The world’s first stock market index, created in 1884 by Charles Dow and Edward Jones, founders of the Wall Street Journal, consisted of eleven shares, of which nine were in railway companies. The railway was the panacea. Goods, people and ideas could move in a better and faster way and this would drastically change society. It was a great revolution. However, the majority of railway companies went bankrupt shortly afterwards. The railway boom of the end of the 19th century ruined most of them… but no one doubts that the railway, as a concept, was and still is a success. Transport was never the same again.
At the beginning of 2000, the company Terra was worth more on the stock market that Banco de Santander. Any dotcom company, even one losing money, was worth a fortune. The net would change personal and professional relations and, at the same time, the way of doing business. It was a great revolution. But, starting from March 2000, the majority of these companies went bankrupt or slowly disappeared. Terra’s shares, which traded above €150, ended up with a value of €2 before delisting. The dotcom boom at the end of the last century ruined most of them… but no one doubts that the arrival of the Internet, as a concept, was a success. The relations between companies and people were never the same again.
At present, online education is experiencing a boom, revolutionising the academic sector. Nothing will be the same in the future in this field. Concepts such as ICT, blended learning, learning platforms, e-learning 2.0, MOOC, etc. are invading us. Everything is changing very quickly and it is difficult to separate the wheat from the chaff. Most projects will fail… but no one doubts that online education, as a concept, is a success.
Education will never be the same again. Online education has come to stay and to lead present and future training processes, but there will be many corpses along the way. What should we do to be, as an education institution, at the forefront of this revolution without being overcome by this tsunami which will sweep away many players from the sector?
I don’t know.
As a finance professional, I have a certain amount of experience in the dotcom crisis at the end of the 20th century (I do not have any in the railway bubble, I do not have that much accumulated youth, as my friend Oriol Amat would say!). On that occasion we survived, and between 2000 and 2003 we obtained a profit while the stock markets experienced three years of heavy losses. What did we do? Keep our common sense in an unfavourable environment without ceasing to take the initiative.
This is the only solution that occurs to me: to try to keep our common sense in the face of the avalanche being experienced by the education sector in relation to online education, but without ceasing to have our own initiative. Passivity is a sure cause of death. We are in a turbulent river, not at all transparent and with great strength. We must make progress, holding to our course, as calmly as possible, acting and deciding at each moment what we do and, above all, what we do not do.
In particular, I believe that there are five basic ideas on online education that should be taken into account on making decisions.
1. The concept of training has not changed. The ways of acquiring knowledge have changed, as have the habits of the people who want to acquire this knowledge. Learning needs may increase (indeed they are increasing and they will do in the future) both because of the expansion in the number of people who can benefit from it, and the different contents which increase the range of subjects, fields, skills, techniques, etc. The concept does not, however, change. People want to acquire knowledge in the most efficient way possible. This is what has indeed changed thanks to the information and communication technologies (ICT): the possibility to increase the efficiency of the learning process.
2. Online education, the heir to distance learning, is based on an intensive use of the new technologies, the ICT. The objective is to be more efficient in the transmission of knowledge. The challenge is to get the participants to grasp this knowledge better thanks to these new technologies. I believe that in general more emphasis has been placed on improving the transmission than the reception of the knowledge.
3. In my opinion, the lack of presence and asynchrony are not the key qualities of online education (they also existed in distance learning). The difference lies in the immense teaching possibilities offered by the new technologies over the Internet. We are all still learning in this field. We should accept this. But we should gradually introduce innovations in our training programmes in order to continue learning and progressing.
4. The skills needed to be a good classroom teacher are not the same as those needed by a good online teacher, and the elements necessary to teach on line while providing quality are complex and varied. We have gone from the lecturer (oral communication) to the manager of technological tools and products (written and audiovisual communication). This is not a trivial step. However, just as the prediction that television would put an end to radio and cinema did not come true, the prediction that online education would put an end to classroom education did not come true either, and it does not look like it will. They are complementary and, therefore, they will both have to adapt to this co-existence in training processes.
5. Not just teachers are involved in online education. Other professionals as important as, if not more important than, the academics are needed. Technological companies buy contents to fill their expensive and complex platforms and the education institutions buy technological solutions so that their contents can reach the participants of their programmes in a better manner. Who provides whom?
This reminds me of how in the 1980s the IT sector was controlled by the hardware companies (IBM, HP, etc.), who hired computer specialists as suppliers to develop the programs used by the machines that they manufactured. Microsoft revolutionised the sector and, a paradox of destiny, helped by IBM it changed the relations of control and software companies began to dominate the sector, contracting hardware companies as suppliers of computer equipment. In the education sector, academic institutions will find it difficult to be able to lead online education without understanding this change. Either they make considerable investments in technology and audiovisual production, or else they form partnerships with companies specialised in ICT.
Flaubert already warned us that “Life must be a constant education”. He didn’t know how right he was!