Some discussion this week on this George Siemens article. (See Graham Attwell, Stephen Downes.) He asks if the power structures in our education system are willing to fully embrace the network and the adoption of the PLE. He believes they will not, and I agree.
Most of what George writes is eminently sensible. To explain the causes for this phenomenon, however, he takes his cue from Evetts, Mieg, and Felt. They conclude (for $66, btw) that industrial corporations are the source of the resistance:
Education – moving from the high ancient ideals of developing better people to the development of employees for corporations…
The idea that our educational systems are in thrall to the corporations and designed to serve them, strikes me as neo-Marxist fantasy. It is a specter that has nothing to do with the real world and cannot be examined in any real sense. Apply the map of ‘power structures’ on anything and you can conjure up gruesome power relations – sex, gender, football - and construe them whichever way you want. Evetts and company would need to provide some kind of concrete evidence of such a proposition, but it is almost certain that they can do it only at the level of ideology.
And if corporations are controlling the whole thing then our educators are either witless or complicit. It looks like an easy abrogation of responsibility from educators to blame those sinister men in neck ties. Nor are ‘control, accountability, manageability’ the invention of corporations – those have a much longer history than that. (It pretty much describes 2,000 years of confucician imperial examinations, for example.)
I also think I would know if the subjugation of our educational system was on the corporate agenda. I am an active, conservative, pro-business, life-time student of the discipline who has worked with people from the corporate world for decades and never heard nor seen the slightest reference to it in that milieu. (And what % of the US population actually works for a corporation anyway? 15%?) How could it have developed such a powerful hold over education if no-one talks/writes about it or even mentions it?
The real causes of resistance
The cause of institutional resistance to the PLE is simpler, and more direct, and lies much closer to home: the academic class itself. Even the most liberal educators will turn conservative if you threaten their status or their futures. They have plenty of reasons of their own to resist change. There is nothing sinister or conspiratorial about this. People do resist change.
But an even bigger cause, to my mind, is the issue of complexity. Our institutions are not configured to make deep, transformational change en masse. In terms of process, such a widescale change in education would involve a massive level of complexity that no-one really understands and is all but untenable in institutions that were designed to teach, not to change.
The historical roots of our educational systems are long and tell a hierarchical story. That’s just the way it was. I am as much a proponent of flattened organizations, autonomous learning, and a full embrace of the network as anyone, yet I am an unrepentent capitalist. I also believe that most educators would like to see change if it didn’t threaten them, if they unbderstood it, and if it were manageable. No conpiracies. Sometimes what you see is what you get.
The effect on e-learning
All of this explains the patchy state of e learning. On a recent visit to the US, I asked Curt Bonk about the state of e learning and he replied ‘What is the state of human development?’ Touche. Often, e learning is being used simply as a new way to automate old processes. This has sometimes relegated it to the level of a weak compromise between the old ways and the network’s true potential. (In other cases, it’s being done rather well.) The new learning medium needs new messages. If we want to see the true benefit of the network we have to embrace it fully. This requires that we understand what it can and cannot do. Probably no-one has done more in terms of advancing that understanding than George Siemens, through his work on connectivism. I guess I just don’t agree with him on what is causing the bottle necks.