move, however. Just as campus-based education requires that academic units be supported by a strong administrative infrastructure, off-campus education requires similar support for academic units. A more strategic move would be to develop the professional skills of C&DE leadership so that they can function effectively in a more integrated environment in which they serve as members of strategy-focused teams in the mainstream rather than as individual entrepreneurs on the periphery.

Continuing and distance education units have helped higher education innovate throughout the first generation of the Information Revolution. Now, it is time to move this capacity for innovation into the mainstream.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010


Tomorrow is supposed to be a rainy day. The remnants of Tropical Storm Nicole are moving up the coast, promising heavy rain all day. Tonight, however, the approaching fringe of the storm gave us a spectacular sunset. It came on suddenly, as the gray clouds thinned and the sun reflected off them in bright deep pink. As we watched, the sky--not just the western fringe, but most of the sky, gradually turned from pink to gold and then to a deep orange-red as the sun sat. In the east, it gave us an arc of rainbow. It was wonderfully beautiful, and we could do nothing but stand and immerse ourselves in it.

It is good to be reminded that, with all the trouble in the world today, the world itself can still be breathtakingly beautiful.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Rifkin and Levine: Two Views of the Transformation of Education

NOTE: I also posted this on my Sloan Consortium blog in July 2010.

Today, there are increasingly powerful signs that education is on the verge of being transformed as the Knowledge Society matures and as a generation of digital natives shapes a new social dynamic. This came into sharp focus recently in articles by two veteran public thinkers about education and society—Jeremy Rifkin, the author of The End of Work and founder of the Foundation on Economic Trends, and Arthur Levine, president emeritus of Teachers College at Columbia University and currently president of the Woodrow Wilson National Foundation.

In a May 10, 2010, Chronicle of Higher Education commentary Jeremy Rifkin wrote about “Empathic Education: The Transformation of Learning in an Interconnected World.” Given the changes happening worldwide, he writes, “Maybe it’s time to ask the question of whether simply becoming economically productive ought to be the primary mission of American education.” He proposes that, instead, educators put more emphasis on “developing students’ innate empathic drives, so that we can prepare the next generation to think and act as part of a global family in a shared biosphere.”

Today, he notes, “New teaching models designed to transform education from a competitive contest to a collaborative and empathic learning experience are emerging as schools and colleges try to reach a generation that has grown up on the Internet and is used to interacting in open social networks where information is shared rather than hoarded.” This is accompanied by a new view of teaching, a shift from the top-down expert-based system to “a distributed and collaborative educational experience designed to instill a sense of the shared nature of knowledge.”

Arthur Levine articulated his own view of transformation in a June 14, 2010, Inside Higher Education article entitled “Digital Students, Industrial-Era Universities.” Levine observes that, while our institutions were designed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution, our students are now “digital natives” – children of the Information Revolution. While institutions are focused on the process of instruction—defined by semesters—“digital natives are more concerned with the outcomes of education—learning and the mastery of content, achieves in the manner of games” where the issues is not how long one has played but what level one has mastered.

Interestingly, Levine and Rifkin have similar ideas about where this transformation (the over-used notion of a paradigm shift seems perfectly appropriate here) will take higher education. “What must change, “ says Levine, “ . . . is the means by which we educate the digital natives who are and will be sitting in our classrooms—employing calendars, locations, pedagogies, and learning materials consistent with ways our students learn most effectively. It means that the curriculum must meet our students where they are, not where we hope they might be or where we are.” He adds, “. . . higher education must in the years ahead move away from its emphasis on teaching to learning, from its focus on common processes to common outcomes.” Similarly, in Rifkin’s model of distributed and collaborative learning environments, “Learning becomes less about pounding facts into individual students’ brains and more about how to think collaboratively and critically.”

Where will online learning fit into the transformed university? While increasing access will continue to be critical need, it is important that we also emphasize how online learning can help higher education institutions create a new pedagogy for both on-campus and distant students. As Levine notes, “In an information economy, there is no more important social institution than the university in its capacity to fuel our economy, our society and our minds.”

Friday, September 3, 2010

Science, Technology, and Society: General Education for the Information Age

This has been a year of loss for me. Earlier this spring, we lost Marlowe Froke, who founded educational/public television at Penn State and did much to move media into the educational mainstream. Then, John Buck—one of the true teachers at Penn State, who taught English literature to me, my wife, and, most important, my son—died after a long struggle with diabetes. Most recently, Rustum Roy, founder of Penn State’s Materials Research Center and one of the University's great interdisciplinary thinkers, died.

Marlowe, Rustum, and I came together around one of Rustum’s innovations: the inter-disciplinary Science, Technology, and Society Program at Penn State. In the late 1970s and early 1980s, we were already well into the Information Revolution. Rustum and other visionary faculty realized that higher education needed not only to help people understand the importance of science and technology, but to prepare them as citizens and professionals to deal with the impact of science and technology on society. This required a curriculum—the STS Program—that would bring together scientists, social scientists, and humanists explore the issues. Marlowe and Rustum collaborated to build a partnership among Penn State, the University of Pittsburgh, and Temple University (Pennsylvania’s three state-related public universities) to expand the impact of STS through distance education.

