Changing Educational Paradigms

Carol B. Macknight

Office of Information Technologies

Lederle Graduate Research Center

University of Massachusetts

Amherst, MA 01003

Voice: 413-545-4232

FAX: 413-545-3203


Powerful forces lie behind the current drive to reengineer higher education. Although economic factors are central, a digital revolution that is changing the way we think about the world is playing a significant part in the many initiatives underway. Successful transition from the present instructional model to a learner-centered model will require large-scale development of new learning materials and tools. This article paints a brief portrait of trends, production models, and new learning tools and environments.

I. Sweeping Changes

Higher education is in crisis. Over the past 30 years, the nationís leading universities have dropped many of their course requirements and adjusted standards to accomodate students who are less well prepared for academic life than ever before. Students bring to universities different value systems and work ethics from those of their parents.

To complicate the picture, what we are seeing today, and will continue to see in the next several years, is a downsizing of higher education. We can expect the number of Ph.D. programs to shrink and some undergraduate departments to vanish. All of this is happening at a time when there is an increased demand for higher education. The capacity to respond to these challenges is severely constrained by dwindling resources, the high costs of a university education, a growing student population,1 and, some claim, by outdated institutional and public policies (Vision Statement and Goals for a Virtual University, 1996).

During this same thirty year period tuitions, on the average, have risen by between three and four percent above the average rate of rise of middle-class family incomes. These disparities have not been lost on parents who harbor a growing suspicion that the institutions to which they have sent their children are more interested in research than they are in teaching. Universities have lost the trust and respect of the American tax payer; something they have enjoyed since the Second World War (Bromley, 1996; NAC, 1996).

Unable to visualize a promising future by continuing current policies which will deny hundreds of thousands of citizens the opportunity to attend college, the governors of 11 U.S. Western states have proposed the creation of a new university, the Virtual Regional University. The solution is technologyóthe availability and capability of information technologies offer a powerful means to address these issues and, at the same time, offer the opportunity to create state-of-the-art educational and assessment services. Through the Virtual Regional University, the governors, members of the Western Governors Association, propose to make higher education more accessible and affordable to students by curbing further expansion of individual colleges and universities in their home states. The Virtual Regional University would have no campus and no faculty of its own. Degrees and certificates would be awarded to students who have taken courses at participating colleges and universities, or who have acquired knowledge or skills from unconventional sources, such as educational software (Blumenstyk, 1996).

The governing body of the Virtual Regional University, trustees appointed by each governor, would determine administrative policy, manage assets, and provide quality control. Franchises created by the states would be located in public schools, libraries, and businesses, thus providing places for students to meet, participate in distance-learning education, use educational materials, and be tested. Participating accredited institutions would be responsible for certifying that students had achieved established goals, that their degrees would meet the satisfaction of both employers and academic institutions.

The Virtual Regional University would direct students to other colleges and businesses, and to course-material producers. ìOne thing that would help to bind this new institution together, planners say, is a ìvirtual catalogue,î designed to ìinterviewî prospective students about their location, the kind of technology available to them, and their choice of education in ìreal timeî or on their own scheduleî (Blumenstyk, G., 1996, p. A31). With this and other information, it would be possible to assess studentsí academic interests or skills needed to advance careers and match them with courses or training modules. The Western Governorís Association is expected to outline in greater detail just how the many aspects of the Virtual Regional University would function. In the meantime, they have been able to raise money from such external sources as International Thomson Publishing and from a subsidiary of Simon & Schuster, implying that the production of learning materials will also be an important activity.

While there remain some important unsolved issues in the Virtual Regional Universityís workplan, the underlying criteriaódemonstrated competence, market oriented, client centered2óare interesting ideas. They represent an attempt to tackle issues at their roots in order to produce new paradigms of education, and therefore reengineer academic education. Shifting the focus of education to the actual competence of students and away from ìseat timeî and standard evaluative measures raises the question of the role of assessment and how evaluation procedures may be advanced. The Virtual Regional University hopes to ìdemonstrate new approaches to teaching and assessment that can be adopted by more traditional colleges and universities (Vision Statement and Goals, 1995).î

Taking the governorsí idea of more closely aligning their new Virtual Regional University with the needs of a transforming economy and society as an underlying theme, this paper begins with a discussion of the current development of potentially useful ìin-houseíí courseware (A New Era of Software Development). Next it focuses attention on developing learning materials for delivery over networks and collaborating with others on the Internet (Web of Human Knowledge and Assistance). It continues with the exposition of a philosophy of learning and applications that support that type of learning (A Philosophy of Learning) and follows with research on learning (New Tools for Learning). It concludes with a vision for the future (A Look into the Future).

