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Centralized vs. Decentralized -Choices

I’ve struggled (so it feels) with the issue of centralized vs. decentralized…enterprise-wide vs. Internet style. Today some thoughts gelled to clarify the issue.

I associate centralized data handling with enterprise-wide initiatives. These may be large elearning implementations, content management, etc. These initiatives have value based on the objectives they most often achieve: standardization, structured, organization, secure, complex…basically management/control tools.

I associate decentralized with Internet style. These are separate, but connected pockets of activity. Objectives of these initiatives are: foster creativity, interaction, knowledge sharing, community building…basically tools for end-users.

When I extend these characteristics to learning…I’m leery of enterprise-wide, standardized elearning…largely because life doesn’t work that way…and because the model being used (centralized/enterprise wide) is best used for management and control – traits quite antithetical to learning.

Learning is more an environment than a process. Environments are fostered…processes are managed. As a result, when it comes to learning, I’m in favour of Internet-style, decentralized, simple, connected activities – these foster an ecosystem of innovation, creativity and learning.

Choice=diversity=ecosystem of innovation=longevity/relevance in a rapidly changing environment. Enterprise-wide projects (which are great for accounting, managing customers, etc.), by nature, cut choice off at the knees…

Basically, when we over-standardize/organize elearning…we have selected the wrong tool for the task: we’re managing when we should be fostering…which is why flexible tools like blogs, wikis, community-building software tools are better for learning…as compared to Learning Management Systems.


  1. Guy wrote:

    “How many times must a man look up
    Before he can see the sky?” Bob Dylan

    Well, George, I couldn’t agree with you more, but I couldn’t agree with you less. I’m afraid your struggles aren’t over. Lets not confuse centralized with standardized. The Internet as model is a good one, but one that is out of sync with your arguments. The Internet’s lynchpin is standards. Without a language (HTML), protocols (HTTP, TCP/IP, FTP), and browsers (IE, Netscape, Opera), that all conform to standards, you would not be blogging today. I’m with Plato. Conforming to laws is the road to true freedom. Without standards you have anarchy. The beauty of the Internet is that its founding standards are open, evolving, and democratic in the true sense. New Web standards continue to be developed (XML, WML, IMS, etc.), but new eLearning guidelines are also growing in acceptance in areas such as Instructional/Universal Design and accessibility. They are growing in response to real needs. I have yet to hear one of my students complain that any of my courses is too well organized or too accessible.

    There’s a difference between benevolent self-government and evil-empire. If we cannot foster broad communities that embrace common goals and standards, enterprising “providers” will quickly fill the void. We need to identify which values and standards are worthy of defending (or developing) for the common good. We can all slip into missionary mode when we stumble upon a tool that solves some of our problems and can too easily waste our energies championing a tool at the expense of an ideal, be it Blogging, SharePoint, WebCT, or whatever. These tools are in response to diverse needs that need not be competing.

    I am not leery of enterprise-wide, standardized elearning, largely because life does work that way. We accept driving on the same side of the road, basic rules of etiquette, and other proper ways of doing stuff. The Internet has given us unprecedented access because it is anchored in globally adopted standards. Why should we strive for anything less in learning? The centralized/enterprise-wide model may be well suited to management and control, but I would argue that it is anything but antithetical to learning. For one thing, the Internet has shown us that enterprise-wide need not be centralized. Adopting is not the same as imposing. The question is more, “How do we implement a model that will improve the community, not threaten it?” So far, I have to sing along with Dylan. The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind.

    Tuesday, February 18, 2003 at 9:33 am | Permalink
  2. Amen! This is heavy… you find a way of either finding great resources or you write about issues that are rolling around in my head since I have jumped into working with disruptive tools in education.

    Wednesday, February 19, 2003 at 11:51 pm | Permalink