We created several distance education STS courses, each of which included a series of television documentaries, as well as a study guide and text. The first course, “The Behavioral Revolution,” looked at how behavior modification was being used by marketers and social planners to change consumer behavior. Examples in the television series included the use of random free rides to encourage people to use mass transit and, in the new planned community of Columbia, Maryland, the use of bicycle paths and clustered mailboxes to build a sense of village life in the midst of a sprawling suburb.

Another course, “The Finite Earth,” examined the limits to resources—a big issue in the early eighties—and the ethical implications of social policy decisions related to the environment and natural resources. The course introduced the idea of an “ethical community”—the group of people who are affected by a decision and who, as a result, should be at the table when the decision is made.

The STS Program is still very active at Penn State. The fall 2010 semester, for instance, includes 20 STS courses on topics such as “Technology and Human Values,” “Medical and Health Care Ethics,” “Ethics in Science and Engineering,” “Science, Technology, and Human Values,” “Energy and Modern Society,” and “Global Food Strategies: Problems and Prospects for Reducing World Hunger.” Several courses meet general education requirements; these have titles like “Modern Science, Technology, and Human Values” and “The Politics of the Ecological Crisis.” More on the STS Program at Penn State can be found at:

The original vision for STS at some institutions was that it would become fully integrated into the institution’s general education curriculum, not unlike the “Contemporary Civilizations” curriculum at Columbia University in the 1920s or the Great Books program at the University of Chicago in the 1930s. Today, a full generation into the Information Revolution, it is essential that STS be fully mainstreamed. An ideal STS program—Penn State’s curriculum has elements of this—is to include STS courses in the lower division general education curriculum, but also to have capstone STS experiences in key majors.

Just as educational media—in the form of public television—helped to extend access to STS courses in the 1970s and 1980s, the online environment provides an excellent medium not only to extend access but to foster inter-institutional collaborations that will globalize discussions of STS issues.

There is much that we can do to build on the pioneering work of Rustum Roy, Marlowe Froke, and their colleagues at research universities around the nation who were—and continue to be—concerned about Science, Technology, and Society.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Folk Music

All of a sudden, it seems, I have rediscovered 60s folk music. This is not a complaint: I am loving music again. I’ve created an iPod playlist of 101 folk songs (including some that are closer to jazz, but sound enough like sixties folk to be on the list). I’m addicted to Jason Mraz’s “I’m Yours” and Iz Kamakawiwo’ole’s always odd version of “Over the Rainbow.” But I am also captivated by newer Joan Baez stuff and (tonight, for instance) occasionally just get swept away by Judy Collins’ “Who Knows Where the Time Goes?”

I am not sure why it happened, but I think I know how. It has been a meandering process. I moved a lot of my albums to iTunes, which gave me a chance to listen freshly to Paul Siebel and others. Then, I saw a documentary about Joan Baez, after which I understood her “Diamonds and Rust” for the first time as a song about Bob Dylan, who I continue to think writes music that tells the story of our generation (Lyrics like “Not dark yet but it’s getting there” and “I used to care, but times have changed” resonate with us aging boomers in ways only we can understand.) I started listening to Joan again. “Joe Hill” struck me as particularly fresh in this age of greedy capitalism. I downloaded “The Day After Tomorrow” and heard a fresh, more reflective sensibility in her music. It was great to see her still digging deeper. Along the way, I saw first Taj Majal and then Judy Collins at the State Theater here in State College. Then, somewhere along the line, I installed Pandora on my iPod, created a Rita Coolidge channel, and discovered new singers—Mraz, Iz, and Jack Johnson, especially. Before I knew it, these small steps had led me back to looking for guitar tabs for folk (and folk rock) songs.

Like I said, I am not complaining. The wonderful thing about this reflective, serious but often playful music is that it reminded me that I live, every minute of this life, in a world where things—good and bad—are happening and that feeling the reality of these things can make us, at minimum, more aware of the joy of being alive. That’s a good thing.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Today, I was reminded of a moment in my undergraduate education at Penn State Shenango Campus. It was in the introductory American Literature class. We were about to begin studying the transcendentalists. Dr. Leon, with a bit of a smile on his face, acknowledged that transcendentalism was a difficult concept to understand.

"But," he said, "perhaps we can understand it better if we break it down into its component parts." He wrote the word on the blackboard and proceeded to underline its component parts:

"We all know 'trans,'" he said. "It indicates something that goes across. And we know 'ism'--a belief in something. And, of course, we know that 'dental' refers to the teeth."

"So," he summarized, turning to the class, "We can hypothesize that 'transcendentalism' refers to a belief in something that goes across the teeth. What remains is this little part--'cen.' There's the mystery!"

