Author Archives: coursegateway

Reinventing the University – Thoughts on Where and When

Cover articles of The Economist are always worth reading.  However when the June 28 edition led with “Creative Destruction: Reinventing the University” I was more than a bit interested to read what one of the world’s leading news magazines would say about a topic so close to my own heart.  To be sure, the magazine had previously reported on the potential disruptive effect of MOOCs but a cover story promised much more.

On the one hand I was not disappointed.  They conclude simply that “… as an alternative to an overstretched, expensive model of higher education, they [online education approaches] are more likely to prosper than to fail.”  As much as I agree with that sentiment, they were a bit remiss in not discussing several aspects such as the role of research at universities but also in not examining the timing and location of this disruption — it certainly won’t be the same everywhere.

For my part I don’t have a crystal ball, but a number of excellent studies on service sector innovation can give us some clues.  In particular, we know that innovation in services almost always starts with automation of existing processes.  This typically leads to much welcome improvement in efficiency and often quality. However it is only much later, once familiarity with the new tools sinks in, that one sees fundamental changes in the service itself.

The implication, to me at least, is that the places to look first for fundamentally new models of higher ed are where there are no or few existing solutions.  Much like copper wire has been passed over for wireless communications in the developing world, one can expect new models for universities to first appear in the developing world where the need is great and there are fewer existing universities to change.

Domestically, we’ve seen a great deal of automation and technology applied to improving our existing models of higher ed.  These have been worthwhile efforts but I for one am looking forward to bolder experiments in the coming years!

With warm regards, Damian Saccocio, Co-founder, Course Gateway

PS: For those interested, the Reverse Product Life Cycle model described by Barras is well worth a read.  The model asserts that innovation in service industries flips the classic model from Utterback where product features change rapidly early on, gradually giving way to process improvements (e.g., consider how important process innovation came to be in the automobile industry after features became standard).





The Digital Gold Rush in Occupational Education and Services

The relatively low cost of developing and deploying occupation-specific digital collections, and related communities and services, has created a digital gold rush.  Content-rich enterprises such universities, professional societies, and publishers of reference works, manuals, and textbooks are moving to convert content to new platforms even as technology companies are rushing to generate and secure content that will draw users to their platforms and approaches.

The heart of occupational and professional education, and related information services, is that they provide carefully curated content and engage a dense community of users (students, members, users/readers) around occupation-specific knowledge.  Both traditional professional and occupational enterprises and new entrants see the mission and economic values of:

  • increasing the number of users, especially international users;
  • increasing the value delivered to users and thereby increasing the stickiness of their services;
  • creating new revenue streams both through the delivery of new services and by taking market share from competitor enterprises, many of which did not exist or directly compete in traditional markets for professional and occupational attention and dollars.

The opportunity for companies, educational enterprises, and professional societies is to use this new form of knowledge organization to aggressively develop markets with direct revenue and margin consequences and to develop content-based brand and visibility.   While every enterprise’s entry point will be different there are three main challenges in execution of an effective global strategy:

  • Establishing dynamic and growing occupation-specific communities in target occupations or professions;
  • Developing or acquiring and capturing occupation-specific knowledge management structures and digital collections; and
  • Establishing relationships with local, often face-to-face, providers of occupation-specific decision support and education in target markets.

The stakes in this gold rush are high.  Enterprises that establish effective global communities and collections can become a welcomed operational partner for national governments as well as for companies operating around the world.   The successful global community and collection can be the vehicle that brings high quality, interactive digital resources and materials to support regional educational institutions and individual learners in workforce-relevant tertiary education, as well as providing support for professionals in the field.

The New Architecture for Usable and Useful Knowledge

The emerging architecture of digitally published reference works, manuals, and textbooks changes the form, and what we expect, in accessing and using professional and occupational knowledge. New generation online knowledge sources are searchable and can present useful and usable knowledge in accessible tutorial format for education or decision support.

