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Managing Change

Technology is easy; it’s the people and institutions that pose the real threat.

A new report from the Joint Research Centre (JRC) of the European Commission gives us a peek into important trends regarding the future of education and confirms some of what we already know. Using a structured and targeted expert consultation exercise called "group concept mapping," the organization sought to identify, cluster, and rate the main changes in education and training expected to occur over the course of the next 20 years. The process yielded 203 unique ideas, grouped into 12 clusters and ranked for feasibility and importance.

There were lots of technology trends predicted for education over the next two decades, but the experts did not rank tech-related ideas as important as trends in the nature of learning itself, which tended to cluster around the big idea of learner-centered education. The JRC report speculates that the participants perceived technology as just "a means for learning," adding, "Technology alone is neither the problem, nor the solution for education and training."

However, in ranking the feasibility of the various idea clusters, the experts said the technology-related trends were far easier to achieve, and ideas related to learning, such as informal and self-directed learning, were more difficult to implement.

The report authors summarize, "When comparing the cluster ratings on importance and feasibility, it becomes clear that, while the experts are optimistic about the development of technology-enhanced learning opportunities, they are skeptical about the feasibility of implementing learner-centered approaches in formal education and, in general, the ability of formal education systems and institutions to keep pace with change and become more flexible and dynamic."

None of the report's findings are particularly surprising, especially if you attended the Campus Technology 2010 conference in Boston this past July. Numerous sessions, including keynoter Josh Baron, covered many of the trends noted in the JRC study (see page 39 for conference coverage). Moreover, in session after session, speakers noted that the technology part of their projects was relatively easy compared with the cultural component: getting people to think differently about how they worked and how they taught. Listening to the questions audience members asked, you could hear how they were struggling with the same cultural challenges.

We can see these questions play out in this issue of CT. Dian Schaffhauser's article about attempts to implement campuswide e-portfolios (page 32) illustrates how bringing people on board with large-scale change is so much harder than figuring out the technology to support it. And David Raths' cover story on outsourcing (page 26) shows the evolution of the CIO from manager of boxes and wires to juggler of people, systems, and expectations. As a consultant in the article says, "You have to get past the idea of IT as a central organization that does things to other people and see it more as a resource partner."

To read the full JRC study go to: ipts.jrc.ec.europa.eu/publications/pub.cfm?id=3419.

About the Author

Geoffrey H. Fletcher is the deputy executive director of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

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