I've remembered that bit of academic humor--it could have come from Twain--for more than 40 years. I wish I could thank Dr. Leon for giving me a gift that has lasted that long.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Memorial Day

The other day I went to my hometown, Hermitage, Pennsylvania, to put flowers on the graves of family members—my mother, my aunt, my grandparents—for Memorial Day. It is a tradition that I have followed for most of my adult life – a quiet and personal way to visit with and honor the people who were once the very center of my life.

I pulled off I-80 and up Route 18 toward Hermitage, but then turned left rather than take the main road to what has become the commercial center of the town—the Mall. Instead, I worked my way around the edge of town, past the hospital where my mother worked (and which, I discovered, is now a UPMC—University of Pittsburgh Medical Center—site), down Strawbridge Avenue where my great-grandparents lived and lent their name to a side street—Knapp Avenue—and then across the Freeway onto Smith Street, past the redbrick house where my mother was born, and, finally, a right onto Griswald Avenue where the old Golden Dawn had been and a left at the old playground (now just a neatly trimmed empty lot) to Baker Avenue, my old neighborhood.

Everything looked familiar, but different. The empty lots, where we had played basketball and football as kids, were filled in. The old houses has been updated, vinyl-sided, expanded. Several people were talking in front of the house where my Aunt Sis used to live, but I didn’t know them. A young man was just entering the front door of the Hilliard’s house, which had been completely remodeled. Up the street, Grandma Elliot’s house, which had been a two-tone green shingle house when I was a kid, was now brightly vinyl-sided in a way that showed off its old craftsman styling. Smocks Dry Cleaning, where I briefly held my first job, is still there. My house, Grandpa’s old temporary place built on the back corner of his lot, of course, was gone, replaced by a raised ranch that sits up front on middle of the lot, completely transforming the old place.

At the top of Baker Ave., I turned right onto State Street and headed toward the cemetery. This was the main highway of my childhood. I had the same sensation as on Baker Avenue: I knew where I was at all times, but nothing looked familiar. Messersmith’s market, where my mother was a clerk and where I traded in pop bottles for bottles of pop, was now a Pizza Place, the font totally remodeled. The Red Barn--which had been an Italian restaurant where my mother waitressed when I was a boy--had again morphed, this time into a Mexican Restaurant. Some of the old buildings had been totally replaced. I dropped in at Arby’s, which was in the same plaza as the store where I bought flowers for the graves and which I had helped to open in 1965. It was on the same lot but everything else was new construction.

Sitting at Arby’s, I realized that it has been more than 40 years since I lived in Hermitage. Heck, it wasn’t even called Hermitage when I lived there. It was just Hickory Township. And then it struck me: Yes, I am from there, but I am no longer of there. It is harder and harder to find connections—or even memories—there.

In a way, it is a liberating realization. It makes clear that the “rest of me” will not be found in my past, but in moving forward.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Collaboration versus Competition: Trends in Online Learning for Workforce Development

This paper was presented on April 27, 2010, as part of an IACE Hall of Fame Symposium at the Third International Conference on Adult Education at Alexandru Ioan Cusa University of Iasi, Romania.

Since its inception early in the Industrial Revolution, distance education has been one of the ways that higher education institutions have adapted to radical changes in the social and economic environment in which they operate. In turn, it has been shaped by changes in society and, especially, changing workforce needs. Today, online learning is moving distance education into the mainstream, blurring distinctions between on-campus and off-campus instruction as higher education transforms itself to respond to the forces for changes that are being wrought by the Information Revolution. Institutions, freed of geographic boundaries, increasingly are collaborating to serve both traditional students and the current workforce.

Some Historical Parallels

University-level distance education in the United States began in 1892, when the University of Chicago, the University of Wisconsin, and The Pennsylvania State University launched the first U.S. college-based correspondence study programs. These were times of great change in the United States. The Western frontier had closed in 1891. The nation was absorbing several massive waves of immigrants. At the same time, it was shifting from an agrarian to an industrial economy, accompanied by large-scale urbanization and the development of transcontinental railroads and other innovations. As industry attracted more people to the cities, there was an urgent need to improve the productivity of the nation’s agricultural base and, simultaneously, to create professionals—engineers, chemists, managers, etc.—to support industrial growth and to develop a cadre of teachers to serve the children of new Americans. Universities—especially the new state “land grant” universities that had been created specifically to respond to the needs of the new industrial economy – initially used the new Rural Free Delivery postal service to deliver correspondence courses designed to improve rural life and help secure the country’s agricultural base.

For much of the next century, most American distance education was housed in public state universities. By the 1970s, the first impact of the Information Revolution was being felt, and other institutions—community colleges and professional schools began to use distance education via broadcast, cable, and satellite television to reach adult students locally and to serve specific workforce populations on a regional or national level. Consortia like the National Technological University developed to better coordinate delivery of professional graduate degrees at a distance to employees of major companies. A variety of other collaborations—such as the International University Consortium, which adapted British Open University materials for use by other institutions, and the National University Teleconference Network, which delivered satellite teleconferences at college and university sites nationally—developed to allow institutions to share media-based course materials and to expand the market for their programs.

