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Learning Impact Blog


Community leadership for more effective use of technology in service to education

Every year I like to take some time to reflect on the Learning Impact conference experience, this year held May 14-17 in Toronto. In 2011 I wrote up my summary as a single short paper for the IMS community.  This year, with the introduction of the Learning Impact Blog, I will be posting a series of short summary pieces over the next few weeks.

Our number one goal with the Learning Impact conference when we created it 6 years back was to create a conference on educational technology that leaders would actually want to go to and attend the sessions because they provided real insight into where the educational technology industry was going.  The nice thing about doing this as the IMS Global Learning Consortium is that was are a member consortium that “makes our living” so to speak by actually doing things. Our main priority is not to observe, exchange, write about things. Our main priority is to help the education industry transform by doing collective good work around technical standards, adoption and impact. One of my favorite sayings that I use a lot in presentations to distinguish IMS is, “After all has been said and done, a lot more will have been said than done.” In IMS we are about doing. We will always do a lot more than we will write or talk about it.

In a separate post I have characterized the current state of educational technology adoption and interoperability as being equivalent to the adoption of electricity to homes and use of electrical appliances in 1900 – see It Will Be Us, It Will Be Now. We have a long way to go, but we also are seeing the foundation take shape.

What makes IMS special is that we are a community of organizations and individuals that is working actively to realize the foundation that is needed for educational technology. In this introduction I would like to thank the IMS member organizations and the many leaders who came to Learning Impact 2012.

In the posts that follow I will be giving my impressions of what we learned.  In 2012 we focused on the state of digital learning platforms (learning management systems, apps, tools), the state of digital content (e-textbooks and beyond), the state of mobile technology for learning, the state of e-assessment and the state of technology applied to continuous instructional improvement (closed loop learning, professional development, curriculum improvement, individualized learning), institutional leadership in adopting technology, and, of course, the Learning Impact Awards. We also had the most infamous and controversial LMS smack down panel in the many years of being the only conference that has the top dogs from the market leaders face off.  I will be covering each of these areas in subsequent posts.

The focus will be on movement. If there is a lack of movement where I believe the IMS community would like to see more, I will call that out. This is about working together to create the change we would like to see. If you want to run in place with respect to educational technology adoption – or pretend that the latest fad is an innovation – well, then I suggest you not tune in. If you want to understand how the leaders are laying the foundation for the future today – then this should be interesting to you.

Many thanks to Jeff Swain of Penn State for his blog post with his unsolicited impressions of the Learning Impact conference! I’d have to say that this is a pretty typical reaction from a newcomer.

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A couple weeks back there was a lively discussion on the EDUCAUSE CIO listserv about whether the CIO is or should be the Chief Innovation Officer? This topic came up last week at Learning Impact - and our higher education leadership panel made the point that key to innovation in institutions are two things:

1. It should be perceived as everyone's job, goal, etc.

2. The governance structures about how to lead and foster innovation should be clear

A study was cited by Mark Stiles of JISC that indicated that when executives were not clear about how IT governance occurred in their organizations, it had significant ramifications on the performance of the organization (see What Makes for Good IT Governance).

Today, by pure chance, EDUCAUSE released a podcast interview I did at EDUCAUSE 2011, where I discussed how interoperability standards can play an important role in helping CIO's set up a foundation for Innovation, and thus being an innovation leader, versus what many are really focused on today: integration.

Listen to the EDUCAUSE podcast interview with Rob Abel of IMS here.

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In IMS Global we are coming off the high of our annual Learning Impact conference held this year in Toronto. This was the 6th annual Learning Impact conference and the 10th annual conference held by IMS (we changed the name and the focus to Learning Impact in 2007).

The conference has grown nicely over the years, but it is still an "intimate" group of about 300 or so industry leaders equally split among suppliers and institutions across K-20. A lot of really interesting things happen at the conference as it is as much or more a venue to work on IMS continuing initiatives as it is a "state of" the ed tech industry. This includes the annual Learning Impact global competition that is the only competition of its kind worldwide: an independently judged awards program that recognizes the achievement of technology in helping to improve education, particularly access, affordability and quality.

Most years I do a keynote in which I attempt to provide some details of the "big picture" on all things knowledge economy, education trends, tech trends and the role of interoperability. This year the main message was that the IMS community is clearly creating a major shift in the education landscape.  The change is as simple and yet as profound as the change around 1900 when electrical outlets started appearing in homes for the 1st time.

Most people alive today take the ease with which a wide variety of electrical appliances can be "plugged in" for granted. However, this was not very easy in 1900. The "killer app" for electricity to the home was the lightbulb.  As a result, early wiring of homes terminated in light bulb sockets - of which there were quite a few competing forms.  As a result, the "standard" for getting electricity to new categories of appliances was a light bulb screw that had an electrical wire coming out to the appliance (see collage).

