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The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age

I encourage you to read this report from the MacArthur foundation, published by MIT Press The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age (.pdf). If you’ve followed this blog – and many others with a similar educational technology focus over the last seven years – you won’t find much new in it. And that’s the problem. I like the report. It offers many insightful statements that I hope will be considered by leaders who don’t follow edublogs. Statements such as:

  • “We contend that the future of learning institutions demands a deep, epistemological appreciation of the profundity of what the Internet offers humanity as a model of a learning institution”…and
  • “participatory learning is about a process and not always a final product”…and
  • “We advocate institutional change because we believe our current formal educational institutions are not taking enough advantage of the modes of digital and participatory learning available to students today”…and
  • “Networked learning, however, goes beyond these conversational rules to include correcting others, being open to being corrected oneself, and working together to fashion workarounds when straightforward solutions to problems or learning challenges are not forthcoming”

I could offer many other similar statements. All of which have been discussed at great length on many sites and by many authors that I frequently reference. One of the first steps in publishing on a subject is to do a literature review. Type in “networked learning” into Google or Google scholar and you’ll see many individuals that have written at length on the subject: Chris Jones, Stephen Downes, Leigh Blackall, Martin de Laat…as well as entire conferences devoted to the theme. Or, when considering educational change and OERs, where is David Wiley? The list goes on.

The report irritates me because I’ve seen this happen several times: an existing field, and major thinkers within the field, is completely ignored as open, online conversations are squeezed into existing publication processes. This “reframing” of research builds on the intellectual work of others but fails to provide appropriate recognition as the message is shaped for a traditional audience.


  1. Thanks for the reference George. Your reference, and the references from others in the network formed around the topic, means more to me than some pdf. The gab in recognition happens so often I’ve given up caring. At least my name is in the Wikipedia entry’s edit history is all I can say :) On that note, it would seem that the message in this report is in part a mirror held squarely (if unintentionally) back at itself and the process and product that made it. Disappointingly that the change happened/is happening so slowly, and so begrudgingly that neither you or I will be around to say, “I told you so”, if the opportunity to say so was any consolation…

    Saturday, June 27, 2009 at 10:27 pm | Permalink
  2. Dan Murray wrote:

    Why don’t you write a book….a better one?

    Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 5:04 am | Permalink
  3. Ha! one of the first things I did when I read it was to mail Leigh, and say hey, look, they finally picked up the term Networked Learning.

    But you are absolutely right — they are capturing the state of thought from maybe three years ago on the edublogs, and not giving any of the people that really moved that conversation forward. I have no doubt that at some point the phrase “loosely coupled assessment” will move into the lexicon and I won’t know a person cited.

    This is the way it is though — think of all the research and analysis that is stolen off of political blogs and then fed back as if it were the mass media’s invention. I’m cynical enough I guess that I’m happy that they steal it at all. What’s important about MacArthur is now I can say “Networked Learning” and people don’t dismiss it as an unhinged edublogger rant.

    Although, actually their definition of Networked Learning really suffers from not having participated in that conversation, but oh well. I’m sure three years from now they’ll benefit from stuff we all discussed in 2009.

    However, If there is a way to embarass them into to giving you, Chris, Stephen, Leigh, David etc all credit though, let me know. It really is becoming a recurring story with so many of these reports, especially recently.

    Tuesday, June 30, 2009 at 2:36 pm | Permalink
  4. Jon K. wrote:

    The majority of your work appears in public – a conscious decision you’ve made to embrace openness. Maybe the age-old idea that peer-reviewed journals are better is at fault? Wouldn’t be the first time that academia has struggled with the shifting notion of knowledge.

    Thursday, July 2, 2009 at 9:26 am | Permalink
  5. Tom Preskett wrote:

    We should be thankful that reports such as this (and the recent JISC reports The Edgeless University and Higher Education in a Web 2.0 World) are saying the right things about e-learning. Also, however long-winded there is more chance of mainstream academia reading these reports than the edublogs. We have to speak in the right language to reach the right audience.

    Friday, July 3, 2009 at 7:57 am | Permalink