The Information Revolution and the Need for Transformation

Today, a generation into the Information Revolution, education is again being transformed to meet changing social needs. Distance education is being redefined by the dramatic changes not only in technology but also in the social, political, and economic forces that are driving what has been called by various thinkers the Conversation Economy, the Age of Cognition, the Knowledge Society, and the Global Information Society.

We can identify several broad forces that are driving this transformation:

The Societal Demand for Education The Industrial Age required that about 25 percent of secondary school graduates moved on to higher education to provide society with managers and professionals needed to drive an urbanized industrial economy. In contrast, a March 2010 draft of the National Educational Technology Plan in the U.S. Department of Education stated a goal of increasing the proportion of college graduates to 60 percent by 2020[1]. This goal requires that access to education be extended not only to traditional-age students but to larger numbers of working adults than has been the case in the past. It also suggests that larger numbers of high school students must leave school prepared to go on to higher education and, in turn, that society must provide more equitable access to education at all levels.

The Changing Work Environment The need for a more educated workforce is only one of several ways in which the work environment is being transformed in the Information Age. Today’s workforce is less geographically defined—knowledge-based companies are less reliant on local workforce more on access to a distributed workforce. As companies rely more on continuous, bottoms-up innovation and problem-solving to remain competitive, collaboration within working teams is becoming more important than individual performance. Moreover, it is increasingly clear that education for work must continue throughout one’s working life, as people increasingly have multiple careers.

The Changing Role of Knowledge Throughout the agricultural period and well into the industrial period, the primary roles of education were to conserve knowledge and to pass it on to new generations. In the industrial period, higher education assumed a new role: the creation of new knowledge through research; this translated into a new pedagogy that included laboratory and experiential learning. In a rapidly changing, information-rich environment, the role of knowledge in education is again transforming. Increasingly, the role of education is to develop in students the ability to critically analyze information, transform that information into usable knowledge and to apply that knowledge to solve problems and to create innovations.

A New Workforce Education Mandate

These forces are shaping a new workforce education mandate. People have begun to notice that the Information Revolution is not so much about how quickly information is broadcast, but about how it brings people and ideas together in new ways. We are beginning to realize that the Knowledge Society, in reality, is a “Skills Society.” Education in this environment centers around the need to create functional communities in a new working and social environment, to educate workers who can innovate and shape change in the workplace and in the broader society, and to develop new critical workplace skills of inquiry, information validation, knowledge creation, problem solving, and collaboration through virtual teams. Providing access, convenience, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness will continue to be important issues, but the emerging question for the next decade or so is: how can we help individuals learn how to build and sustain new communities built around collaboration and sharing of knowledge to solve both local and, increasingly, global problems?

An Emerging Pedagogy A new pedagogy is emerging as higher education responds to these demands. This pedagogy recognizes that how we learn should reflect how we live and learning should be an active process that is resource-centered and inquiry-based and that develops the student’s skill in collaborative problem solving. Called the Community of Inquiry (, this approach centers education at the intersection of three forces: the ability of the student to identify with others in a trusted learning community, the ability of students to construct knowledge and confirm it’s meaning, and the teaching process. Online social networking applications like wikis and blogs are essential to helping institutions use the Community of Inquiry pedagogy at the scale needed to serve workforce education needs. The online environment allows institutions to provide the same pedagogy to both on-campus and distant students.

A Changing Sense of Community In the agrarian and industrial periods, “community” was defined largely by geography. A community was a village or a neighborhood of people who lived inter-dependent lives. In a globalized economy that kind of highly localized interdependence is harder to find. Online learning further removes geographic and time as defining characteristics of interaction among students and between students and the institution. We need to re-perceive the whole idea of community to understand how we are inter-dependent in today’s world and to develop the skills needed to work together in a new environment.

For higher education, new ways of thinking about community have implications on at least two levels. At the institutional level, we need to re-define the communities we serve and re-articulate our mission in those communities. For most of us, distance education has meant reaching very far beyond our local campus community in order to aggregate markets for specialized programs or serve widely dispersed professional groups. Today, we are starting to see institutions also use online distance education to more effectively serve local commuting students who cannot always come to campus. At the faculty level, new kinds of academic communities are emerging that may, in the long run, redefine the relationship between faculty members and their institutions—and, as this paper will explore, define new relationships among institutions.

Implications of Online Learning for Transformation For the past decade, online learning—mostly conducted as a new mode of distance education—has been evolving from experiments to a sustainable innovation in many traditional institutions. Online learning is both a symptom of the changes in the broader society and a tool of transformation. Its growth has several implications for educators if higher education is to meet the workforce needs of the Information Society.

· Just as universities incorporated laboratories into the curriculum during the industrial period, they must mainstream the use of web-based technology to meet today’s needs.

· The adult student—long treated as a secondary constituency by traditional universities—must move into the mainstream.

