For everyone whose daily workflow involves interacting with people and content (and increasingly their own data) through an LMS, it takes little to let them realize they inhabit a place of learning. At least that’s what I hoped I could led people to believe about their systems.
The shameful reality is, it’s not a very nice analogy to appreciate if your place of learning only elicits dread and dullness. Uninspired teaching has put off countless minds away from important subjects. The potential of global and massively uninspired LMS to put off millions of learners about hundreds of topics, let alone learning technologies themselves, is monumental! For all the quantifiable and unquantifiable benefits LMS have brought up to learners around the world, there’s still a few many of us, stubborn enough to believe that the battle had barely begun.
The battlefield, for starters, it’s not the same it was 3, let alone 20 years ago. Complex and dynamic landscapes, however, were not invented with the internet or machine learning algorithms. History is a wealthy source of insight about how technologies thrive and common goals advance. Spoiler alert: It’s never about the technology.
Reason One: A Binding Story
An interesting realization I constantly stumble upon in museums, libraries or the internet itself is that history is full of generosity and goodness. It’s so abundant it’s easy to get used and numb to it. The world is paved with good intentions even though (or is it exactly why) lesser things grab our attention. The digital counterpart is Open Source. As amazing as Linux, GitHub and advocacy groups are, something more essential is needed to keep them running; and beyond that, make it useful for more people.
Unfortunately, we’ve come to a place where usefulness is an exclusively monetary term. It’s another side of the Goodhart paradox: We seek to maximize only among that which is measurable.
Reason Two: A Self-Sustaining Principle
Properly told, the story of Open Source EdTech can ignite the imagination of everyone. But when it comes to putting it to good use, only a few have the privilege to profit from them. “Profit” here may sound like a strong word. But the problem can go deeper. Most of the time these free technologies were build for profit-based scenarios. It’s no wonder the best at seeking profit figure how to exploit them best of all.
Licensing plays a huge role here. Many companies use technologies to support their operations without “properly” contributing to their evolution. Perhaps if these technologies provided another benefit beyond profit, the question about their sustainability would have a different yardstick.
It’s a challenge for the technology, the design, the experience and the educational outcome: A system whose use justifies its existence. Today, users only know of tools that deserve their concern until its use is over. It only guarantees their own obsolescence.
Reason Three: A ‘radical enlightenment’
Revolutions have expiration dates. Even the most transgressive artform is eventually welcome by some establishment. The story and shape of an EdTech product, and going forward its success and sustainability, is not related to how critical or contrarian it is against the “powers that be.” Instead, they are adopted according to how effectively they take us all towards a “new normal.” Or what we economists call a “Nonzero Sum Game.”
It may or may not surprise you to realize the learners of today are much more productive than they were just a couple of decades ago. We know this not because we’ve been able to measure it. Instead, we have deduced as much thanks to the idea of “attention economy.” It suggests, among other things, that people have been able to accomplish at least the same amount of “productive” or “intellectual” output at work and school, and still have time for a lot of “extracurriculars”: Social media and online communities, memes, and of course, contribution to Open Source.
A current debate wages on whether it’s desirable to directly influence that for which economists have also a term: Spillovers. The truth is, whether for profit or higher-ended goals, the global surplus of intellectual activity is up for grabs. It’s only a matter of who has the most compelling story.