The World is Your Hard Disk

Joe McKendrick

By Joe McKendrick

President, McKendrick & Associates, Doylestown, Pennsylvania

Research consultant and analyst
**MM503-55 Students, please read Joe Mckendrick's lecture material below and then go to the Joe McKendrick: The World is Your Hard Disk discussion board in Blackboard to post your questions/comments/ideas, etc. Joe will be available online from Wednesday, March 2 until Monday, March 7. Please use this opportunity to get his insights regarding technology and e-Learning.




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The World is Your Hard Disk

"It's 2:30 in the morning, one of the rare moments when India's feverish capital falls silent. Or, rather most of it. In a modest well-equipped office in South Delhi, Anarout Phatkai is preparing to start teaching math to two young Americans at least seven thousand miles away. Phatkai is sitting before a computer, wearing a headset with a built-in microphone. From the screen there's a white area, a kind of canvass in cyberspace, on which he and his pupils can write, using an electronic pad and stylus. When the child does well, he can festoon the screen with stars and smiley faces, or reward tokens. Phatkai is a consultant and online tutor for a computer-based education company called CareerLauncher. It's been contracted by a U.S. tuition company to work with American students." - from a National Public Radio report

Is this the future of online education? Are we becoming a global classroom, unencumbered by geography and national boundaries? Is this a good thing?

Many teachers and trainers worry about the implications of such outsourcing. There are other issues that technology brings to the table as well. Is it possible that entire college years, or even K through 12 years, could be delivered electronically, without actual face-to-face contact? Are we losing more than gaining in the process? And, the big question, what exactly are we gaining or losing?

That's the question I hope to explore with you this week. My thanks to you and Dr. Gibbs for the opportunity to talk to you about the promise and challenges around e-learning and technology.

A little bit of background about myself. I am a researcher, author, and editor in the information technology and management world, and have been for the better part of two decades. I received my bachelor's degree in communications from Temple University in Philadelphia, with follow-up work in public administration, organizational management, and information systems. I have written and have been quoted in a number of IT and management journals. Hopefully, my ongoing rants have contributed something of value to the ongoing discourse on technology.


Through my years of watching technology, I have made an observation. Technology is a great equalizer. Technology has been a force in our society on the scale of our mightiest social movements. When we interact with people on the other end of the network, it doesn't matter what their socio-economic status is. It doesn't matter what the color of their skin is, what their gender is, or how old they are. It doesn't matter if they are in the middle of Manhattan, or on a reservation in Arizona. It doesn't even matter what country they are in, as long as they speak the same language.

Napster almost took a huge bite out the multi-billion dollar entertainment industry. Love him or hate him, Matt Drudge took on the multi-billion-dollar media conglomerates with a $2,000 computer and Internet account. Bloggers, working from laptops, have become the new watchdogs of democracy.


The educational world is not immune from this creative destruction, the uprooting of massive institutions with new ways of thinking; our minds opened by new technologies. Welcome to the age of the Personal University.

eLearning may not even be the best way to describe the changes we're seeing in the educational experience. Perhaps a better way to describe the personal university that is evolving is what Josh Bersin, a leading eLearning technology and implementation consultant and respected industry authority, describes as blending learning. "eLearning is not the only medium used" in today's and tomorrow's classrooms, Bersin tells us. "Blended learning is a far better solution than pure eLearning because it drives retention and engagement unlike 'self-study'. The challenge is that blended learning is a more complex solution to administer and must be done consistently."

In other words, the best of all worlds. Information and communication enabled by the Internet. Face-to-face interaction between instructors and pupils. Opportunities for interaction with subject matter experts from every conceivable discipline, from across the globe.

As I said before, technology is the great equalizer. The opportunity to learn from the greatest minds in science, math, literature, and history is open to everyone - not just Ivy Leaguers.


The Personal University is here now, and is our future. The consulting firm Eduventures estimates that about a million students now participate in distance learning courses, and is growing at a rate of more than 20 percent a year. For example, the University of Maryland-University College has 90,000 working adults in 91 online programs from 29 countries. It is estimated that nearly 50 percent of higher education institutions engage in online distance learning. But the Personal University is far more than an extension of an established learning institution.

* The Personal University is built upon all forms of institutions. You may be familiar with the online universities, such as University of Phoenix, Walden University, and Kennedy Western University. These institutions took the concept of the "campus-less" correspondence school and took it to an electronic realm. But the Personal University is far more than non-traditional educational institutions. Such a facility knows no boundaries, and is blurring the distinctions between educational institutions. Students can be anywhere between ages nine and 90. Not only are colleges and universities are interconnected with each other, with students and faculties, and even K through 12 schools. But the Personal University is more than a network of schools and colleges.