II. A New Era for Software Development and Authorship

In the early 1980s, it was still possible for faculty members to design, develop, program, and even publish educational software packages alone or with minimal assistance. Computer-Assisted Instruction (CAI) courses were largely text-based and contained few graphics and little animation due to the limited power of the computer. Today, software authorship has become a team endeavor in both the educational and commercial sectors. It took 60 people at D.C. Heath and Company, a publishing house with many specialized talents, to produce a CD-ROM calculus course containing graphics, animation, and QuickTime movies. To create something similar, faculty would need access to TV footage and actors, sets, scripts, directors, and graphic artists. They also would need specialized equipment, such as an editing suite, and technical help to integrate sound, graphics, and special effects. Thus, evolution of hypermedia pretty much spells farewell to the sole developer, who was once able to do it all from his/her study3 (Owen, 1992).

Although some cutting-edge software was created using the team approach in the early ë80s, few products were adopted outside the campuses where they were developed. Costs, platform specific software, and reticence, indeed, resistance on the part of departments toward educational computing, were some of the reasons given for failure either to adopt a product or to adapt it to the needs of most institutions. Development costs were rarely recovered either by universities or by commercial companies, creating a dry period between 1986 and 1994, after many developers realized that their courseware was being used as an enhancement rather than an integral part of a course, (Drury, 1996) and that their best efforts were not scaleable to a much larger population.

But something happened between 1994 and 1995. More faculty were integrating computing into their courses than ever before, although on a very basic level. They began using e-mail to communicate with students, bulletin boards for discussion groups, and the Internet to post course assignments and resource lists. The powerful communication and resource features of the Internet started to stir renewed interest in what, where, and how students would learn in the years ahead as no other technology has been able to do.

III. A Web of Human Knowledge and Assistance

The single biggest use of networks by faculty continues to be human com-munication, particularly e-mail. It has increased the connections between faculty and students about the subject matter of a course and between students. Being able to answer students questions quickly through e-mail enriches the quality of the faculty-student interaction. Timely questions, like these, are rarely brought to office hours, for they are soon forgotten when students go on to other concerns.

Other types of communication applicationsócomputer conferencing and bulletin boardsóare being explored with the idea of improving the quality of the undergraduate experience. Using the communication features of networks, for example, the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) has set up a ìkind of bulletin boardî so that students at their institution could meet others within the same discipline and share academic interests. Students are usually brought together by sharing a dormitory, a common race, a sport, but not often enough by focusing on some academic experience. This project at UCLA, the Virtual Learning Project, is an attempt to reshape the learning environment by breaking up large classes of 300 into smaller groups whose members meet independently through information technology (Wilson, 1996, May 17). The success of the project is yet to be reported.

In the networld, students engage in group learning projects, share ideas and resources, access information on any subject, and interact with peers and experts from around the world. A sharing of interests and concerns by connecting with others through the Web is rapidly changing the way we learn. Students of all ages are finding that a surprising range of people, from Nobel Prize winners and business executives to hobbyists seem to have time to answer their questions. This willingness to be of assistance is found on many different levels. For example, many high schools and universities are using volunteers to help students with their homework or to serve as mentors over the Internet.

The number of potential volunteers is extraordinary. Imagine, there are 30 million members of the American Association of Retired Persons, a currently untapped, ready-made teaching force, many with the time and knowledge to assist. ìMaking just that enormous body of knowledge and wisdom accessible to young minds could close the generation gap with a few keystrokes,î says Nicholas Negroponte (1995, p. 203), founder of the Media Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Networlds offer a new place for people to meet, form new friendships, and communicate on issues important to them. Networlds promise new forms of social discourse and communities, altering the way we perceive and communicate.

Beyond E-Mail

In increasing numbers, faculty are coming to academic computing centers looking for help with the construction of Web pages. They have used their sites to post course syllabi and assignments, giving prospective students a chance to look a syllabus over before even registering for a course. Current information, lecture outlines, exams from previous semesters are also posted with links directing students to additional resources.

In astronomy, for example, some Web sites are updated weekly with current events to be seen in the sky or with press releases from ongoing research. By pointing to these, the students can browse exciting new material even before it may become known to their professors, says Larry Molnar, a University of Iowa professor. He routinely downloads images from the Web for his astronomy class and inserts them into his next dayís lecture. Molnar collects these images in an ìElectronic Slide Catalogî and uses Netscape to view them. (See

There are many interesting examples of instructional applications on the Web. Some are complete courses; others represent a first step in electronic publishing and serve general information purposes for students who are taking the course. At the moment, course development is somewhat hindered by lack of tools. The Web was designed to be simple and limited in its initial implementation, with the idea that it would evolve as new features were added. As new tools become available, the design of courses will take on a new level of sophistication.

Linking With Caution

The hypertext links on the Web that we create and the cross-referencing technique invented by scribes and scholars, who copied out of the Bible over a thousand years ago, give rise to the idea that everything in the world is connected. Medieval manuscripts contained links directing the reader to cross-references from one biblical passage to another, sometimes written a hundred years after the first. Where these two systems depart is in what the connections mean.

