The Impact of Ict on Tertiary Education : Advances and Promises

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The impact of ICT on tertiary education :
advances and promises

Kurt Larsen and Stéphan Vincent-Lancrin

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Directorate for Education / Centre for Educational Research and Innovation*

DRAFT

OECD/NSF/U. Michigan Conference
“Advancing Knowledge and the Knowledge Economy”
10-11 January 2005
Washington DC

ABSTRACT: The promises of e-learning for transforming tertiary education and thereby advancing the knowledge economy have rested on three arguments: E-learning could expand and widen access to tertiary education and training; improve the quality of education; and reduce its cost. The paper evaluates these three promises with the sparse existing data and evidence and concludes that the reality has not been up to the promises so far in terms of pedagogic innovation, while it has already probably significantly improved the overall learning (and teaching) experience. Reflecting on the ways that would help develop e-learning further, it then identifies a few challenges and highlights open educational resource initiatives as an example of way forward. The first section of the paper recalls some of the promises of e-learning; the second compares these promises and the real achievements to date and suggests that e-learning could be at an early stage of its innovation cycle; the third section highlights the challenges for a further and more radically innovative development of e-learning.

Knowledge, innovation and Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) have had strong repercussions on many economic sectors, e.g. the informatics and communication, finance, and transportation sectors (Foray, 2004; Boyer, 2002). What about education? The knowledge-based economy sets a new scene for education and new challenges and promises for the education sector. Firstly, education is a prerequisite of the knowledge-based economy: the production and use of new knowledge both require a more (lifelong) educated population and workforce. Secondly, ICTs are a very powerful tool for diffusing knowledge and information, a fundamental aspect of the education process: in that sense, they can play a pedagogic role that could in principle complement (or even compete with) the traditional practices of the education sector. These are the two challenges for the education sector: continue to expand with the help (or under the pressure) of new forms of learning. Thirdly, ICTs sometimes induce innovations in the ways of doing things: for example, navigation does not involve the same cognitive processes since the Global Positioning System (GPS) was invented (e.g. Hutchins, 1995); scientific research in many fields has also been revolutionised by the new possibilities offered by ICTs, from digitisation of information to new recording, simulation and data processing possibilities (Atkins and al., 2003). Could ICTs similarly revolutionise education, especially as education deals directly with the codification and transmission of knowledge and information – two activities which power has been decupled by the ICT revolution?

The education sector has so far been characterised by rather slow progress in terms of innovation development which impact on teaching activities. Educational research and development does not play a strong role as a factor of enabling the direct production of systematic knowledge which translates into “programmes that works” in the classroom or lecture hall (OECD, 2003). As a matter of fact, education is not a field that lends itself easily to experimentation, partly because experimental approaches in education are often impossible to describe in precisely enough to be sure that they are really being replicated (Nelson, 2000). There is little codified knowledge in the realm of education and only weak developed mechanisms whereby communities of faculty collectively can capture and benefit from the discoveries made by...
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