Open Online Learning – A Paradigm Shift

Entrepreneurial opportunities in Open Online Learning
A new age rushes towards us like an unstoppable tsunami. A global information age, rising from the combined effect of the prior tectonic plate shift inventions of the microchip and internet. It is an age that will usher in the ‘Neo-Renaissance Man’ capable of human capital output many times greater than that of their singularly specialised industrial-age predecessor. This new-age person will come into being by a paradigm shift in education – the full exploitation and engagement of Open Online Learning.

Introduction – Open Online Learning

Today we stand at the dawn of a new and glorious age for mankind [1] [2]. An age that is being ushered in by the extensive and far reaching applications now available on the global communication’s platform – the internet.
These applications, when fully exploited and engaged by education and open online learning, will create a paradigm shift that will not only create the ‘Neo-Renaissance Man’ [3] but in doing so may equally bring about the ‘creative destruction’ of some of the centuries old constructs of an education system the world over, rooted deep in an industrial-age past.

The open online learning on the internet’s Web 2.0, as the printing press did at the start of the first Renaissance period in 1450, will make world class self-motivated learning affordable for all. It will be delivered in a ‘just-in-time’ mode, being completed at the place of our choosing, at a speed appropriate to our learning abilities and preference (visual, auditory, reading/writing or tactile) and in accordance with our situation and need.

As Thomas Frey [4] and the researchers/futurists at the Da Vinci Institute state in their report The Future of Education – “The pace of change mandates that we produce a faster, smarter, better grade of human being. Current (education) systems are preventing that from happening“. The new age in learning is now being thwarted by the very system that was previously charged with its care. See related Knol on – Global English – A Paradigm Shift
14j3i4hyjvi88-ax5rnq-worldisopenMore recently, Curtis Bonk has published a book titled “The World Is Open” where he researches the massive changes that open online learning and web technology are going to make to learning. He sees learning on demand being delivered by mobile technologies “pocket school” and the skyrocketing demand for Informal learning which has led him to label this the ‘learning century” According to Curtis – “Today we have the potential for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of new learners who might not be seeking a formally accredited degree. What they seek via open online learning are opportunities, choice, flexibility, empowerment, and, ultimately, freedom to learn”.

“Many things would have to change for everything to remain as it is” PB


What is a Paradigm Shift?

According to Joel Arthur Barker, author of the book “Paradigms – The Business of Discovering the Future”, a paradigm is a set of rules and regulations that does two things: (1) it establishes and defines boundaries; and (2) it tells you how to behave inside those boundaries to be successful”  Paradigms are the sum total of the basic assumptions, concepts, conventions, values, protocols, traditions, principles, prejudices, rituals and superstitions that constitute a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them.
describes a paradigm shift then as; “A radical change in thinking from an accepted point of view to a new one, necessitated when new scientific discoveries produce anomalies (inconsistencies) in the current paradigm”. The link to scientific discoveries exists because this term was first coined in 1962 by Thomas Kuhn in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions”, to describe a change in the basic assumptions within the ruling theory of science.[5] This paradigm shift in learning is not just a process of turning the current face-to-face certification products into a digital medium and offering it on the global communications platform at the same price and under the same regime conditions. No …no … no, this is a revolution by the grassroots people (learners, teachers and industry) whose needs have been marginalised for too long by educational institutions across the world with their government elite focused too intently on their own survival and power needs. It is a revolution by learners against the grossly inflated price of education, being generated by an inefficient system imploding on itself with its plethora of compliance issues, audit requirements and fashionable dictates of well-meaning but grossly detached government ‘purse string’ holders. It is a revolution where the learner takes charge of their own learning using the tailored convenience of the internet, much like the people of the 1450’s did with their newly printed books. It is a revolution for the democratization of knowledge and the overthrow of the outdated and overwhelmed approach of censorship and sterilization by the elite.