* The Personal University involves organizations from outside of the educational realm. Corporate training programs, private training organizations, and non-profit groups contribute to this curriculum. A colleague of mine is heading an effort at Elsievier Publishing to move the companies' instructional materials to an online learning format for nurses and allied healthy professionals.

* But just as the Personal University is more than an established educational institution, it's more than a training provider. It can pull in any resources that exist across the World Wide Web. When a learner is on a computer on the network, the world is his or her hard disk. But the Personal University is more than technology. It is high tech; it is also "high touch," to use the words of the futurist John Naisbitt. Technology supports the Personal University, but it's not about technology. The Personal University is a combination of digital and live resources.

* The Personal University is a self-designed, self-directed learning environment. It enables learners to design their own curriculums, and tap into resources from across the globe - other universities, private training firms, online publications, blogs, newsgroups and user groups, and online publications.

The most likely beneficiaries are the lifelong learners, the busy professionals, such as many of you, who need the convenience of being able to attend class via your PC or laptop. It's also worth noting that most on-campus students also have PCs or laptops, and this also represents a new learning channel that can augment classroom learning.

What does the future of e-learning hold? The movement as seen by many experts is in the direction of simulations, or sophisticated recreations of learning environments. Think Flight Simulator for situations other than flying, such as medical procedures, engineering projects, or any number of activities.


Of course, there are challenges. Think about our friends in India being contracted to provide online learning. As NPR describes the phenomenon as the latest variation of offshoring of U.S. jobs. "For some time now, American companies have been outsourcing work to India, where it can be done at far lower cost. Telemarketing, IT support, customer services and other back office jobs have all been farmed out to well-educated Indians thousands of miles away. But here's a surprising variation on the theme. Indian teachers providing online tutoring to American children at poorly performing U.S. schools. The online tuition business in the U.S. has expanded greatly since the No Child Left Behind Act, which compels those schools which consistently fail to meet standards to provide extra tutoring. American education companies are starting to turn to teachers in India."

The reason I cite this example because the reverse situation is happening as well - U.S. educators are increasingly interacting with students from around the globe.


There are weaknesses that are inherent in computer-based training - namely, the absence of face-to-face instruction and interactivity - are carried over into the Web environment. Instructors in both business and academia will need to address and achieve a balance in the flexibility of distance learning with a high level of interactivity.

Great teacher-to-student relationships, just as is the case with business-to-business relationships, depend on personal contact, and, for lack of a better word, are often driven by serendipity. Relationships - the old-fashioned person-to-person variety - are a supreme advantage in both the classroom and the boardroom.

Let's face it, our attention spans are much shorter online as well. It's more difficult to concentrate on and absorb long documents online, versus on paper. Many organizations and training providers now provide training and informational updates via bite-size "Webinars" that may only last 10 to 15 minutes. Links to more information are made available. The concept of a "course" - such as a block of hour-long sessions held three days a week - is breaking down, and becoming granularized. Various course nuggets and components - lecture videos, audios, notes, and syllabus -- can be kept available to learners well beyond the "official" life of the course - possibly for years, and even decades.


We need to understand, and be able to harness, knowledge management. I once had the opportunity to talk with Allan Frank, chief technology officer for AnswerThink Consulting Group (Atlanta), and formerly national partner-in-charge of enabling technologies for KPMG Peat Marwick LLP. "How do you 'can' a Jedi master?" he asks. "How do you store the collective learning of the organization? Why did we win that sale? What have we built somewhere else before? What did that design look like? We can take a relational database, slice it, dice it, and cut it, rotate those cubes, and do data mining. But in the end, the difference is what really animates an organization is a human being."

Likewise, attempting to store and pass on the collective learning gathered in classrooms or other educational settings. Knowledge can be captured to some degree, and digitized, but education providers need to be able to provide a mix of both electronic and human-level contact.

All things considered, the Internet has thrown the doors to access in America's organizations wide open. Indeed, these confederations of entrepreneurs - and learners - are forming all over the globe, oblivious to boundaries and geographic distance.

Thank you for this opportunity to talk with you, and I welcome any questions you may have!

Joe McKendrick will be available online from Wednesday, March 2 until Monday, March 7. Please pose your questions to him using the Joe McKendrick: The World is Your Hard Disk discussion board.