A Bridge to Somewhere: Building the Infrastructure for Blended Learning

Blended learning has the potential to redefine school-based education, but it will only succeed if the resources are available for each student to construct a personalized learning experience. Unfortunately, whether a student wants to learn conversational Chinese or advanced mathematics, finding online courses in real-time is impractical if not impossible.  Without robust online tools that connect learners to courses, the blended learning model cannot succeed.

Today, enrolling in an individual course—online or offline—is as daunting as finding the best flight before the Internet.  In the era before travel comparison sites like Kayak.com, the travel industry controlled public access to schedules, ticket availability, and insider reviews.  Only the most determined DIY travelers had the stamina to organize a trip without an agent.  But with the advent of Hipmunk, TripAdvisor, Kayak, and dozens of other online travel services, booking your own vacation abroad is not only easy, it can even be fun.

In the same way that travel agents promoted vacation packages, most schools market their courses only as part of formal programs of study.  A centralized index of courses that crosses institutional borders simply doesn’t exist. Today a student can only search for a credit-bearing course one institution at a time, if at all.  Moreover, enrollment in a single course requires going through a complex admissions process that is designed for students pursuing a degree or certificate.

What is needed is a Kayak for education that helps students find and enroll in individual courses.  Imagine if students could have access to any course at any time at any institution worldwide.  The technology that would enable this experience would have to be simple and intuitive.  A  teacher or student would just choose a few parameters—subject, schedule, teaching method—and instantly retrieve a list of courses, compare what each course offers, and enroll in the best one.

Fortunately, most of the building blocks—content, policy, and technology—are already in place.  First, the education community has witnessed a proliferation in online learning resources from non-profit and for-profit institutions.  Second, regional collaborations, such as WCET, are creating new models for mutual recognition of course credit, which could be expanded nationally.  Finally, education technologists have been creating standardized methods that allow institutions to share data about educational resources.

Recently the PESC community, a leading standards body, launched an experimental directory of educational content services called EdUnify.  Rather than providing content itself, EdUnify is a wholesale market for educational content, providing raw data that application developers can use to build great websites.  Although it is only a pilot, EdUnify demonstrates how institutions can safely open their learning resources to outside developers.

The education community is building a foundation that is opening up literally a world of content for blended learning.  Using existing resources like EdUnify, it will possible to create tools today that can connect teachers and learners to thousands of educational resources. Soon we will all be talking about not only the Kayak of education, but the Mapquest, Craigslist, eBay, Amazon, and YouTube of education, as well.  Or maybe we’ll get to the point where those guys will be following our lead for a change!

(Note:  This posting was originally developed for EdReformer.)

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About bskluger

I have been an education technology practitioner for over a decade. This blog is a personal experiment with playing the role of observer. We'll see if I can pull it off without getting back into the fray.
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