The revolution has already begun. Triggered in some part by the people of India (outsourcing centre of the world $14billion p.a. service export revenue [6] ) devouring learning from the internet and building wealth creating businesses on an electronic platform blind to their credentials but a slavish servant to their global/information age skills and ability.  While the rest of the world crashes into recession, their economy [7] continues to grow.

As this revolution spreads, much like the industrial revolution of the 1800’s, it will cross borders and industries rapidly, forcing even main-stream industries to embrace the new learning paradigm or run the risk of obsolesence. Just like the industrial revolution, it will be a ‘bloodless‘ revolution where the stakeholders will simply vote with their feet and ‘walk off the farm’ , leaving the past educational paradigm behind them.

It is my contention that our education systems the world over, controlled by educational institutions at the behest of the government elite, are too shackled by the old paradigm to embrace this evolving revolution. As Albert Einstein said “We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”  So the revolution will need the innovative help of individuals like entrepreneurs, passionate teachers and knowledgeable industry experts to lead the change into the new paradigm – open online learning

“In times of radical change the learners inherit the earth while the learned find themselves perfectly equipped for a world that no longer exists.” Erik Hoffer


Paradigm Shift Examples


In more recent times, when Jack Kilby / Texas Instruments and Robert Noyce (Intel founder) / Fairchild Semiconductor Corporation received their U.S. patents in 1959 for the microchip, they created a Paradigm Shift in data/information processing that is still effecting significant societal change even today.When the 16th century Polish mathematician and astronomer Copernicus [4] presented a fully predictive mathematical model postulating that the earth revolved around the sun, he created a scientific Paradigm Shift. When the French chemist Antoine Lavoisier published Traite Elementaire de Chimie (Elements of Chemistry) in 1789 together with his oxygen theory of combustion, he created a scientific Paradigm Shift. When Albert Einstein delivered in 1905 his Theory of Relativity contained in the paper “On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies”, he created a scientific Paradigm Shift.

Now whilst it was not Thomas Kurn’s intention, the term today has been adopted and embraced widely to include both the scientific and non-scientific worlds. This is because his insights can be applied with equal rigor to them both. His argument states that “when enough significant anomalies (inconsistencies) have accrued against a current paradigm, a state of crisis is created which allows new ideas to be tried, eventually leading to a new paradigm”. This new Paradigm gains its own new followers, “and an intellectual “battle” takes place between the followers of the new paradigm and the hold-outs of the old”. For example, this was a battle lost by the English monarchy hold-outs in 1215 with the signing of the Magna Carta Libertatum (Great Charter of Freedoms) which brought about a Paradigm Shift in societal governance.

Today, a Paradigm Shift is said to occur when the vast majority of the members in a community changes from one way of thinking to another and is less dramatically tagged ‘the old way of thinking’ Vs ‘the new way of thinking’. But fundamentally, it is a revolution, a transformation, a conversion, a metamorphosis that just does not happen by chance but it is driven by agents of change with the likes of scientists, inventors, social change activists, innovators and entrepreneurs all delivering or exploiting environmental or economic transformations, expanding commercial markets, technological advancements or major social attitude shifts.

Other great Paradigm Shifts in human civilization have centred around the harnessed benefits of fire and the revolutionary innovations of the wheel and gunpowder. Agriculture was a Paradigm Shift some 10,000 years ago in early primitive society, where it changed their way of life from being nomadic into settled structured communities. Down through history, the art of war has seen many innovations but it could be said that it was the development of the airplane that ushered in its greatest Paradigm Shift.

In 1990, thirty years after the invention of the microchip, an English computer scientist at CERN, the European Particle Physics Laboratory, Timothy Berners-Lee with the help of Robert Cailliau, implemented the first successful communication between an HTTP client and server via the Internet. Little did they know less than 20 years ago, that in bringing about the World Wide Web, they had sown the seeds of a Paradigm Shift in Open Online Learning that will rock the very foundations of the centuries old Paradigms in education, teaching and learning.