Reading a manuscript of the Book of Exodus, for example, one would find a note in the margin that would lead to another manuscript which would give new meaning to the verse from Exodus. Hyperlinks, on the other hand, connecting pages of the Internet ìsuggest a world where connections are everywhere but are mostly [sometimes] meaningless, transient, fragile and unstable (Mendelson, 1996, p. 35).î 4 Connecting your home page, which acts as a table of contents for all the pages linked to it, to someone elseís home page isnít always straightforward. There are no assurance that the other personís page will display the same content from one day to the next or that suddenly a password or a cost may inhibit you from further viewing, not to speak of what happens to a site when the owner retires.

But the greatest difference between the cross-references in the Bible and the links on the World Wide Web is the difference between words written on parchment or paper in books that were meant to last forever and words written on the transient phosphorescence of a computer screen, where they will soon be effaced by others. (Mendelson, 1996. p. 35)

A further word of caution. Anyone with Internet access can create content. Thereís a wide gulf between data and information. Clifford Stoll (1996), an astrophysicist, writes that ìthe former lacks organization, content, context, timeliness and accuracy. The Internet delivers plenty of data and precious little information. Lacking critical thinking, kids are on-screen innocents who confuse form with content, sense with sensibility, ponderous words with weighty thoughts (p. E15 ).î As with television programming and ads, children need to become aware of the validity of the source and the meaning of the message.

Will the Right Tools Make Us Developers?

Right now, designing instructional-interactive Web pages is time consuming. Creating layouts with Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) editors and producing high-resolution graphics and animation is a labor-intensive process. All of these factors may soon change. Pagemill and Blackbird 5 were two early publishing tools that allowed faculty to create and maintain applications without extensive knowledge of HTML. Whereas these packages eased some of the difficulties involved, they lacked desired features that would advance instruction over the Internet. Companies are assiduously trying to fill this gap. The Houghton Mifflin Company, for example, is in the process of developing a new Internet template. Intended for secondary school teachers and higher education faculty, it will make it easier for authors by building in features that are part of the instructional process and allow them to integrate other software packages into the development of their Web pages.

A strong competitor, Microsoft plans to make more tools available to users. It has begun to absorb into Windows various Internet capabilities, for example, the companyís Explorer browser for the WWW and Front Page, a set of tools for creating Web Pages. (This will be in direct competition with Adobe Systems Inc., producers of Pagemill, the Web-page designing software mentioned above.) Microsoft is also planning to include security and privacy specifications in future versions of Windows.6 In addition, they are setting specifications for virtual reality systems and are trying to reposition Active VRML (Virtual Reality Modeling Language) as a technology for viewing multimedia images on the Webóan approach, suggests Markoff (1996), that would compete head-on with an increasingly popular technology called Shockwave from Macromedia Inc., a leader in software tools used by multimedia developers.

Meanwhile, JavaScript has some promising multimedia features. It is an object-oriented scripting language being developed by Netscape that is designed to create dynamic, interactive Web applications. Commands are included directly in HTML files. JavaScript is a very different language from Java.

Java allows users to ìpull down special programs for playing sound or video at the same time they are downloading the contents of a Web page (Wilson, 1995).î It is a powerful tool for building transportable multimedia applications and providing security and networking capabilities. Sophisticated applications such as spread sheets, as well as animated Web pages, can be written with Java. When running a Java ìappletî on a Web

browser, the applet is referenced in an HTML file; the browser then loads the program separately and runs it. Java applets can deliver real-time updates from any data base, for example, stock quotes or sports scores (Leland, 1996). A future release of Java will support real-time and continuous audio streams, sound management, and much more. For information on JavaScript or Java, see,,, and

If the Web does not afford the kind of interactivity that you want without programming, there are other ways to provide it. One might consider, for example, using an instructional product like The Electronic Trainer™, an authoring system for developing instruction-centered, interactive multimedia materialsóand running courseware on a local server with links from the Internet to the server. The Electronic Trainer™ was developed by the ID2 Group under David Merrill at Utah State University and requires no knowledge of programming. (See for further details.)

However, whatever product is used, the development process still remains labor intensive, and the questions raised by this activity are:

In the next few years, it is likely that most faculty in their home institution will be engaged in a more rudimentary sense, namely, creating presentation materials, identifying suitable Internet materials, sharing instructional materials with other institutions, and downloading 3-D graphics and such from the Internet for their classes. We may not see a critical mass of sophisticated faculty developers until the Nintendo generation enters our colleges and universities as faculty members around the year 2015. The majority of this generation, however, may simply be better users of information technologies, leaving the development of electronic courses to national centers of excellence or commercial developers and providers.

