Laws, Howell & Lindsay (2003) contributed a thoughtful article called: Scalability in Distance Education: Can We Have Our Cake and Eat it Too? In this article they provide justification for the view that in online education there are trade-offs. For example, if you want to focus learning on the higher-level thinking skills (e.g. creating and evaluation) then you are going to need a greater degree of interaction with faculty, and it will be less scalable and less affordable.

In contrast, David Wiley spoke last week to a group of faculty, students and administration at BYU about “Openess, Localization and the Future of Learning Objects.” I can’t capture the whole presentation here, but he did make a distinction between what currently happens in “education” vs. what happens in “everyday” life for most students.















Even with most of the ways in which classrooms are becoming blended and online, they simply have made the transition from analog to digital – and tethered to mobile. They remain quite isolating (sometimes more than a normal class even), generic, consuming (as in simply taking in information and spitting it back out for assignments and tests), and closed (you can not see much about what the course covers before you take it, and after you are done with the course you can not go back to review the information you covered).

My synthesis of the valuable info from Laws, Howell & Lindsay (2003) in comparison to that of Wiley is that the dichotomy between scalability and interaction seems to exist simply when we have the old paradigm of education (where the knowledge comes mainly in a one-way flow from the teacher). In a new paradigm, where everyone is a teacher/learner, and knowledge exists in communities and connections – scalability is possible simultaneously with creativity and interactions.

The example that Wiley gave was the phenomenon of family history. Huge online communities of all different skill levels participate in learning about their own genealogy. There are premium services that allow formal “courses” for a fee, but most of the time you can learn what you need to from others who might be one or twenty steps ahead of you. It is very digital, mobile, connected, personalized, creating and open.

These types of communities seem to better represent the way that people learn and work in the connected, “flat” world. Outlet for creativity and connections (e.g. YouTube) allow people to pour energy into creating, sharing, and adapting. The keys to developing tools and platforms that people actually adopt and use – from Wiley’s perspective – are the following: Free, Simple and Easy. He argued that DRM (digital rights management) is an arms race and futile – and that we should rely on other incentives than strictly market incentives. (e.g. Red Hat,, and Universities themselves – all just add value around the commodity of content.)

I also found his following comments about adaptability (localization) particularly interesting, as they are tied to some of my key interests:

“Adaptability is even more critical an issue in the developing world than it is here” (although it is a big issue here too)

“Learning Objects [that are not adaptable] are a Trojan horse for Western imperialization.”

“Just as important as OERs (Open Educational Resources) is thinking about tools and local capacity for adapting OERs to the local context. And mechanisms for locally produced or adapted OERs to be shared back [so the original creators can learn from the adaptations]”

“Having a degree in Instructiona Design is not equivalent with cultural omniscience. (We quite often do now know what examples are meaningful to their lives, what language, what stories, etc.) – recognizing this will create some humility in us hopefully.”

“Principles in classroom are not necessarily the same principles that work online.”

The upcoming conference looks promising – Open Learning 2007: Localizing and Learning