· Institutions must recognize that geography no longer defines their students or the resources that the institution can bring to meet student needs. Fourthly, institutions must adapt to a blurring of traditional distinctions between teaching and research and between on-campus and off-campus teaching.

These implications were reinforced in a national survey conducted by I. Elaine Allen and Jeff Seaman and in 2006. Their report, Growing by Degrees, noted a trend toward the convergence of distance education and campus-based instruction. They found that 44 percent of institutions that offer on-campus master’s degrees also offer master’s degrees online[2], and 65 percent of institutions that teach online use primarily core faculty to teach their online courses[3].

A New Era of Collaboration

Just as communications technologies led to institutional partnerships for distance education in the 1970s and 1980s, we can now see that information technologies—generally grouped under the umbrella of online distance education – are stimulating new institutional collaborations designed to serve workforce needs. Four examples will illustrate the growing range of collaboration that is emerging.

Collaborations to Share Students The elimination of geography as a barrier between working adults and the academic resources they need is a significant change in the overall educational ecology. In response, institutions increasingly are partnering to share resources in order to meet demand. One example in the United States is the Great Plains Inter-Institutional Distance Education Alliance—the Great Plains IDEA ( In this alliance, eleven institutions in the American mid-West have collaborated to develop and deliver professional graduate programs that no one of the institutions could do effectively using solely its own resources. Each participating institution develops and delivers online specific courses that meet the degree requirements. Since 1999, the alliance has fostered degree programs in Community Development, Dietetics, Family Financial Planning, Merchandising, and Agriculture. Programs are developed by inter-institutional faculty teams. Students matriculate at the institution of their choice, but take courses from all of the institutions involved in the program.

Collaborations to Share Courses The online environment allows institutions to share specialized courses with students at other institutions. In the United States, the Committee on Inter-Institutional Cooperation—a group of public universities Eastern and Midwestern states—created CourseShare (, a collaboration that uses online delivery to aggregate students from multiple institutions into courses in seldom-taught languages, chemical informatics, speech and hearing sciences, and other disciplines.

Collaborations to Serve a Mutual Client The University of Manchester in the United Kingdom and The Pennsylvania State University in the United States combined resources to serve two multinational companies with a collaborative Master’s Degree in Project Management. The two institutions agreed on a common curriculum and shared online content materials. Courses are offered online, with two company-sponsored residencies. Employees in North America can get a degree from Penn State; employees in Europe can get their degree from the University of Manchester.

Collaborations to Share Materials As the number and variety of online courses grows, the opportunity for faculty members and institutions to openly share content beyond traditional institutional boundaries has also grown into an international movement. The spirit of the Open Educational Resources movement was captured in the Cape Town Declaration. Developed in 2007, the declaration has since by signed by more than 2,000 individuals representing 220 organizations worldwide. It reads, in part:

. . . we call on educators, authors, publishers and institutions to release their resources openly. These open educational resources should be freely shared through open licenses which facilitate use, revision, translation, improvement and sharing by anyone. Resources should be published in formats that facilitate both use and editing, and that accommodate a diversity of technical platforms. Whenever possible, they should also be available in formats that are accessible to people with disabilities and people who do not yet have access to the Internet.

One example of how OERs are encouraging collaboration is the AgShare Open Educational Resources Project at Michigan State University. Funded by a $1 million grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the project aims “ . . . to enable institutions of higher education in Africa to provide free, open access to agriculture education materials in order to improve agricultural practices on the continent and help build sustainable economies.” Specifically:

The program will enable faculty and student researchers, NGO representatives, farmers, and others to form learning networks and share content modules, textbook materials, and videos via the Internet. In remote areas where the Internet is less accessible, information will be distributed through DVDs and printed materials.[4]

The Open Educational Resources movement promises to revitalize the vision of faculty members as participants in international academic communities. It also requires that faculty members who create OERs be consciously aware of the cultural context in which the content operates. On one hand, inadvertent and unnecessary references to local culture could lead to concerns about cultural imperialism and make the OER less valuable to other faculty members. On the other hand, educators should not avoid providing appropriate cultural context to content in online courses. An teaching perspective that looks beyond the initial use of content is needed to make OERs truly powerful educational tools.

Collaborating Through Corporate Partnerships

Online learning has implications for how institutions engage with employers to develop employees. In today’s online distance education environment, geography is no longer a barrier to educating a distributed workforce. Online education has few geographical or time boundaries. All companies conceivably have access to national and international providers to educate their workforce at all levels without losing personnel while they are being educated. They can choose between open enrollment or contract programs. In this new environment, many companies have created internal online training capabilities. In addition, many are developing new relationships with colleges and universities to provide instructor-led noncredit training and degree programs to their employees. Multi-institution partnerships with companies are increasingly common, so curricula can still be tailored to employer needs. Two examples from the United States may illustrate the potential impact of online industry/education collaborations for workforce development.