“The skills required for the future will be the same as those required for today – coping with and adapting to change.” PB


Internet – 21st Century Printing Press

One of the greatest Paradigm Shift in education and learning took place in 1440 when a German goldsmith from Mainz, Johannes Gutenberg, used movable type printing to make efficient the mechanical printing press. His printing press turned oral instructional delivery into tangible books that used the colloquial speech of the day (rather than the language of the super-literates). This made education and learning available to the masses, not just the elite few. The printing press is generally credited as one of the key factors in the European Renaissance, the period of great human enlightenment that followed in the 150 years after 1450.

With the printing press invention, information and learning could for the first time be made portable, eliminating the need to receive instructional learning dispensed to a large extent by officers of the church, at the church. Gutenberg’s major work, the Gutenberg Bible which offered alternative learning options, gave masses of people direct access to the doctrines of Christianity, that were independent of the church’s instructional approach. It is widely acknowledged that it was this action and the ensuing spread of new ideas that soon followed, that fuelling the 16th-century Protestant Reformation in Germany.

From that time until the beginning of the 21st century our education systems have been based predominantly on the text book paradigm created by Gutenberg some 700 years ago. However, the internet today, as books did in the 15th century, also makes information and learning readily available to the masses and is presented in the vernacular of the age (YouTube, MP3, interactive games, e-books). Like books, these products are portable, easier to use with information being dispenced at a greatly reduced cost.
As previously stated, the internet provides a new Paradigm in learning, catering to a self-directed ‘just-in-time’ needs based delivery, being completed at the place of our choosing, at a pace appropriate to our learning abilities and preference (visual, auditory, reading/writing or tactile) and according to our situation. These are the mounting anomalies of this age that are fast becoming the undeliverables of the traditional educational paradigm. It is these community wide wants, not the messengers like myself, that are creating the crisis in education and learning. It is these anomalies that I believe will inevitably usher in the new learning paradigm with climactic affects for the old.
Now, the 22% [8] of the world’s population that are currently connected to the internet (and reading this article) more than likely have the choice of online or face-to-face learning because they live in societies wealthy enough to afford both.However, the 78% that are still to log-on may not have such luxury of choice and will be forced to skip a whole educational age and adopt online learning in the same way that the African countries have adopted the mobile phone as their first telecommunications medium. These emerging countries will go directly from postal letters to video/mobile phone while developed countries needed to progress through Morse Code, Telex, Fax, email just to get to the same point.  This action will be to their extreme advantage if our education system does not do the same but remains  locked-in-the-past with its outdated structures, methodologies and outlooks. Even more startling for the first world educators to realise, is that these third world people may well receive their first learning experience via the highly advanced 1st world mobile phone technology leaving us with all the inefficiencies bound up in the centuries old text book learning approach.

Furthermore, the internet adds an even greater learning dimension to the metaphor of the printing press because it allows every person on the planet to own one. That is, to participate in framing humanity’s body of knowledge by sharing their specific, uncommon and unique knowledge with the world through the creative internet technologies of online social communities, Blogs, online forums, Wikipedia and since August 2008 – the

Google Knol project.

It is not clear who coined the quote “The Internet is a solution looking for a problem”, but I think we all understand the message. For, to a large extent the internet has been dominated (in terms of successful monetization at least) by industries, products and schemers at the lower end of the food chain. However, I believe that the internet’s future purpose or raison d’être if you like, is of something far nobler –The internet has the potential in 21st century to both usher in another golden age of enlightenment as well as make irrelevant the old educational Paradigms that by ignorance or inherent design fails to morph into the new. For example, by the time an institution based student has physically sourced a library text book (with information at least 2 years out-of-date), picked it up and found the information they need, the online learner has sourced, read and critically analysed 15 ‘specific to the topic’ articles (some of which reflect dramatic changes of recent months i.e. global banking crisis) and has formed an opinion of ‘truth’ based on their own applied experience, their trusted and respected reference group, their learned critical analysis skills and their prior tested and proven discernment ability.

