Friday, April 01, 2005

Business Models

One of the reasons I'm "a natural" for learning technology administration is that most of the key issues are in the political economy category. The issues that are really and truly about the technology itself are there, to be sure, but they are comparatively few. When we were all getting started with this, in the mid to late '90s, it appeared that it was all about the technology itself. At the time CyberProf and Mallard (and VCI) were home grown developments on campus. It seemed as if the key thought was to focus on their functionalities.

Now we're at the other end of the tunnel. VCI is long gone. Biology, which was the last department to use it, has gotten rid of CyberProf but is now usign LON CAPA. And Mallard will probably not be supported by the campus after Summer '06. Why haven't these efforts sustained? Altenratively, why do we start on comparatively new efforts without a firm understanding that there is a need for ongoing resources for development? This is true even for open source software.

The issue is not just with the creation and sustenance of software. The successful business model also pertains to courses that rely on learning technology to a high degree, especially high enrollment courses. A lot of people new to teaching with technology expect there to be pure capital for labor substitution (the technology substitutes for the instructor's time) and that's it. But that is just wrong. Teaching is a human endeavor. And authoring content for online learning is also a human endeavor. The technology enables (inexpensive student) labor to substitute for (expensive faculty) labor. That is one of the great things that the technology enables. But to think that one can teach hundreds of students with just one instructor and no other labor is ludicrous.

The business models of ed tech are fairly well known to my colleagues who are learning technology liaisons for the CIC. (The Learning Technology Group has some interesting content on its Web site.) But it seems as if we're not consulted enough on this score. The wheel keeps on getting reinvented. Boom and bust cycles are the obvious result.

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