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this is a test post as someone said they couldn't comment

Dominik Lukes

This is a great write up of the issues. These things that have been bothering me for quite a while, as well. I have two points of disagreement.

I don't think that you can legitimately call the evidence for the second proposition 'strong' if you accept the weakness of the evidence for the first (correctly, I believe). The problem is that the evidence for the two is not commensurable. In fact, I'd argue that the digital native proposition now being increasingly shown to be overblown was initially bolstered exactly by the same type evidence you provide for the second argument. I expect that a similarly through look into that evidence would weaken it considerably. At least, if history is anything to go by. Look at the expectations laid at the feet of the telegraph, telephone, television, instructional videos, teaching machines. They all fell significantly short of 'societal transformation' hopes and dreams. What you need is a comparison with populations in other contexts. What about book clubs, zines and mailing lists, massive sales of reference materials and encyclopedias in the past? As well as the movement in informal education going back to the 60s at least. And on the other hand, I constantly encounter people who rarely search on Google for information they don't already have, never use Wikipedia and have no clue what Twitter is good for.

What I believe you need to show is evidence that the proportion of "people using the internet for a variety of learning related activities" is significantly greater than the people who used all the other 'alternative' sources of information in the past.

As to your last point, competition for sources of information may be more complex now than in the past (although I have my doubts). But the competition for the certification of the results of learning seems pretty constant to me. So the parallel with newspapers is not bullet-proof. Whereas nobody can certify that or how well you read an article in the newspaper, Universities are still the only institutions afforded the privilege of certifying the level of your learning (there are some local exceptions through particular professional bodies but there don't seem to be radically more of those now than before).

AJ Cann

I've sat here for three days staring at this paper and feeling that I ought to comment on it, but not being able to. Why? At first I thought it was something to do with stakeholding - what benefit do I get from commenting - but that argument has to be discarded as I frequently comment on blog posts, almost without thinking (it certainly doesn't take three days). So it's something to do with the process. When I comment on a blog post, I feel as if I'm participating in a conversation, and, added bonus, helping in the formation of socially-constructed knowledge. I don't feel that when I referee a paper for a journal, which I still do out of a sense of obligation - quid pro quo. Sitting looking at your manuscript, which you have clearly spent a lot of time polishing, clicked me into passive journal-reading mode rather the the more engaged commenting-mode I normally assume when I read a blog post. Your article is great, but reading it in this context feels corporate, not conversational. It's a good article, but I have nothing to say.


@Dominic - thanks for taking the time to read & comment. Maybe you're right about the second proposition. I think we can make deductions from the type of activity but the hard evidence isn't there. I'd disagree that if prop 1 is weak then 2 must be also, it is entirely possible for social change to be happening, but for this not to be of the type touted by net geners. And while it is true that some people don't use wikipedia/google etc, it's also true that many people proudly proclaim to have never read a book in their lives, yet we wouldn't argue that books aren't significant in learning. But there is something in what you say, so maybe I'll add a caveat to that proposition and downgrade it to medium. Thanks again.

@AJ - that's interesting. I wondered a while back if incomplete course material generated more interaction than finished OERs, and maybe there is something in this. A blog post is good because it is half-complete, it's a dialogue whereas a paper is a statement. This is partly why I found blogs so liberating to start with I guess. There is a place for articles, but maybe the blog isn't it? Thanks for spending three days looking at it anyway, I now release you :)


Thanks for this article, I have some minor comments, which you can consider or use as gerbil insulation.

On the Net Generation, I query the studies discussing generalised adult statistics, for example, "55% of staff asked students to use communicative media" or "44% of online adults"). If you consider academic departments, there will be various strata of net interactivity and tech ability usually, but not always, associated with age. So I think an average is meaningless here. Prof X may always use communicative media, but Dr Y might never use it. I see your point is to show that the next layer is using communicative media more, but I would argue (no data though!) that this is a stepped/tiered process across generations rather than a jump. A small point here, to make it more readable to non Anglophones would be to explain what is meant (even in general terms) what is meant my Generation X and Baby Boomers. On the attitudes of Net generation, I think there was a nice JISC study last year that showed an emotional attachment with technology. (The data you report on teen bloggers is v interesting!).

Regarding the change in HE as compared to the music/newspaper industry, while universities have undoubtedly lost their monopoly on informal learning, I don't see the analogy with other media. Newspapers sell a product, which you can or cannot purchase. At the end of use, you dispose of it and think about tomorrow's newspaper (or not). Universities "sell" degrees, students choose which one to take. But at the end of the process, the perceived value of that degree is what the student "purchased". In other words, the accreditation power of the universities is what they are selling. The implication is that students could choose a range of knitting modules online, get some online body to accredit their learning and they have a degree in knitting is unrealistic, although integration of universities in this community approach (e.g. via recognition of prior learning) is conceivable. (I am very happy to see a chemistry analogy here!). On a small point, I don't see why you have included Guardian online stats in your data - you aren't comparing like with like.