National Coalition for Education and Learning ( This U.S.-based coalition, managed by the Council for Adult and Experiential Learning, involves six major telecommunications companies, the Communications Workers of America, Pace University and other online education providers. It offers an associate degree in Applied Information Technology with specializations in video technology, wireless networking, and two other fields, plus a Bachelor of Science in Telecommunications.

Energy Providers Coalition for Education ( This collaboration includes 24 energy companies, four professional associations, two unions, five colleges and universities, and a virtual high school that use online distance education to develop the workforce in the energy industry. It offers industry employees associate and baccalaureate degrees and credit certificate programs in electric and nuclear power, natural gas, and electrical engineering. The coalition lists among its goals the following:

· Employers gain immediate access to online education programs that help meet workforce needs by providing the knowledge and skills necessary for new workers to enter the industry and existing utility employees to move forward in their career.

· As a coalition, members influence EPCE's strategic direction and determine how to best leverage industry sponsored online education to meet current and future workforce challenges.

· Members review and influence the content of the programs, ensuring they are up-to-date and change as the industry changes.

· Employees receive substantial tuition discounts, which can translate into reduced tuition assistance and training expenses.

· Members will have access to a source pool of trained potential employees as the program matures.

· The EPCE programs serve as a solid education platform for further company-specific training[5]

Guiding Principles for Collaboration

Several guiding principles can be gleaned from these examples. First, such coalitions require a clear statement of purpose and benefit for each partner. The working relationship between educational institutions and employers must be marked by collaboration rather than a more traditional customer/supplier relationship. Concrete statements about benefits and expectations define the collaborative nature of the relationship and provide a basis for resolving differences when they arise.

Second, collaboration assumes shared responsibility among participating institutions and employers for program identification and support and for quality control. These should be stated for each partner. The governance structure also should include a clear statement of curricular authority and a formalized, but open oversight structure.

When the coalition includes multiple employers and multiple institutions, members of each sector must function as colleagues rather than competitors. In other environments, the employers often compete, just as the institutions compete for students. However, they must work as colleagues within the context of the collaboration; the parameters for this should be explicated in the agreement.

The online environment also blurs the distinctions between the three primary missions of most higher education institutions: research, teaching, and service. In developing partnerships, institutions and employers should consider the interactions among these three missions and, where appropriate, encourage collaboration in all three areas.

A variety of other policy issues may need to be addressed, depending on the situation. For instance, if institutions expect to share course content, copyright issues should be addressed at the outset of the collaboration to ensure that all parties understand the ways in which content may be shared – either with other institutions in the partnership or with partner employers – and the limitations on sharing. Similarly, if the collaboration involves sharing students (in a multi-institution degree program, for instance) students who are matriculated at one institution may need access to computer-based services at other partner institutions. Other programs may require cost or revenue sharing mechanisms. These kinds of policy issues should be identified early and addressed explicitly.

As online distance education moves into the mainstream of academic life, special attention should be paid to the development of quality standards to guide inter-institutional partnerships. In past generations of distance education, the tendency was to create quality standards and practices that were specific to the distance delivery environment. As distinctions blur, institutions will need to decide whether to maintain separate standards between classroom and distance delivery or to develop new standards that can be applied equitably in both environments. Similarly new institutional policies and practices will need to be developed on a wide range of issues, from copyright to faculty promotion and tenure to workload. Without these, future innovation may be hindered.


Over the past decade, online distance education has helped higher education institutions respond to a dramatic increase in the demand for continuing education among working adults. Distance education, which for decades has flourished in specialized institutions or on the periphery of traditional institutions, is moving into the mainstream of our institutions. Traditional distinctions between campus-based and distance education are blurring, as geography ceases to serve as a natural boundary between institutions and students. Increasingly, the online learning environment offers opportunities for institutions to collaborate to share content, share faculty expertise, and share students in order to better serve the workforce. As the examples presented in this paper suggest, the new environment encourages institutions to form partnerships to serve common workforce communities. At the international level, specifically, the challenge will be to develop true institutional partnerships, with shared authority and quality control, especially when the partnerships bring together institutions from both developed and developing countries or countries with different educational cultures.


Allen, I. E., and Seaman, J., 2007, Growing by Degrees: Online Education in the United States,2005, Sloan Consortium, Needham, Massachusetts, USA.

Cape Town Declaration. Retrieved on March 26, 2010, from

Energy Providers Coalition for Education, Benefits of Membership. Retrieved on March 27, 2010, from

Philanthropy Digest, Michigan State University Receives $1 Million From Gates Foundation for Open Education Project in Africa. Retrieved March 26, 2010, from;jsessionid=Z5RKTJPVGPYFRLAQBQ4CGW15AAAACI2F?id=280200004.

Transforming American Education: Learning Powered by Technology (Draft), 2010. United States Department of Education, Washington, D.C., USA.

[1] Transforming American Education, p.3.

[2] Growing by Degrees, p. 1.

[3] Ibid., p. 2.

