Internet trends influencing education

I’m working on a report for the broadcast strategy group currently, with a focus on how broadcast (and whatever that means now) influences pedagogy. I tried to identify a number of internet-related trends that I thought would/are having an influence on education. Note these are restricted to technology type trends, there will be other cultural issues which might have a bigger impact (e.g. top up fees, the student as customer approach). I thought I’d share them anyway:

  • The Long Tail – the idea that the internet allows access to small numbers of users to a wide range of content, so for example Amazon’s sales are mostly from lots of small titles that sell to a few people rather than bestsellers. There is an analogy with broadcast here, increasingly what is significant are lots of small pieces of content (be they podcasts, multi media, AV clips, RSS feeds, etc) that appeal very directly to a few people, rather than large scale productions that appeal a little bit to many people. The trade-off people make is quality for applicability.
  • The liberation of content – with more and more online resources and large scale repositories coming on line two contradictory trends are being realised. Content is losing its economic value since an alternative, free version can usually be found. As the failure of subscription models to newspapers has demonstrated, people are generally unwilling to pay for content. However, with a wide range of content available which is variable in quantity, then the reputational value of producing good content is increased. This is particularly true in a very connected world – your worth is determined by the degree to which you are linked to, commented upon, networked with.
  • New types of content – increasingly users are accessing different types of content to meet their needs, such as RSS feeds, podcasts, vlogs, etc.
  • Convergence of tools and content – increasingly the distinction between a tool or service and content is becoming blurred. For example one could argue that Google is both a content provider and a tools provider. Wikipedia is both a technology and a resource. This has implications for how we conceive of broadcast and broadcast partners.
  • Decentralisation and democratisation – the traditional broadcast (and to an extent educational) model is built on a hierarchical, centralised relationship with one to many information. Much of internet activity is built around one to one, or one to some, interaction and is a more dynamic, interactive medium. In addition the web 2.0 developments have emphasised the democratisation of tools and content, with users adapting and creating their own resources.
  • Openness – this is realised in many different ways, for example open source software makes the code publicly available, while the freeing up of content makes resources more open, not just for people to access, but more importantly to adapt. The web 2.0 approach has openness at its core, for example, technology companies make their tools freely available for others to mix (or ‘mash up’) with other tools. Google Maps is a good example of this. Making openness central to technology and content is a profound shift in the way organisations operate, as it shifts the emphasis from controlling access to encouraging participation.
  • Personalisation – this is one of the real benefits that e-learning and internet provision can offer, since resources tailored to the user’s needs can be delivered. The development of portal sites which combine personalisation and customisation, for example Netvibes, and the creation of a MyUniversity space which provides a portal to both information feeds and useful tools.
  • Constructing narrative or meaning – in a resource-rich world the question of how people construct meaning from a range of resources becomes more pertinent. Providing pathways through material that construct a narrative which can be shared is one means of doing this.
  • Open content – there is a wide range of research to be done around the area of open content, such as what users do with it, what sort of user is attracted to it, what is the global uptake, what tools are useful in supporting it, is it sustainable, what business models might develop, etc.
  • The new learner – there has been much talk of internet natives, or net generation, learners who have a different relationship with the internet than the rest of us. It is still relatively unknown what impact these people will have on education or broadcast institutions, both as employers and customers.

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