Because of the explosion of important occupational knowledge, in fields ranging from medicine to aircraft engine repair to designing a clinical drug trial, new architectures put a premium on technologies that a) help a user navigate the knowledge; and b) create a learning community and/or a community of practice around the knowledge.

The new architecture also allows a single digital collection of tutorial objects — linked to information sources outside the collection — to serve educational, decision support and knowledge management functions in a defined domain.

A Common Resource Can Serve Professional Education and Decision Support




Making Sense of Technology Strategy Choices for Online Education

The leadership of universities, companies, and government agencies know that online courses, digital course materials, and e-learning are the wave of the future.  For some institutions this wave of the future is a tsunami as the pace of innovation, and the resulting shifts in traditional organizational roles and boundaries, are breathtaking.  Common and important choices include:

Responding to changing expectations of learners. New technologies, particularly mobile internet access and search, are changing the way students and others learn. Learners increasingly expect digital, 24-7, just-in-time, and peer-to-peer enabled systems that present information tailored to their individual learning needs. Make sure your technology strategy choices address the needs and expectations of the individual learner as a priority.

Investing to increase the scope and effectiveness of educators. New technologies and digital publications can simultaneously scale an educator’s impact to more learners and make them more effective, delivering content and teaching that meet learners changing needs. Make sure your technology strategy choices: 1) enable the increasingly aggressive use of modularized digital, multimedia content; 2) support long-lived and transient learning communities; and 3) incorporate new generation adaptive learning technologies.

Making the most of content knowledge and pedagogical expertise. Individual experts, formal data repositories, and accidental archives of valuable information exist at universities, companies, and government agencies. As digital educational publishing technology advances we are seeing steep drops in the difficulty and expense of making this information accessible in tutorial form. At a wide range of public and private institutions, technology strategy choices can enable critical mission-supporting learner-oriented digital publication. This opportunity can be challenging for educational institutions, and is even more so for companies, government agencies, or civic institutions such as foundations or professional societies.

The success-limiting factor in these areas is not simply making the right technology choices, but rather selecting or developing a strategy that recognizes and effectively articulates the value proposition in digital educational publishing.

Making it New: “Take the map as an example….”

Take the map as an example. The print map has largely gone away…online mapping has become the norm. And in the process, the form of what we expect from maps has completely changed.

They [online maps] tell you where to go. They include directions. They tell you where the nearest gas station is or, if you’re using a location-based product, they tell you there’s a merchant nearby that has deals for you.

So the question we need to be asking ourselves about e-books is, are there similar transformations that we can expect in what we think of as the book?…That’s where the really interesting game is going to be played—in making it new.

Tim O’Reilly, Founder, O’Reilly Media, Forbes interview, March 25, 2011

Knowledge management, education, and decision support for professionals have been entwined with publishing since the early days of writing.  When the Babylonian King, Hammurabi, distributed multiple copies of his code of laws in about 1750 BC he was using then-modern publishing technology: cuneiform script pressed into clay tablets or carved on stone columns.

Given the limited literacy of population at the time, the publication of Hammurabi’s 282 laws covering criminal actions and punishments, as well as contract law, seems intended to educate government officials in the realm and provide them with accessible and authoritative support for their day-to-day decisions.

Today, printed reference works, operating manuals and textbooks for professional education and practice are rapidly giving way to searchable digital collections that include text, video, audio, special purpose calculators, simulations, and interactive data displays.

This transition is being driven a) by the need to manage and access rapidly increasing volumes of professional and occupational knowledge; and b) by a cluster of important innovations in digital publishing.

Innovations Supporting Next Generation Publishing for Education and Decision Support
(i.e., reference works, manuals and textbooks)


New generation reference works, manuals, and textbooks can be community-linked and interactive, and can easily deliver adaptive learning and search-and-recommend intelligence.  As such they will change the landscape of just-in-time information access, digital interactive learning, and decision support.  As Tim O’Reilly said, “That’s where the really interesting game is going to be played–in making it new.”