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Disruptive and Transformative Education: Designing learning in the digital age

By Allison Miller / November 2012

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The Internet is changing how and when people can access information and is transforming and disrupting how education is designed and delivered. New approaches to learning are threatening traditional educational values by de-institutionalizing and de-formalizing education as we know it. These new approaches support the prediction that education is as "susceptible to tech disruption as other information-centric industries such as the news media, magazines and journals, encyclopedias, music, motion pictures and television [1]."

The New Media Consortium's global digital educational meta-trends highlight some of the disruptive changes already happening in education [2], such as:

  • Emerging global and collaborative educational business models of whatever, whenever and wherever learning.
  • Creating and consuming rich media through mobile and cloud-based delivery, which is refining our notion of literacies.
  • Acknowledging the role of informal and self-directed learning, which is redefining who can accredit educational experiences.
  • Increasing openness of content, data and resources, and changing practices for online ownership and privacy.

Examples of Anywhere, Anytime, Anyhow Education

Freely available online education courses, such as university and corporate led massive open online courses (MOOCs), and the ability to access open educational resources (OER) through open courseware (OCW), the coalition of Open Educational Resource Universities (OERu) or the Peer 2 Peer University (P2P,) are providing greater choice of when, where, and how people learn.

Formal educational institutions are adopting more synchronous and asynchronous collaborative approaches to learning through readily available tools such wikis, blogs, and cloud services such as Google Drive, and Dropbox. This is enabling learners to connect across the planet.

Acknowledging and Supporting Pro-sumer Learners

Learners are now multi-connected, multi-deviced, and live in an app driven world. This means designing learning that is interactive and available anytime/anywhere. This needs to take into account the necessity in allowing learners to easily access their learning materials and experiences via mobile BYO devices (BYODs) such as mobile phones and tablets.

Educators can take advantage of their connected learners by encouraging them to capture evidence of their formal, non-formal, and informal learning experiences on the run. Live streaming these experiences into their life-streams on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter or into the personal electronic portfolios (e-portfolios) and data stores means learners are now producing and consuming information online making them "pro-sumers."

Open or Digital Badges are offering an alternative way of acknowledging a person's current skills, knowledge, and experiences, and can be issued by anyone for anything. Learners can then "hang" these badges on their e-portfolios or websites to validate who they are and what they can do.

Curating the Learning

Knowledge has no end point, therefore learners should not be held back by the slowest learner in the group. This way of thinking is seeing an increased use of the data, which learning technologies and the Web generate as individuals interact with it. Free online education services like the Khan Academy are using what is known as learning analytics to provide a window into learners' progress. This data mining is changing education business models from the delivery of education to the facilitation of learning.

Educators are also becoming learning resource curators and education change agents. This is allowing a flipped "personalized" approach to education while enabling learners to develop the skills they need for managing their own lifelong learning.

Being a digital curator and creator means both the educator and the learner need to better understand online ownership requirements. Intellectual property of resources and information can be openly self-asserted using the Creative Commons licences.

By accessing and using cloud storage and services, everyone needs a general understanding of managing their privacy and information online, as well as managing digital sovereignty implications for their organizations and their learners.

Educators as Self-directed Learners

The use of technology in education adds a new domain of knowledge for educators who now need to blend their specialist content and pedagogical knowledge for the online world. Known as technical, pedagogical, content knowledge or TPCK, educators need to ensure they are developing skills in all of these areas to be able to design effective digital learning. Using online learning communities or "circles" and personal learning networks (PLNs), educators need to not only learn from, but be able to learn with, online TPCK enabled-peers through professional online dialogue and activity.

These emerging global digital educational meta-trends highlight that educators need to be at the forefront of how to best use the Internet, and how to be think about new and transformative ways of teaching and facilitating learning. Educators themselves also need to keep learning about new and innovative ways technologies can be used to not only enhance their learners' experiences and lifelong learning skills, but to also facilitate their own ongoing development. Those educators not taking this lead will be doing a disservice to their learners who need to be able to work and live in an ever-increasing complex and digital world.


[1] Anderson, J., Boyles, J. L., and Rainie, L. The Future of Higher Education. Pew Internet. July 27, 2012.

[2] Horizon Project Retreat Communiqué. New Media Consortium. 2012.

About the Author

Allison Miller has been involved in education and training for nearly 20 years as an educator, professional development, and eLearning leader. Miller is the Director and Principal Consultant of Vanguard Visions Consulting, a learning and development (L&D) consultancy, which specializes in cutting edge e-solutions and research services which improve businesses' performance and digital capability. She also supports national eLearning projects for the National VET E-learning Strategy, and is the manager of the national professional network, ePortfolios Australia, and the international Digital Capability - Doing it Smarter online community.

© 2012 ACM 1535-394X/12/11 $15.00

DOI: 10.1145/2398996.2398997


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