The centralisation/decentralisation dilemma
In my previous post I talked about future learning environments. One of the things about the ‘future’ scenario (apart from it never turning out quite how you expect it) is that it’s very decentralised. It is likely that there won’t be one VLE, but rather different flavours of one, depending on the subject area and the individual student. This begins to sound rather familiar – in fact it’s rather like the situation many universities are currently shifting away from with their VLE provision. They had a confusing array of VLEs dotted around different faculties, with each area or individual having their pet favourite and now want to consolidate on one centralised system to offer uniform experience and support.
This is entirely appropriate, it saves money, it allows the university to offer staff development and it facilitates integration with other systems. So why would you want to go back to a decentralised state? The point is that in decentralisation 2.0 (sorry) the user is more in control. Previously it was individual academics or faculties who decided. And, it is decentralisation with a centralised underbelly. This is a key point – having first centralised, the systems are in place to provide a blanket framework within which decentralisation can occur. The first wave of centralisation controls everything – all content, all tools, all roles. The second wave moves to a creating a framework (think Netvibes/Pageflakes) within which there is more freedom over content and to a lesser extent, tools. The third wave is totally user controlled. At the moment most universities are in the first wave and just beginning to see the second, I’d say.
Martin, a crucial argument for HE institutions, I think. Also for legal and quality reasons, institutions are bound to a certain degree of centralisation and control over content, but trends such as mashups allow for the combination of institutional centralisation and user control (or rather system-controlled user freedom).