A Role for the Educational Brokerage?

What will happen if universities are unable to align themselves rapidly enough with the needs of a changing economy and society? Educational brokerage already exists to some extent on the Internet and has a head start in that much of what it does or proposes to do is administrative. Its clients will be students, educational institutions, companies, and non-profit organizations. The ìjust-in-time, on demand approachî to education offered by virtual universities, for example, may come through such intermediaries as education brokerages.

In the model proposed by Hämälainen et al. (1996), the broker begins with an analysis of market research to determine market trends for certain courses and training modules. With that information, the broker matches the customer needs with appropriate subject areas and approaches to learning, customizing combinations of course elements. To do this effectively, brokers have to establish standards and procedures that meet certification requirements. They must contract with suppliers of educational materials to ensure that standards developed are followed, and they must stay abreast of new developments in various subject areas. The educational broker can also provide accreditation and assessments services, access to course materials and to digital libraries. The process and technical logistics issues described are similar to those being debated by the governors for the Virtual Regional University.

In short, a broker can customize educational products, provide study tools to assist in the learning process, supply applications for collaborative work and communication between students and between students and instructors, and provide tools for self-evaluation, feedback, and instructor assessment. The convergence of computing, communication, document technologies, and networking will transform education to meet the need for customized, on-demand learning, and the educational broker stands to gain significant inroads into the audience for lifelong learning, just-in-time education on the job, and undergraduate education where the delivery of distributed education is more practical (Hämälainen, Whinston, & Vishik, 1996).

A prototype of the educational brokerage has already been implemented. An international coalition, called Project CODE (Collaborative Distance Education) recently applied its proposed educational brokerage model to an Internet-based production and learning environment. The electronic course broker, WebCourser, is currently being refined at the Espoo-Vantaa Institute of Technology in Finland. The projectís goal is to create customized courses matching the needs and profile information of its students and customers.

Springing up in gold-rush fashion, as if to fend off the educational brokerage, are numerous consortia of regional colleges and universities, harbingers of the future, with plans to share and develop courses, and accept credits with members of their alliances. The primary motivation for establishing a consortium is economic, say college officials. Producing courses for television broadcast or for transmission over the Internet is an expensive business. Educational institutions are looking for collaborators to share the costs. Where collaboration may be immediately successful is in sharing courses with other institutions in disciplines not currently represented or where budget constraints have led to the elimination of a department. One of the concerns about sinking huge amounts of money into course development is the competition that might soon come from for-profit organizations such as the Microsoft Corporation or from educational brokerages.

The Alliance of Remote Instructional Authoring and Delivery Networks for Europe (ARIADNE) is another example of collaborative partnerships on a slightly larger scale. It is part of the European Commission Telematics for Education and Training program and aims at the development of tools and methodologies for producing, managing, and reusing shared knowledge pools of course materials. (See

Just-in-Time Learning

Today, ìjust-in-time, on-demand learningî in the workplace is becoming one of the fastest growing research fields.7 Companies and educational brokerages are looking for ways to provide just-in-time rather than in-advance learning in areas that are continually changing. Early examples of just-in-time learning were developed for army maintenance men who had to repair tanks but were unable to carry a huge manual into the field when troubleshooting. They wore video monitors attached to their helmets with connections to a computer located somewhere else. With wireless voice communications back to base, they described what they were viewing; a picture of the trouble spot was then projected onto their video monitor with a list of potential problems to be checked. Today, we are looking at maintenance personnel who will wear the computer on their bodies while they inspect a building or an airplane (Finger et al., 1996). It can take the form of an expert system and be connected via wireless communications to a constantly updated information base. This type of research raises many questions about what it is that we will have to know in order to be hired for a job, as well as the future value of some certificate and degree programs.

Collaborative Professional Growth

The rapid expansion of networks has outpaced the capability of Americaís teachers to make use of its educational potential. The cost of wide-scale training and professional development particularly for K-12 teachers is prohibitive. Teachers need hands-on experience, follow-up support, and relevant material that can be used in their classes tomorrow. These ideas became the cornerstone of the Online Internet Institute (OII). The OII is a repository of curricular prototypes for use by K-12 teachers and an emerging paradigm for ongoing collaborative professional growth. Created by classroom educators and supported by proponents of educational reform, the OII demonstrates the networkís power to help change the way people teach and learn, from teacher-centered classrooms to student-centered collaborative experiences. (See

The OII is an expanding virtual community of practitioners and others who care about reinventing teaching and learning, by reflecting on teaching practices, supporting peers, and fostering a knowledge-building learning environment. Participating teachers form investigative groups based on interests and search the Internet for information. Information is checked for completeness, accuracy, and timeliness. In the process participants are introduced to a variety of Internet tools and resources and become seasoned collaborators, identifying well-organized sites and sharing their discoveries. They then replicate their experience at the appropriate grade level for use with their students. Each participating teacherís project is published electronically, inviting commentary from other teachers, and contributing to a data base of important curricular prototypes available for adaptation by their colleagues (Murray, 1995).