“To deliver context specific, world-class, comprehensive and eminently affordable education to every person on the planet – anytime, anywhere, on topics relevant to their need and at a pace suitable to their learning preference, ability and start-point” PB

This is the great global need that every available entrepreneur/entrepreneurial firm should be moving to exploit, particularly if the current market leaders (educational institutions) fail to see it, refuse to exploit it or can’t respond to it due to their inherent design faults. I believe that once released from the shackles of the current paradigm, open-online education will become an industry to rival any other on the planet. It is a product that everyone on the planet needs and they need it their whole life. From an entrepreneurial point of view, there can be no greater attributes for a commercial product. Furthermore, our low previously inhibited start point will make it the fastest growth industry of the early 21st century.
The potential market for online learning is reflected in the 100 million Facebook and 150 million MySpace members joining in the space of a few years. A community of similarly motivated online learners discovering information within their interest area could be equally as big in as short a time frame. Think about the 500 million English speaking Indians predicted to log on for the first time in the next few years (more than twice the number of current Americans). They too will be seeking learning, but to exploit it we will need to allow the spirit of self-motivated love of learning to thrive rather than impose a restricted, narrow and structured loathe of learning that is the prevailing affliction of this age.

“Learning is a way of life that needs to be learned” PB                               

Learning shifts – Ages of mankind

For almost 3 million years, mankind’s existence and success in the nomadic old stone age was built on their learned ability to hunt and gather foods. Then in about 8,000 BC, people discovered how to cultivate crops and domesticate animals leading to probably mankind’s greatest paradigm shift – the shift to community and the start of the structured society. Though breaking out at similar times through out the world, it is the Middle-Eastern town of Jericho that is generally credited as a key trigger point. This shift, though gradual, created an entirely new learned set of skills and knowledge requirements to ensure success in this new agricultural age.

14j3i4hyjvi88-ax5rnq-steamBy the late 18th century, another great paradigm shift was again changing the learning and educational requirements, with the advent of the industrial age. Triggered by the people of Great Britian with their improved transport systems and innovative steam engines they radically changed the face of textile production in that country. This paradigm shift soon swept up other industries in Great Britian and eventually spread to the societies of Europe and the Americas.

Less than 200 years later, the industrial age was to transform again in a 1959 Paradigm Shift triggered by the invention of the computer microchip by Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce. This new Paradigm ushered in the information age bringing with it once more, a whole new set of requirements in education and learning to ensure successful participation and owner benefit.

Educational institution that have in the past been the agents, drivers and promoters of change now found themselves at the cusp of irrelevance for simply standing still whilst our global society has been transformed again into a new entity.

This crisis for the traditional educational institutions is further exacerbated by the fact that since Timothy Berners-Lee’s successful internet experiment in 1990, a new global age has been triggered by the exponential developments on the internet communications platform. Given time, the educational institutions of the past were able to realign and adapt to the new age but today, time is a commodity we don’t have in dealing with the double-wave tsunami of the digital and global age happening in such quick succession.

Now whilst the machine based microchip multiplied by exponential leaps, the speed and form (graphical interface) of information processing, the internet is multiplying by comparable degrees the capture of human capital which is also exponentially and colaboratively forming, with its electrical circuits and networks – the global brain [9]. The choice for national governments and educational institutions alike is quite clear, to connect to this phenomenon and grow or stay detatched and wither. This crisis in education can not be managed in degrees. Whether we like it or not the new education and learning systems in the next 5-10 years are going to change radically, as learners pursue the new open online learning to the detriment of the old.

“A prior education can be a real barrier to new learning” PB                                          

Societal Change Stages

The sociologist, educator and futurist, Caleb Rosado, Ph.D. [10] from the Southern Connecticut State University created the following table in his article PARADIGM SHIFTS AND STAGES OF SOCIETAL CHANGE: A DESCRIPTIVE MODEL to summarise the different ages and their changing paradigms;
















