Why should the digital be part of the strategic conversation?

Back when I was a graduate student here at MIIS, I had the privilege of working with our dear colleague, mentor and friend, Professor Leo van Lier. Leo was someone I would call a humble genius. He was a great and profound thinker, and yet he was also completely grounded and approachable. He made content easy to digest while at the same time pushing you to think beyond the norm. Back then, Leo was the program chair of our Computer-Assisted Language Learning (CALL) program. One of his mantras continues to resonate with me today: “Pedagogy first, curriculum second, computers third.” For the purposes of our discussion, let’s update “computers” to “digital.” Simply put, the goals of teaching and learning must come before any decisions about technology. The technology in digital learning is only a means to an end. We don’t do digital for the sake of digital. A perfect example is the need to provide more flexible professional development to working language teachers, translators and interpreters. The digital is the mode by which we can reach a new audience who seek our expertise but also live in the reality of full-time employment, lives and families. They have the desire to learn from us but not the luxury of putting their professional lives on hold to do so.  

In 2014, I attended the Online Learning Summit at Berkeley with Susan and Bob. One of the speakers was Amy Collier’s former colleague David Kelley from Stanford. Something he talked about in his presentation that day also resonated with me. In the new learning economy, we must give learners “on ramps and off ramps” to learning. In other words, throughout their lifetime, people will partake of chunks of learning. Some of those chunks can tease them to learn more. Some will enhance what they already know. Individualization and flexibility are critical to the 21st Century learning paradigm.  

I feel that there is no way that “the digital” can NOT be a part of the strategic conversation. From a pragmatic perspective, we need to find alternative revenue streams, and while many academics may be uncomfortable thinking of education as a commodity, in fact, real questions have been raised in our society about the value of higher education and the model in which students incur deep debt in order to achieve that education. Many prospective students are questioning this paradigm. Digital learning enables us both to customize/modularize the student learning experience as well as to reach new audiences who would not come to us for more traditional degrees. So, yes, it’s partly about money, but more broadly it’s about access and about bringing our unique content expertise to those who might not normally come to us.

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