So what?  Well, this is where we are in terms of the ability of educational institutions to adopt educational technology. Every vendor has their own integration APIs that are analogous to the variety of light bulb sockets. The "wiring" of integrations is complex and messy - and just not as easy as it should be (and in the case of electricity, eventually became). It was not such a great time to be selling appliances in 1900 as they were not easy to adopt.

The good news is that every industry eventually overcomes these barriers. The education segment has some unique challenges compared to some other industries which I will be discussing in this blog over time. But, the bottom-line is that the 3% of education expenditures that is spent on technology in education worldwide (see BCG report here) will eventually rise to the more normal 6% - but in order to get there, incorporation of technology will need to get easier and its value will need to be clearer.

Both of these issues - making adoption easier and getting clear on the Learning Impact of technology are key themes of IMS Global.

In this year's keynote I relayed some very good news.  I showed 75 major products or institutions that are actively involved in deploying IMS standards and directly involved in conformance certification. We are very sure that the real "market" is at least double this right now. This means that for the 1st time in its history, the educational community is in fact putting in place the "plug and play" infrastructure needed to take out unnecessary cost (think all that custom lightbulb wiring) and open up the market for greater innovation (think all those appliances available to you today in your home).

At the conference I learned of the progress of Instructure - the new entrant in the LMS segment in the last 1 year or so. Instructure has built an entire partner network around the IMS standards! If I am a venture capital investor in educational technology, I am jumping for joy right now!  Do you realize how much investment was saved by not having to develop and maintain their own proprietary integration scheme? This frees up capital for focus on higher value areas.

I also learned about Harvard Business Publishing using the IMS standards to more easily deploy their high quality simulations in a large variety of institutional integration configurations. This makes the use of technology more seamless for faculty and students and reduces unnecessary cost.

I could go on and on with these examples - which we do write up and capture on the IMS web site. But, to sum up, why are we only in 1900 with respect to the education segment? Well, the interoperability is getting where we need it to go, but not quite there yet. The people that are responsible for building the houses - the institutions - need to embrace interoperability as a key strategy. The suppliers need to adjust the culture of custom integrations further and embrace the strategy from the top to the bottom in their organizations.

I chose 1900 as the date not only because it shows the limitations, but also because it was an approximate turning point beyond which electrical outlets rapidly made their way into homes and appliances began flourishing. It is readily apparent  to me that the IMS and larger educational communities are ready to turn the corner or reach the tipping point on this. I see a tremendous cadre of leadership among our IMS community - who I think have the momentum and will make it happen. We need to understand that this change is inevitable and understand our role in the history of educational technology. So, I ask, why not us and why not now? And I conclude that it will be us and will be now!

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The title of this first post to the new Learning Impact blog is a quote that can be attributed to Bernie Luskin. Most people involved in educational technology don't realize it, but we are at the very beginning infantile stages of what will grow to become one of the most vital growth industries. Yes, education expenditure by most nations is already large - in the range of 5-7% of GDP. However, the percentage of those expenditures on technology is about 50% of other major industries (for instance, see this report from BCG). In this blog I will do my best to try to understand where we are, where we are going and how we can get to a better place faster with respect the use of technology to support education.

As noted in the tag line, a lot of this will be about leadership. Education is a very unique industry and community with special considerations and needs. We need community leadership on quite a few fronts - that means leadership across institutions, suppliers to the segment and government entities. I am privileged to provide this perspective from a nice vantage point as the CEO of what has arguably become the most significant collaboration to accelerate technology innovation in education ever: The IMS Global Learning Consortium. IMS began as a project in EDUCAUSE in the 1995 timeframe. IMS was at the beginning of the start of the course management / learning management products for education. After stagnating through 2005, IMS has had a resurgence (see the 2011 IMS annual report) that now encompasses K-20+ and key technologies such as the future of the LMS, digital content, learning applications, e-assessment, educational positioning, the future of the student system, accessibility for digital learning, and so forth. In fact, the resurgence has kept myself and the IMS staff more than busy - really too busy to blog or otherwise adequately communicate all that is occurring.

Until now! I hope! It will be challenging to find the time to blog.  But I feel that we have learned so much in IMS over the last 6 years that it is time to share what we have learned and what this means for providing a more productive use of technology to serve education.

What needs to change? In a word, leadership. In a sentence, leadership that recognizes that the education community is powerful and can catalyze a more productive use of technology to serve education with some targeted collaboration. We are all learning together how to make this leadership happen - and I will do my best to share here what is happening in IMS as well as insights that the IMS experience may provide in interpreting current events.

See you in future posts!

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