What is exciting about OII is that it was started by two individuals, Ferdi Serim and Bonnie Bracey. Now it is in every state, and soon it will be in every community in America. It is by definition, an act of shared creation and of shared discovery. It represents a new model for professional development and for the production of significant learning materials.

Mixed TechnologiesóBringing the World to You

In 1990 I wrote a paper suggesting that students who entered universities would soon be given a personalized CD-ROM, containing their entire curriculum with books, reference literature, tutorials, and examsóeverything they would need for the degree program. Of course, I blatantly ignored copyright laws. (With the expanding Web, intellectual property will likely lose a lot of its market value making more material available for educational purposes.) Since then, however, the capacity of CD-ROMs has increased 10 times and with the use of voice compression technology may hold over 100 hours of instruction, opening up even more possibilities.

The creation and marketing of CD-ROMs is being targeted to the home. Enthusiasm for educational technology has reached new heights because of growing use in the home. Parents engaged in home schooling are constantly searching for quality instructional materials; many already act as evaluators of educational CD-ROMs, making their findings available to other parents on the Internet. Direct on-line sales over the Internet will increase the market, helping bring the price of such educational programs well below the current price of CD-ROMs in media stores. Without the cost of packaging, marketing, and retailing, educational CD-ROMs could sell for less than $5. Dramatically reduced costs and the fact that personal computers are now shipped with CD-ROM drives as standard equipment will greatly expand the home market for instructional programs.

In 1997 many systems will include a CD recordable (CD-R) drive letting users print their own discs. (Gateway 2000ís P5-200CDR system is already on the market.) With a CD-R drive the user can back up files, run presentations, or download programs directly from the Internet. One could, for example, listen to various pieces of music on the Internet and download only those cuts that are desired. The result would be to create a personal ìLP record/musicî CD with just your favorite musical groups, artists, or compositions. In the near future, it will also be possible to download onto a CD-R complete courses or specific modules for ìjust-in-time learning,î for continuing education, and for teaching.

IV. A Philosophy of Learning

What will keep universities in business will be the creation of effective learning environments. As the number of students grew in universities, we adopted a business model that emphasized a product rather than the process of education. We lost sight of the many great teachers and researchers who have shown value in having students participate in ìauthentic tasksî óPestalozzi, Alcott, Bruner, Piaget, Resnick, and others. A look at Alcottís theories will show their similarity to those of current-day constructivists.

Bronson Alcott, a genuinely creative thinker and teacher, began his teaching career at the age of 24 in 1823. Later, he became the master of one of the outstanding schools in Boston and the first to use a conversational method of teaching American children. On the first day of class, Mr. Alcott asked each student what idea he or she had of the purpose of coming to school?

To learn; was the first answer. To learn what? By pursuing this question, all the common exercises of school were brought up by the children themselves; and various subjects of art, science, and philosophy. Still Mr. Alcott intimated that his was not all; and at last some one said ìto behave well,î and in pursuing this expression into its meanings, they at last decided that they came to learn to feel rightly, to think rightly, and to act rightly. A boy of seven years old suggested, and all agreed, that the most important of these three, was right action. Peabody, 1969, p. 2

The aim of education, he declared, was ìthe production and original exercise of thought [not the learning of facts and the production of right or wrong answers] (McCuskey, 1940, p. 32) .î

Conversation was no mere question-and-answer-session for Alcott. It was a mood, an atmosphere; it was a work of art as surely as were paintings or symphonies. Alcott especially liked the analogy to a symphony. He believed that the ideal conversation developed a single theme and presented it in a variety of ways, providing the greatest scope and freedom for the genius of the participants. Each of the participants would contribute his or her ideas about the theme, thus presenting differing expressions of the theme like the various instruments in an orchestra. All would blend together in beautiful harmony as the session progressed. Dahlstrand, 1945, p. 216

In Bronson Alcottís mind, learning was insufficient as were schools; ìonly life alone, life like a torch who, if they [the students] did not find life in the schoolroom, were eagerly seeking at every shop and fireside.î For Alcott, ìAll New England and the West formed an open college, admitting old and young alike, and he could foresee newspapers and magazines superseding primers, text books, and professors (McCuskey, 1940, p. 151).î

All these influences Alcott would bring into the schoolroom. He wanted to illustrate the work with the new art of photography, and he wanted a newspaper or magazine suited to boys and girls. He thought the magazine should have in it something of sports, of biography, science and discoveries, accounts of libraries, museums, and the theater, as well as politics and government. McCuskey, 1940, p. 151

His theory was that of the ìtrue teacher,î who ìdoes not play the cook and spread the tables, but whets the curiosity to leap straightway forth upon the mountains and bring home the game which he has started and given the scent of. Dahlstrand, 1945, p. 216

Alcott was considered a progressive in his day, but his methods amplify many of the same themes as the constructivists of today: building and reconstructing knowledge out of experiences in the world, being engaged in personally meaningful activities and projects, emphasizing discovery rather than the teaching of facts, and recognizing diversity, that learners can make connections with knowledge in many different ways. He sought depth rather than breadth producing multiple views on the subject.

