On the Horizon: MSU and the Future of Digital Learning

An image of a quote from Jessica Knott: "The future of digital learning is and must be a lot of things: scalable, open and shareable, universally designed and accessible, inclusive, conversational, and intentional."
By Jessica Knott, Learning Design Manager

One of the things we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about in the Hub is what the future of digital learning looks like at Michigan State University (MSU) and beyond. Some of the technologies we use in our teaching, learning, and research practices today are the same ones we used 20 years ago. Internet technology has evolved, but the idea of loosely networked, highly configurable information structures remains largely the same in 2018 as it was when Vannevar Bush conceived of the Memex (As We May Think). Or when J.C.R. Licklider conceived the notion of an “intergalactic network of computers” (Who Invented the Internet?) Or when the first correspondence and distance courses were developed (A Brief History of Online Degrees). The idea of adaptable, open, connected, and connecting experiences for learning is powerful—and nothing new.

As we look backward, however, it is critical that we also look forward. Last week, I had the opportunity to serve as a commentator for the Educause Learning Initiative’s introduction of the 2018 Horizon Report Preview webinar. For more information, read The 2018 NMC Horizon Report Preview. Or, for a deeper dive, read the full 2018 Horizon Report released on 8/16. The Horizon Report assembles and charts the educational technology landscape year by year, identifying exemplar projects in the field, as well as discussing some of the biggest catalysts (and challenges) that organizations harness and navigate in pursuit of teaching, learning, and student success. If you are interested, read a more in-depth history of the Horizon project.

For the webinar, I, along with Malcolm Brown and Noreen Barajas-Murphy of Educause, and David Thomas of the University of Colorado Denver, heard from three institutions sharing work that exemplifies ideas in the Horizon Report. Here at MSU and the Hub, we have projects in progress that share similar attributes, and this blog post serves to tie the larger, national conversation back to our local contexts.

The first project highlighted in the Horizon Report broadcast was entitled “Adaptive Learning and open educational resources (OER) at Scale,” by Jeremy Anderson from American Women’s College. Combining adaptive learning and open educational resources, American Women’s College has saved students over $176,000 in course material costs. At the Hub, the math reform project is re-thinking the structures of mathematical education at MSU, and exploring competency-based and adaptive learning options as potential solutions. Further, the Hub’s OER course resource project has funded a number of faculty initiatives as they look for ways to create and share open resources intended to increase access and success for MSU students. I see these projects as highlighting the importance of cross-sector collaboration that took place in its design, as well as the fact that scale is an innovation in and of itself which is important as we look toward digital learning futures. Any future we see must be seen as scalable.

The second project the Horizon Report broadcast shared was an AR/VR Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) response simulation, presented by Eileen DeCourcy at Humber College Institute of Technology and Advanced Learning. View an example and overview here on YouTube. This project is an excellent example of taking the theory of authentic learning into practice, giving students the opportunity to collaborate in building the content as well as experiencing MCI in a safe, low-risk environment.

At the Hub, authentic learning has played a key role in a lot of our projects, spanning from working to create the Hub itself to the Snares to Wares initiative that put students at the helm of a fully-functioning business and sustainability initiative (to listen to the podcast, visit Experiential Learning with Snares to Wares). We also worked with Dr. Miko Rose of the MSU Department of Psychiatry on a prototype for an asynchronous version of her Joy Initiative program. An example prototype is available at joyinitiative.com. The future of learning is caring. It is conversational, and it works to create safety in trying (and failing at) new things. Like that which came before, technology isn’t the magic, the people who teach are. Technology helps make that magic possible, but the future of digital learning is quite human at its core.

Finally, Patrice Ludwig and Sean McCarthy of James Madison University shared their story of Making Space for Innovation with the JMU X-Labs. This project is very similar to what the designers and educators involved with the new MSU STEM building are trying to create.

I also saw ties to the Student Innovation Team and the Hub itself. When we work together, how can we make education further tangible, accessible, and possible? The future of learning is collaborative. It transcends physical space and melds the physical campus and the virtual sphere. It requires literacy, fluency, and care. And it always has!

In conclusion, I urge you to review the Horizon Report released on 8/16. In a field suffering from innovation fatigue and differing definitions of what innovation is and can be, the report can serve as a catalyst for new ideas as well as a look at some of the challenges the field of higher education is trying to solve. The future of digital learning is and must be a lot of things: scalable, open and shareable, universally designed and accessible, inclusive, conversational, and intentional. It may look new—and it may look the opposite. What does the future of digital learning look like to you?