OPINION: Education is far from the only sector that is grappling with the challenges and opportunities, threats and potential gains inherent in technological advances - in particular, those involving communications.
The scope and scale of such change is hard to comprehend and affects almost every business and human endeavour. It must be tempting for those charged with making the big decisions to sit back for a bit and see how others handle it.
The danger in that approach is obvious. Stand still in any environment and risk being overtaken, quickly rendered irrelevant or even redundant. The breakneck pace of change leaves little room for caution. Head-in-sand leadership might seem comfortable for a while, but is no way to prepare for the winds of change, or even see what is coming. The danger of being buried is obvious.
To its credit, Nelson Marlborough Institute of Technology appears to be at the vanguard of change in its field. Its decision to join, as a founding partner, with other tertiary education innovators in the Open Education Resources University is as bold as it is far-sighted.
It marks, also, a comparatively new approach in business - one based on collaboration rather than the more traditional cautious and standalone model. While NMIT has brokered the odd joint, co-operative approach with individual universities on specific degree courses, its decision to participate in OERU potentially transcends anything the institute has been involved with before. And good on it.
The basic thrust is to join with like-thinking educators in establishing flexible learning "pathways" on a global level, giving the opportunity to gain formal and recognised academic credits.
The OERU is not the only collaborative grouping of its type. Others include Coursera, spearheaded by Stanford University, and edX which is being led by Harvard and Berkeley universities and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. All are offering free, or low-priced, educational alternatives built on the potential for online communication to deliver education to a huge audience at minimal cost.
The new trend does not mean an end to face-to-face tutorials. Those students who can afford it may well continue to seek a fulltime, bricks-and-mortar learning experience, at least into the foreseeable future.
However, e-learning has obvious advantages for those seeking to expand their knowledge base but unable to leave home, study fulltime or afford a top-end university education. Keys include ensuring that the course delivery is straightforward and easily understood, engagement with students is real and qualifications are meaningful and robustly assessed.
The implications are vast. One negative outcome might be a global oversupply of graduates in some fields, meaning job-entry educational bars will be pushed up. Balancing that, the positives of more and better educated communities are obvious.
The knowledge wave that politicians have been talking of for some time is here. It is pleasing for those with a stake in Nelson that our tertiary institute appears poised to ride it for all it is worth, rather than sit back and risk being swamped by the tsunami of change.
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