Clearly the 20th century has no monopoly on new ideas, new methods or great teaching. It, however, marks a time where we are focused on a industrial model of mass production rather than on the development of an individual. In recent decades, cognitive psychologists have published a great deal on how students learn. Unfortunately, their findings have had little effect on the educational community.

Current academic teaching has remained basically traditional in spite of some efforts to change. Professors have almost exclusively learned on the job ìwhat and howî to teach. Based on their classroom experiences, they hold definite goals for learning and a definite concept of what it means to ìunderstandî the subject matter (Bain & McNaught, 1996). They must, or feel they must, transmit large amounts of factual information in a short time to students who they often barely know. The presentation and delivery systems employed fail to accommodate diversity in terms of multiple intelligences 9 (Gardner, 1993) or preferred learning styles,10 or modern theories of learning.

One of the primary reasons why Alcott and other progressive reformers couldnít carry out their ideas in the early nineteenth century is that they didnít have a delivery system that would accommodate individualized instruction. They wanted students to be in control of their learning but lacked the tools to create such an environment. With todayís information technologies, we can empower the learner

New Environments and Tools for Learning

The new information technologies enable many of the ideas presented above to be carried out. Based on what we know about the learning process, we should begin creating electronic learning materials that assist students in acquiring knowledge and skills by giving them multiple paths to the learning objectives. We can do it, but it will requires large sums of money, and it may well require the establishment of a national institute to get the job done. In the meantime researchers are focusing on designing tools and learning environments that will make learning pervasive in all our activities. Selected examples of this research follow.

Creating Environments for Learning

Advances in modern knowledge of human cognitive performance are providing a foundation for how learning occurs and leading us to improve instructional designs and educational applications. To learn science, Stella Vosniadou (1996) from the University of Athens argues that we need to keep in the forefront implications of cognitive-development research, which shows that learning requires reorganization of prior knowledge, the revision of old beliefs, and the creation of new representations. She questions why it seems so difficult to understand concepts in science and asks whether a learning environment could be constructed that facilitates the learning of science. Her research has led to the development of the computer visualization learning environment (CVLE), an intelligent microworld and problem-solving environment. CVLE is a collaborative learning environment where students working in groups are engaged in a great deal of communication.8 The environment combines computer activities with hands-on science experiments and observations, visits to the library, and the planetarium.

In a process similar to Bronson Alcottís 1823ís teaching methods, students are asked to solve problems that arise from everyday experience such as the day/night cycle, the seasons, or the phases of the moon. They solve these questions by ìflyingî to different parts of the globe and making predictions regarding the time of the day or the season of the year and explaining their reasoning.

In addition to the collaborative environment that CVLE supports, CVLE is designed to promote cognitive flexibility and representational growth. Because understanding science concepts is difficult and time consuming, students explore only a few key concepts. The strategy focuses on depth rather than breadthócovering a great deal of material. It introduces concepts in a relational order based on cognitive science research, which provides information about how students actually acquire these concepts. CVLE facilitates metaconceptual awareness by allowing students to express their representations of a phenomenon and then compare them to others. Students soon become aware of what they know and what they need to learn. Further, they are provided with the type of information that will help them view complex problems from multiple perspectives.

We need to encourage the development of many more learning environments such as CVLE in order for us to move to new levels of thinking about educational environments that promote learning. The research on learning environments and new tools for learning offer a motivating, engaging approach to the problem of learning. But will we have to wait for Virtual Reality before such educational applications find their way to networks and larger audiences?

Designing Tools for Learning

There are two types of software being designed for learning. One allows the student to control and manipulate worlds in the computer and is more familiar to us. In SimCity, for example, students can create and manipulate simulated urban worlds, constructing houses, roads, and factories, and adjusting tax rates accordingly for the city.