[4] Philanthropy Digest Website

[5] Energy Providers Coalition for Education website, Benefits of Membership.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Land Grant University and Workforce Needs

In the opening pages of The Americans: The Democratic Experience, Daniel Boorstin describes the national spirit in which the land grant university developed:
The century after the Civil War was to be an Age of Revolution—of countless, little-noticed revolutions, which occurred not in the halls of legislatures or on battlefields or on the barricades, but in homes and farms and factories and schools and stores, across the landscape and in the air – so little noticed because they came so swiftly, because they touched Americans everywhere and every day. Not merely the continent, but human experience itself, the very meaning of community, of time and space, of present and future, was being revised again and again; a new democratic world was being invented and was being discovered by Americans wherever they lived.
Higher education has been part of that ongoing revolution, as human society made the final shift from an agrarian culture to an industrial culture and from a culture based in hereditary aristocracy to one based in democracy. These transformations began in the late 1800s, gathered momentum in the mid and late 19th century, and reached their full power in the first half of the 20th century. The transformation of higher education was, in part, a response to these broader societal changes and, ultimately, a stimulus for further change.

The land grant university can be understood as a response to both democratization and industrialization. Boorstin describes one of the early advocates for the land grant concept—Jonathan Turner of Illinois—who argued for “A State University for the Industrial Classes.” All civilized society, Turner noted, was “necessarily divided into two distinct cooperative, not antagonistic, classes”; the “professional” class (doctors, lawyers, men of letters, and preachers) comprised only about 5 percent of the people, while the “industrial” class included all the rest. . . . To build a true democracy, Turner proclaimed, the industrial classes must also have their universities, at least one in each state. . . .The new universities would teach agriculture, manufacturing processes, and bookkeeping; they would provide experimental farms and orchards and herds of stock; and they would be “open to all classes of students above a fixed age, and for any length of time.” (p. 483)

The land grant university gave the “industrial classes” the opportunity to gain a higher education and fill new professional roles as engineers, scientists, and educators in an industrializing society. At the same time, the land grant university responded to a significant issue in society: how to maintain the pace of industrialization in light of massive immigration and urbanization that were essential to new industries. The land grant university became a center for research into agricultural productivity and, through the Cooperative Extension Service, took its findings directly to farmers in their fields. This transformed agriculture and ensured that the growing cities would be able to feed their burgeoning populations. At the same time, land grant institutions—along with state-owned “normal” schools—provided public school teachers to staff a critical workforce development need: to ensure that immigrants were acculturated to American life and that more could graduate from high school and move on to higher education.

Two centuries after the first inklings of the democratic and industrial revolutions, we find ourselves a generation into a new transformation—the Information Revolution—and a vastly different set of social needs. Some comparisons illustrate the need for refreshing our vision of the role of the land grant university:
• Where the Industrial Revolution was concerned with immigration, the Information Revolution is concerned with globalization; people no longer need to come to the United States to participate in its economy.
• Where urbanization drove industrialization and public policy in the 19th century, the trend at the beginning of the 21st century is ex-urbanization, as technology makes it possible for people to live in geographically dispersed professional communities.
• While the need for engineers, business professionals, and new social professionals (educators, health care professionals, etc.) drove higher education in the Industrial Revolution, the Information Revolution requires a larger cadre of “knowledge workers” with some level of higher education and the ability to adapt easily to rapid change; the emphasis is less on specific professional training than on innovation.
A variety of specific societal issues have emerged in the national awareness as signs of change. Global warming, globalization of the economy, health care access and quality are only a few examples. Most of these are already being addressed in our institutions. However, we might also ask whether there are more subtle, underlying needs that should drive innovation in the land grant institution.

It is becoming increasingly clear that one area where we may see profound change is the workplace itself. A May 14, 2009, Time Magazine report on “The Future of Work” noted:
Ten years ago, Facebook didn't exist. Ten years before that, we didn't have the Web. So who knows what jobs will be born a decade from now? Though unemployment is at a 25‑year high, work will eventually return. But it won't look the same. No one is going to pay you just to show up. We will see a more flexible, more freelance, more collaborative and far less secure work world.
As early as 2001, a National Academies of Science report, Building a Workforce for the Knowledge Economy, reporting on the “tightness” of the available workforce among trained information technology professionals, noted, ". . . because the underlying information technologies change so rapidly, there is concern that the labor market does not work as efficiently in this arena as economic theory would predict—i.e., that rising wages will not relieve the tightness, at least not “in time.” (p. xiii).

One reason why labor market ideas created during the industrial period might not work in the information era is that jobs will be distributed well beyond national borders. Another is that much work is increasingly automated, requiring less intensive human activity. The number of “jobless recoveries” that we’ve seen in the past few economic turndowns might be one signal of a trend toward a less intensive workforce. A trend like this could threaten basic democratic foundations of our society by creating a permanent underclass of under-employed workers. Such a trend would require a significant social policy change to ensure that all Americans were able to support themselves and their families.

