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Good Times and Bad

Donald G. Perrin

A few nights ago I watched a feature-length documentary entitled “Who Killed the Electric Car”. It described a lengthy romance with electric vehicles that was swept aside by the gasoline powered automobile and fossil fuel industries. Today, with oil prices at record highs, there is renewed interest in the electric car and increasing public pressure to stimulate development of alternative energy sources.

There is a continuing drive in business and industry to reduce cost, increase revenue, and maximize profits. Education is subjected to similar pressures to do more with less. Downturn in the world economy has wreaked havoc with educational budgets that were already lacking and education as we knew it is facing a perfect storm. Industry is solving similar problems with automation, technology, and scientific management. As a “folk” industry, education is resisting such changes for fear of “dehumanizing” the teaching-learning environment.

In the early 1960’s, James D. Finn did an extensive series of nationwide studies on the adoption of technology for the National Education Association and the U.S. Department of Education. He predicted a “Technological Revolution”. It never occurred in the way he imagined. It was already occurring slowly by assimilation. Rather than replacing people with machines, it made people and processes more efficient. Examples include inexpensive high-speed copy machines, interactive multimedia, and computer management. Major innovations come from peripheral operations such as continuing education, where distance learning with audio, video, and computers found a natural home. A half century later, traditional education programs are enriched by these tools and luddites, where they exist, have diminished input to educational policy, management, and design.

Alternative paradigms of teaching and learning have been researched, tested, and implemented. With current pressures for change, a revolution in education is imminent; not be the technological revolution visualized by Finn, but restructuring and adoption of modern communication tools and management procedures.

Learning Management Systems (LMS) are one aspect of scientific management for education. The LMS integrates assessment (diagnostic-prescriptive tools), performance objectives, learning modules (interactive multimedia), delivery systems (Internet) and evaluation. The LMS also gathers data for continuous quality improvement. They are proven to be effective in meeting the needs of the majority of students for most of the time. The LMS releases instructors for individual counseling, problem solving, tutoring, lesson revision, and development of new lesson materials. Well designed learning programs find widespread use, recover their cost, and teach more for less. The human power within the system can now be refocused for human needs because information technology and learning management systems will play an increasing role in delivery, discussion, learning activities, and evaluation of knowledge, skills and aptitudes.

The projected demand for computer based learning experiences requires efficient and low cost production. Funding may come from business, industry and government to supplement existing education budgets. Lower cost design and production services may be achieved through competitive bid. This month’s lead article that shows how outsourcing and off-shoring support lesson development for a University in Malaysia. Outsourcing can be combined with other innovative models such as: interactive television for Graduate Engineers at Stanford University, hybrid and online programs for the Open University in the United Kingdom, nationwide programs such as Beijing Radio and Television University, and campus without walls such as Rio Salado College Online in Arizona, USA. It is imperative to redesign education for the new millennium.

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