Thanks for sharing this - looking forward to seeing how it evolves.


Hi Martin - just to say the site wouldn't let me post unless I went through the preview post window first.

Daniel Christian

Hello Martin --
I congratulate you on such a well-thought out and researched posting here! Well done!

One area that I think may be slightly under-represented here -- and one that I believe will have a significant impact on the higher education landscape as we've come to know it -- is how important the economics of the higher education landscape are becoming.

That is, (without researching this enough to provide solid data) I would think that the data would show that more students are seeking out more affordable means of obtaining their higher education (HE) degrees. The current models of HE are not sustainable -- they are starting to become far too expensive for many people. So, I would think that students may be starting to look elsewhere -- to a place where they could "get that piece of paper" at a far more affordable price.

I don't think it will be long before there is a "Walmart of Education". I don't say this in a derogatory manner at all. That is, some organization will soon create highly-engaging, multimedia-based, interactive content -- and will offer such content at a fraction of the current costs. They will offer the same content in 3-5 different ways and let the students select what works for them. Such an organization will be able to do this because they will have an enormous student base upon which to distribute the costs and obtain their ROI.

I make arguments for this sort of thing at:

Thanks again for an excellent posting here Martin! I have much to learn from such a balanced style of writing.

Daniel Christian
Calvin College
Grand Rapids, MI

Allyn J Radford

Hi Martin

As already acknowledged by others, great post. You did a far better job of taking the approach of Descartes than I think I could.

The points that came to mind regarding the content and issues are the following.

1. It strikes me that since you work in educational technology at the OU, that the need to change is somewhat less than in many other universities. OU has already been very successful at reinventing the approaches to working with distributed learners. An important part of that has been the use of technology. The need to change is less for an institution that is already moving down a path of change.

2. Learning itself is less subject to change. We are still learning what strategies and approaches improve the effectiveness and efficiency of facilitating learning. Technology is a piece of that puzzle, but I agree, it is sometimes overstated. By and large, we do it badly and do not fully appreciate the capabilities we already have and discard the current for the magic pill of the future.

3. I enjoyed the reasoning for a reduction in the significance attributed to the Net Generation. There is, however, one important factor that was not explored. The real point about New Media and the current ICTs is that they change the way people communicate. For example, where we used to be limited to one-to-one and be bound by proximity and location, that is even less so with current technologies compared to even the recent past. The technology is more accessible to more people and in different ways. The Net Generation appears to have a broader vocabulary in relation to newer technologies and tends to use them differently than older generations, and in turn, some of the older technologies and communication practices have been left behind. Not all of this change is good (a relationship with valuable but 'lost' skills may exist), but when you fundamentally change the way people communicate, it is hard to find areas that remain untouched by that change, including discourse within learning.

4. The fact that universities may survive without change needs to be balanced by the lack of supply compared to demand. This agrees with the points you make about regulation and conferring of awards. It does, however, skew the analysis. Maybe a relationship exists between strategic use of technology in learning and overall quality of graduates and ultimately, skills related to employment etc. ?

5. Institutional identity also has a role to play in relation to the need for change. I have found that to be a missing factor in what many higher education institutions consider when formulating 5 and 10 year plans (when they do so). In private enterprise the notion of brand and identity is a vital factor in success and how an organisation changes. I believe institutions need to understand the same things in an educational context for the same reasons. The successful ones certainly do. Strategies relating to educational technology are very important within that context and re-frame the debate.

6. Following from identity is the growth of for-profit universities and their impact on the landscape. This in some ways argues against the regulatory privilege because private enterprise can also play the game if they abide by the rules. This also changes the game and the necessity to change. It will have an increasing effect on demand and supply, and under-performing and less desirable institutions will be severely impacted. This point should be considered in relation to most of what has been said so far. Mike Zastrocky of Gartner Group has been warning Universities for years that they could lose their main role to private enterprise. Some will/have, for sure. Some won't. You can bet that private enterprise will only do the stuff that returns a profit.

Conclusion, the issues may be more complicated because the considerations do not relate to a homogeneous population in any respect. I really enjoyed the post.


Melissa Digitalis

Hi Martin,

Great post. It seems that methods of learning are continuously evolving.

Check out The Tomorrow Mural for peoples visions of the future. You can also post your own thoughts.




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