The other allows children to control and manipulate computers in the world and is the object of experimental work being undertaken at the MIT Media Lab. Here they have designed the Programmable Brick, which is a small portable computer embedded inside a LEGO brick about the size of a wallet. This brick has the capability of interacting with the childís environment in a number of ways with its built-in sensors and infrared communication. Children can, for instance, attach a tiny computer to a door and program the computer to make the lights go on and off as a person enters or leaves a room. To program the Programmable Brick, the child must first write a program on a computer and download it to the Programmable Brick. These bricks are not ready-made mechanical objects but something that the user must first build out of LEGOs. The goal behind the Programmable Brick is to encourage children, ages 11-16, to see themselves as designers and inventors and to change how they think about computers and computational ideas. Mitchell Resnick (1996) said at a recent conference that he believes that ìchildren are much more likely to make deep connections to scientific thinking and scientific ideas when they use computation in a new way, continually designing and redesigning their own personal investigations.î

Constructionism and the Professional Community

If the Programmable Brick makes it possible for children to see themselves as designers and inventors, the MediaMoo affords adults an opportunity to explore similar experiences in virtual reality. The MediaMoo, project developed by the MIT Media Lab, is a text-based, networked virtual reality environment. MediaMoo is designed to bring people with common interests together for the purpose of interacting with colleagues in much the same way that one does at a professional conference. Conversation is a primary activity.

However, participants can also build new things that add value to the system such as a research directory created by a participant, which searches through all membersí research interests. There is also the opportunity for creative expression in designing playful objects, for example, new costumes for the clothing rack in the Media Ballroom. One moves from success in creating contributory objects in a particular space to programming objects. The idea behind these activities, which go beyond the conference format, is to facilitate learning, to build and program new objects in a virtual world. MediaMoo is based on the philosophy of constructionism that argues for ìlearning by doingî in meaningful projects, and extending this philosophy beyond applications for children to applications appropriate to the adult world.

If we are to make a breakthrough with this technology, ìusers must be the creators and not merely the consumers of virtual world (Bruckman & Resnick, 1996, p. 221).î The authors believe that constructionist principles are of central importance to the design of virtual reality systems. (See Guernsey, 1996, for more on College MOOs).

V. A Look into the Future

By the middle of the 21st century, the work in virtual reality begun in such places as the Massachusetts Institute of Technologyís Media [Lab] and the University of Washingtonís Human Interface Technology Lab will be just one of the dramatic changes in learning that will take place. By then learners (children, their parents, and grandparents) will not watch a video disk of the Civil War but will be totally immersed in it. Wearing special goggles and body suits they will experience the smells, the sights, and sound as if they were there. Lemonick, 1992, p.6

Part of the change in learning will come from information technologies. Powerful computers will bring the world to the desktop, putting the learner in touch with on-line tutors, libraries, data bases, and other information essential to new needs and new priorities. Information filtering methods will automatically present only that information relevant to the learnerís interests. With it will be a blurring between high school and college and among degree programs. Learners will be able to specialize earlier and arrive at different points in their education at different times.

Replacing high school grades will be achievement goals and a reintroduction of work-study programs and apprenticeship programs. Advancement into college or a trade will be based on competency tests. Because of the cost of a college education, more students will be working part-time or moving between work and college. Many will look to distance education to fulfill most of their college education. Others may never set foot on a college campus but choose to complete their program using a variety of technologies and receiving recognition for work experience. There will be plenty of opportunities to shop around for the right educational programs, emancipating the learner from many traditional restrictions.

Once personal computers are as ubiquitous as bicycles and access to the Internet is readily available to everyone, education will change dramatically. The government will lead the revolution in learning, as it did in imposing universal education in the 1850s. Political, social, and economic issues will provide the impetus, as they have for the Virtual Regional College mentioned at the beginning of this paper. No country can compete in a global market when the quality of its work force lags behind that of other industrial countries, or when 22 percent of its citizenry are illiterate. ìIn America a growing, uneducated, unemployable and mostly minority underclass will put increasing pressure on society to pay more than lip service to education (Lemonick, p. 59).î To such pressure, slight and superficial alterations will certainly not suffice.

Much more learning will go on in the home. The dominant goals will be self-realization and improving oneís qualifications for new positions or to learn new skills in order to continue in a present position. The significance of scientific knowledge and technology is expected to assume even greater importance in the new era. Learning, a life-long necessity, will flourish in the home, in the workplace and on learning vacations for some professions.

Just-in-time, on-demand learning will be key, since specialized knowledge will become obsolete so quickly. Programs will be tailored to individual needs and learning styles, continually qualifying and updating learners. Technology will make it possible for learners to pursue multiple paths to the same learning objective. Competition to get and retain a job will become greater, and those who lack self-determination or the necessary entrepreneurial skills for self-employment may be without work.

Networks will make collaboration a dominant mode of teaching and learning, research and service, facilitating interdisciplinary learning. Fewer foreign students will be studying abroad, for capable students will be able to take degree programs over networks from the institution of their choice. Others, who choose to study in foreign countries, will find it convenient after obtaining a degree to return home, where their future may be brighter job-wise, knowing that they can continue to stay in touch with their professors over e-mail.

