If it wasn’t for modern sanitation we wouldn’t have online learning!

the_thinker_on_johnI came across an article that almost a year old in the Economist Magazine the other day which discusses some trends and issues with something I have been particularly interested in lately, “innovation.” The Great Innovation Debate article, discusses that many fear that innovation is slowing down and posits what this could mean to our economy in the long run.

Economies can generate growth by adding more stuff: more workers, investment and education. But sustained increases in output per person, which are necessary to raise incomes and welfare, entail using the stuff we already have in better ways—innovating, in other words. If the rate at which we innovate, and spread that innovation, slows down, so too, other things being equal, will our growth rate.

In some ways I agree with this statement and wonder how it might apply to education? There comes a point where educators cannot continue to use the same methods that have been in place for the last 10, 15, and 20+ years. The same is true for online learning for higher education which I would say is still very new and there is still much research to be done in terms of student engagement, instructor presence, MOOCs, etc. What has been done recently for online education that has the same impact that the toilet had on modern sanitation?

With its clean lines and intuitive user interface, the humble loo transformed the lives of billions of people. And it wasn’t just modern sanitation that sprang from late-19th and early-20th-century brains: they produced cars, planes, the telephone, radio and antibiotics.

Or perhaps what an even better question would be to ask us to think back. What is the invention in online education that has made it to where it is today? Or what innovation of the past that has made online education where it is today?

Please take a look at the History of Distance Education infographic (yes, please keep in mind the source). As you scroll and learn you may valuate some thoughts that you had just a moment ago. You may have identified with the 1999 LMS’s as what has been done recently for online education that has had the same impact as the toilet. Those past inventions, e.g., Blackboard, eCollege, WebCT, etc. have brought our online students to where they are today (able to sit at a virtual desk with an instructor and other students). New technology always builds on previous technology.

What the infographic doesn’t address is what has been done to make the [toilet seat] more engaging? Is there a better way to flush? Size of seat? Amount of water? Does there even need to be water? What about self-cleaning?  Here is one of my favorite episodes from Bob’s Burgers where Eugene encounters a mysterious talking toilet.

Talking toilets aside, let’s go back and look at some of the first entries at the History of Distance Education timeline. These were also technology centered by describing the medium, by mail, by radio, by phone, by TV. These came and I assume “went” because I don’t know of where I can get a Ph.D. still via telephone. So what new technology will be building on what we currently are using? What will replace online learning?

I don’t think we are quite to the replacement of online learning but I do think there are new innovations that are on their way that can increase student learning.


About DaveHallmon

With experience in web, graphic, and instructional design, Dave maintains a balance between what is efficient and effective in every message. He always focuses on the why and how rather than "just doing it" to get the job done. By day he works at a leading university designing online courses that support 9,000 students in 64 countries. He works directly with faculty to brainstorm, design, and develop their online instruction utilizing the Adobe suite. He also teaches for the university as an adjunct faculty member in the area of web design. By night he is a devoted husband, father, freelancer, and adventurer of the outdoors. His other interests include LifeHacker, Science Fiction and Hayao Miyazaki movies, Settlers of Catan, and coffee with friends. He currently lives in St. Louis and has an M.S. in Instructional Design and aspires to pursue a professional degree in content marketing and strategy. Visit the links below for more information about his interests and design work.
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