Edinburgh Scenarios on eLearning in 2014

I’m posting this information on the Edinburgh scenarios, because I believe it is important, and because I cannot find any more information on the results of the scenario building that took place in Edinburgh last month. Does anyone have any more information? I would like to keep the conversation going.

The eLearninternational 2004 World Summit recently wrapped up in Edinburgh. Prior to the summit, four scenarios were developed by a group of experts, including Jay Cross. These represent a good synthesis of the spectrum of possibilities for 2014. The four scenarios are based on two critical uncertainties, as determined by the working group:

1. Whether the role of technology in society empowers or frustrates; and
2. Whether power, influence and new ideas are primarily from established sources or from new and emergent sources.

The resulting scenarios from the quadrants formed by the intersection of these two axes are:

Web of Confidence: Technology advances, power shifts to emergent players
U Choose: Technology frustrates, power shifts to emergent players
Virtually Vanilla: Technology advances, power retained by established players
Back to the Future: Technology frustrates, power retained by established players

Each scenario describes the main attributes of Learners, Education, Corporations and Government concerning elearning in the future. Both the Web of Confidence and U Choose offer a potentially optimistic future for our own learning industry in New Brunswick, while the other two scenarios are less positive for a small region like ours. In analyzing these scenarios, one can find something plausible in each one. Each scenario will have its proponents and its detractors. There are a number of comments on each scenario online that can be viewed.

edinburgh scenariosThese scenarios offer some common ground for discussion, and we can ask the question: Towards which scenario should we strive? I would suggest that it is the Web of Confidence, with new technologies being used by nimble niche players to foster innovation and learning. On the corporate side, the Web of Confidence would see more flexible, innovative companies offering new forms of learning, while larger corporations struggle to match the ideas produced by start-ups and networked, self-governing groups. If we want the Web of Confidence, with empowered learners and decentralized education, to become reality we should do everything we can to support this vision for 2014.

Another way to look at the possible future is by using Marshall McLuhan’s Laws of Media (McLuhan, M. & McLuhan, E. ,1992, Laws of Media: The New Science. University of Toronto Press.) tetrads on elearning. McLuhan’s laws of media can act as a lens to analyze any medium. The laws of media present a way of analyzing and predicting the effects of a new medium such as elearning.

The laws are presented as a series of questions or probes:

Enhancement. What does the medium enhance, extend, enlarge or intensify?
Obsolescence. What does it make obsolete? When an old medium enters its obsolescence phase, it becomes more ubiquitous, often changing from a utilitarian to a recreational role (e.g. fountain pens).
Reversal. When something is extended beyond the limits of its potential, its characteristics are often reversed. For example, cars which promote greater freedom, when multiplied to the extreme can result in gridlock.
Retrieval. What medium that was previously rendered obsolete does the old medium retrieve from the past? This is usually something from the distant past.

Using these laws we can examine the four components of the Edinburgh scenarios (Learners, Education, Corporations, Government). According to Federman & deKerckhove “the most interesting and revealing exploration comes from the RETRIEVES quadrant“. This is where the money is, in developing potential scenarios.

elearning (Learners)
1.Enhances independence
2.Obsolesces sitting in a classroom
3.Reverses into information overload, isolation
4.Retrieves diaries (web logs)

elearning (Education)
1.Enhances its reach.
2.Obsolesces teacher as “sage on the stage”
3.Reverses into commodification of learning
4.Retrieves community involvement (parents involved via elearning from home or office)

elearning (Corporations)
1.Enhances just-in-time training
2.Obsolesces just-in-case training
3.Reverses into over-prescription and overload
4.Retrieves sense of community (virtual communities of practice)

elearning (Government)
1.Enhances learning for all
2.Obsolesces physical infrastructure
3.Reverses into “one size fits all”
4.Retrieves the “town hall” (individual access to government)

This is only one exercise, and is limited in its insights, as the tetrads should be used, re-used, refined, questioned, and further refined before drawing any conclusions. McLuhan would always recommend deeper probing. But what can this initial probe tell us? First, we could say that individual freedoms are retrieved by elearning. This shows that one of the strengths of elearning is in fostering individual freedom to learn. One result of this retrieval could be more fragmented markets, composed of many individuals. In turn, this could create more room for multiple niche offerings. This form of retrieval supports the case for the Web of Confidence scenario.

At the same time, there is the potential for the reversal effects of elearning shown above. The reversal effects could result in the bleaker scenarios of Virtually Vanilla or Back to the Future. Much of this future is ours to shape, but by seeing the potential effects of our decisions today, we can make the right decisions for the long term.

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