Higher education will have to determine what it can offer students face-to-face that will be better than the technology that students will already have in their homes. We can expect that students will come to universities for shorter periods of time, that they will pursue their education in different locations and over networks, and that they likely will have other teachers thousands of miles away who will be competing with on-campus faculty.

People of all ages will look to the Internet for personal support. Greater use will be made of our retirees in helping the next generation through some trying times. They will have a presence in counseling, mentoring, and assisting life-long learners achieve their educational goals and objectives.

In the new model of education, faculty will become brokers of resources. They will have to be more flexible and adaptive to the needs of students, guiding them toward important resources that will help them discover their own pathway toward their educational objectives. Faculty will teach students who will drop-in and out-of school over an extended period of time.

Along similar lines, universities and colleges will have closer ties to the different communities they serve as the distinction between high school and college, between degree programs erodes, and as we shift toward lifelong learning. Collaboration with other institutions will be a priority to support the changing roles and connections among students, faculty, librarians, citizens, technologists, administrators, government officials, and vendors.

In a knowledge-based economy that requires intensive information exchange, the ìGateway to the Good Lifeî may hinge on personal characteristics: motivation, desire, determination, perseverance, and commitment so necessary for self-directed learning extended over a lifetime. Students will have to assume a greater responsibility for their education. All generations will realize that ìnothing can be more fashionableóand essentialóthan doing oneís homework (Lemonick, p. 60).î


1 The baby-boom echo is expected to increase the number of traditional-age college students by 15 percent with the next few years. According to a recent survey, 80 percent of workers would like to take a college course (Monaghan 1996, July 19).

2. The criteria outlined by the governors include: demonstrated competence; market- oriented, client-centered, independentónot controlled by established interests with regard to either the delivery of education or certification, accredited by regional and appropriate specialized accrediting bodies for degrees and certificates, non-teachingónot providing instruction directly, but drawing upon needed capacity wherever it exists, high quality, cost-effective, etc.

3 Richard Wagner, were he here today, would be an exception to this argument for he wrote the music and text, designed the sets, the costumes, conducted his 15 operas, and even built the Bayreuth Opera House. He most likely would have handled hypermedia with ease. Nevertheless, for the majority, hypermedia introduces a whole new look to the software frontier out there.

4 Some improvements to the Web would be ìpop-up and footnotesî links to additional information without the reader having to leave the context of the current page and ìlink traversal semanticsî whereby meanings can be added that make it clearer to the reader following a link what the relationship exists between the source and the destination. (For more issues see: Hypertext ë96 Workshop on Hypermedia Research and the World Wide Web. URL:

5 The Blackbird Internet publishing system consists of two major parts. It has a design environment with an integrated project editor and client software for browsing and viewing Blackbird titles over the Internet. The client downloads only the information needed to run a particular title over the Internet, which has been published to an Internet server.

The software lets faculty create and maintain interactive applications without extensive knowledge of HTML. Blackbird has drag-and-drop layout features, simplified development procedures, and open extensibility which allows users to integrate other software packages in the development of Web pages. Because Blackbird separates the design process from the content behind the design, updates are seamless and information is easily added or changed. The components actually needed to run a Blackbird application are downloaded over the network, thus reducing costs and providing a more efficient means of delivering graphics over low-speed communication lines to repeat users of the application.

6 For more on the security and privacy specification plan of Microsoft see: (

7 See Representations of Work. (September 1995).Communications of the ACM, 38(9).

8 Recently there has been a resurgence of interest in Vygotskyís theories on social interaction and cooperative learning. Vygotsky believes that symbolic expression originates in ìsocial interaction and then becomes intrapersonal.î Many instructional theorists have focused on technological applications that promote social interaction and cooperative learning.

9 In his model, Gardner frames diversity in terms of multiple intelligences. He includes seven types of intelligence: spatial intelligence, bodily-kinesthetic, logical-mathematical intelligence, musical intelligence, linguistic intelligence, interpersonal intelligence, and intrapersonal intelligence. Linguistic and mathematical intelligences have dominated traditional pedagogy in western society. Can we take advantage of the inter-relatedness of the different intelligences and create experiences that increase our students opportunities to achieve? Hilary McLellan (1994) and many others think so. An early proponent of virtual reality, she describes ways in which virtual reality can actually promote learning that engages all of Gardnerís intelligences.

10 Along with different intelligences, students have preferred learning styles. The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a tool for determining preferred learning styles. Four patterns emerge: concrete-active, concrete-reflective, abstract-active, and abstract-reflective. In recent studies, fifty percent of our high school seniors fell into the abstract-active and ten percent were abstract-reflective. College students tended to be concrete-active and learned best from experiences that begin with practice and end with theory. Whereas faculty prefer the abstract-reflective mode, creating an incongruity between teaching and learning. If we are to redesign teaching, we should capitalize on the advantages of having a better understanding of how humans learn.


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