Several social policy options could be envisioned. For example, instead of having fewer people with jobs, social policy could be directed at having all people work fewer years, somewhat easing entry of young people into the job market. One approach would be to make national service part of an early retirement system, making room more quickly for younger workers to come into the workforce during the years when they need money to raise their families and allowing older workers to move into volunteer or social-service work through a kind of national pre-retirement service system after their children are raised.

What, then, are the implications for a land grant university? Clearly, new undergraduate curriculum models are needed, perhaps ones that incorporate a more significant service component. In addition, institutions should explore new ways to engage adult learners to help them with life and career transitions throughout their working lives and to prepare them for service careers in retirement.

If readers have comments, they would be much appreciated.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Educating for Democracy

In Citizen: Jane Addams and the Struggle for Demoracy, Louise Knight describes three often competing and, in ways, contradictory aspects of democracy that defined the social reform issues of the 1880s and 1890s—the Gilded Age. Today, after more than a century of change, we once again find that many of the issues facing social reformers in the Gilded Age are still very much alive. The various ways in which we define democracy continue to shape—and, in some ways, confuse—the public conversation about the future of the United States.

The three aspects of democracy are:

· Political Democracy – The right of individuals to vote

· Economic Democracy – The right of individuals to work in their own best interest, to compete, to be one’s own boss.

· Social Democracy – The right of individuals to expect equal treatment

In the 1880s and 1890s, each of these dimensions was controversial and, to some extent, there were opposing definitions of the terms. In the area of political democracy, for instance, women did not have the right to vote, but there was an active suffrage movement. In the area of economic democracy, there were competing visions, with one group arguing that capitalists had the right to become rich at the expense of workers and another arguing for a “democracy of wealth.” In the area of social democracy, the issue had to do with the treatment of the poor and of immigrants; as John Dewey put it, Democracy is a social, that is to say, an ethical conception.”

Today, the issues have changed only on the surface. While political democracy extends to almost everyone these days, every election sees attempts to disqualify whole classes of people at the voting site, especially the homeless and otherwise disenfranchised.

Economic democracy received a setback just this week, when the Supreme Court ruled that corporations—which are not citizens as defined by the Constitution—have been given the right to spend as much money as they wish on political campaigns. The potential result is that voices of non-corporations will simply be crowded out of a public discourse that increasingly is dominated by commercial media. Not only will be poor be challenged at the polls, they will be silenced in the campaigns leading up to November.

Social democracy—the idea of our society as an ethical concept—is constantly stressed by the intrusion of corporate and commercial influence and by the way in which communications media have replaced thoughtful discourse with radicalized ideology. Increasingly we live in a society in which common ground is harder to find and where the common good is harder to define. The United State Congress has failed utterly to find a middle path. Too many special interests keep the focus on the extremes rather than on the common good.

There has been significant progress in political democracy over the past century. Women and minorities now have the right to vote, for instance. In the area of economic democracy, we’ve seen great stride forward with Social Security, Medicare, and improved access to education. However, the underlying tensions between pure self-interest and a social ethic are still there and, increasingly, raw. We have not achieved social democracy and that limits our ability to truly achieve political and economic democracy.

What does this have to do with education? It suggests to me that, as our society becomes transformed by information technology and global economics, we need to put renewed emphasis on “civics” education. When I was in high school, we had a full year of “Civics” in ninth grade and another full year of “Problems of Democracy” as seniors. However, that is not always the case. The Pennsylvania Board of Education standards lists the following standard:

Civics and Government. Study of United States constitutional democracy, its values and principles, study of the Constitution of the Commonwealth and government including the study of principles, operations, and documents of government, rights and responsibilities of citizenship, how governments work and international relations.

However, this is one of four subsets of “Social Studies,” which is one of eight academic standards. Not exactly a priority.

Higher education appears to assume that students have had a good grounding in Civics before they come to college. While most curricula require some American history as part of the general undergraduate course distribution, there are few courses that give students an understanding of issues and their impact on the student as citizen.

As public discourse becomes increasingly controlled by corporations, it is essential that we educated citizens to be critical consumers of this discourse and develop in them the skills of citizenship. In the 1920s, Columbia University experimented with a first-year “Contemporary Civilizations” curriculum designed as a response to the changing social conditions after World War I. As the 1919 course catalog noted:

“The chief features of the intellectual, economic, and political life of today are treated and considered in their dependence on and difference from the past. The great events of the last century in the history of the countries now more closely linked in international relations are reviewed, and the insistent problems, internal and international, which they are now facing are given detailed consideration. By thus giving the student, early in his college course, objective material on which to base his own judgment, it is thought he will be aided in intelligent participation in the civilization of his own day (The Meaning of General Education, p. 36).

Contemporary Civilizations was one of several very innovative general education curricula to emerge in the aftermath of World War I. These innovations suggest that American higher education can, indeed, innovate when faced with dramatically changed social context. Such is the case today. The question—one that I hope readers of this will comment on—is what can we do today, when social, economic, and technological changes are transforming the context in which our students learn.