Guesstimating Today’s Drivers and Attractors in Higher Ed

Downes argued that to understand the real innovations in education and how education will transform in the future, we must look at how education has been transformed through the years based on changing drivers and attractors. In the past, these factors of change led to a progression from storytelling to apprenticeship to factory work to academia.

He also argued that true transformation happens with a moving, strange attractor. In other words, the attractor could be one basic concept that changes with time and leads to variations of change.

So what do these drivers and attractors look like today and what/who is driving it? Here’s my guess based on the trends I’m noticing:

My doodle is art, I know ;)

My doodle is art, I know ;)

  • What’s influencing the factors of change for higher education? Students
  • What are a student’s drivers? Cost, standing out from the crowd, competency, technology’s ability for communication
  • What is a student’s direct attractor? A versatile, sustainable career
  • What is a student’s strange attractor? A meaningful life

Though Downes did not, as in my case (and perhaps wisely), give his overall take on these factors of change, he did discuss how stakeholders can usher in the future with better success.

Reframing the Issues and Going from There

According to Downes, issues under consideration should be:

  • Students must pay too much to study and learn
  • Assessment is unreliable and (often) unfair
  • Texts and resources are locked behind paywalls
  • Content is poorly communicated
  • Life as a student is incredible stressful
  • Research studies are poorly designed
  • Education science rarely replicates

Those truly interested in transformative innovation should also consider new models of deployment. For example, instead of focusing on just one driver for innovation, like low cost, focus on multiple drivers at the same time, like low cost and product release. Instead of targeting small groups first then mainstream, market to all at once and scale swiftly. Instead of implementing low cost, feature-poor technologies, experiment on popular platforms.

“Ultimately, the new institutional perspective should be ‘Don’t do things to people, do things with people and help people do things.’ Like Daniel Pink noted, institutions must provide opportunities for autonomy, mastery and purpose,” he said.

“Instead of seeing a course as a series of contents to be presented, try to see a course as a network of participants who find and exchange resources with each other,” he concluded. “An example of this is the cMOOC [connectivist MOOC], which has a structure seeded with existing open educational resources [OERs] and encourages participants to use their own sites to create or share resources via a mechanism—gRSShopper—for connection.”

In summation, perhaps education will truly experience transformative innovation when it goes from personalization for the student (educators define an ideal state and then reinforce with content, requirements, practice and assessment) to letting the student personalize for him/herself (he/she defines the desired state and then reinforces with practice, affordances, and opportunities to try out their learning with support).

What do you think are the drivers and attractors in higher education? What do you think will usher in transformative change, and are there any specific technologies that can help?

Get Downes’ presentation here: http://www.downes.ca/presentation/392

About the Author:

Meris Stansbury

Meris Stansbury is the Editorial Director for both eSchool News and eCampus News, and was formerly the Managing Editor of eCampus News. Before working at eSchool Media, Meris worked as an assistant editor for The World and I, an online curriculum publication. She graduated from Kenyon College in 2006 with a BA in English, and enjoys spending way too much time either reading or cooking.


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