Work Time





Trade Centre














Cyber Teleporting











Ethnic View





Power Resides





Power Source







High School


Grad—Tech/Cyber U – online


























View of God





Caleb Rosado further argues that the global society will see a new holistic learning style develop which will combine kinaesthetic, auditory and visual learning. Coupled with virtual reality, gaming, simulation, interactive multimedia, and full-blown access to the super information highway, the new learning will interact in a total quality learning environment. He also sees that self-motivated learners, expressing themselves in creative ways, will hardly need the discipline of prior educational models.
A less energized view is expressed by Michael Fullan from the University of Toronto, who likens the future in education and learning to be a “change that can be likened to an unplanned journey, through uncharted waters, in a leaky boat, with a mutinous crew, and the enemy shooting at you.” It’s not going to be easy but as the quote goes

‘Change is mandatory – growth is optional’                                                                           

Democratized Learning – Open Online Learning

Steve Foreman from Myicourse [11], a free open courseware development site, states “We believe in personal knowledge and the wisdom of the ages. We do not believe all of life’s necessary knowledge and wisdom is contained within the walls of universities or between the binders of books.” He sees the power in the Web 2.0 internet platform allowing every person on the planet to not only have open unfettered access to learning on any topic but to have that learning provided by home/community schools, small businesses, clubs, specalist interest groups or individual members of the global community.

For the past hundred years or so, the educational elite have assumed a position of power in regards to the process of accrediting and certifying (censoring) knowledge (books & published articles) fit for student consumption. They have become the gate-keepers of knowledge transfer. Now, while new information arrived at a pace commensurate with their capacity to accredit it, there was no problem. But what if Berkeley researches [12] are right, in that 800 megabytes per person of unique information is created each year. That’s the equivalent of 30ft of books per person per year piling up at the gate awaiting accreditation, and that’s just their 2003 estimate. I think the game is well and truly up on that activity.

To cope with the exponential growth in information, we are going to have to find an entirely new way of accrediting knowledge. Those countries without the ‘benefit’ of an educational elite will simply devour knowledge as it happens and through a process of ‘trial and error’ will have applied the gems to their great advantage long before we will have had the chance to even accredited it. I suggest that we should do with knowledge as we have done with our governments – let the majority of stakeholders decide on what is best and by stakeholders I mean government policy makers, educational institutions, teachers, industry and the vast number of learners themselves. Democratized learning should be incorporated in the same way that ‘opinion’ has been democratized with blogs, social networks and YouTube thereby limiting the power of the commercialised news media to ‘manufacture concent’.

Many educational institutions across the world, in order to deliver education in a cost effective manner, have tended towards the model of delivering de-contextualized information to an auditorium of students. Whilst this serves the needs of the institution and their ‘purse string’ holding government élite, it hardly delivers effective learning for the student. To a large extent we will need to re-contextualize information and learning but this can not be achieved without the input of the context experts scattered across the globe. To rebuild the contextualised information base we will need to provide an open online platform on which it can be built. Richard Baraniuk from Rice University Texas has develop just such a platform with the Connexions educational website and it’s located at .

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Jared Diamond in his latest book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” , speaks of the important history lesson to be gleaned from the study of failed societies. He says, “The ruling elite often insulated themselves from the problems affecting their societies, failing to solve them and contributing to the collapse of the society.” By sheer numbers, the most important stakeholders in the education society are our learners. Yet ask any of the ‘coal face’ workers (teachers) or beneficaries (industry) in this society, if they believe that the learners are having their problems solved and you will get a picture of a system ‘past due’, particularly when compared with the emergence of a highly desirable alternative – open online learning. Maybe its time to apply the concept of democracy to our education system and trust the major stakeholders of learners, teachers and industry to set the learning agenda and information accreditation rather than the ruling elite of government policy makers with their conditionally funded educational institutions.

“I never let my schooling interfere with my education” – Mark Twain


Specialisation Vs Neo-Renaissance Entrepreneur

Now, given just a handful of years to bring about change in an education system, now highly centralized and heavily regulated, most of our educational institutions have struggled to adapt to the changes and still remain locked into the industrial age paradigm of the past.   

14j3i4hyjvi88-ax5rnq-smithThis past age is dominated by the thoughts of the Scottish social philosopher, Adam Smith[13], who in 1776 outlined in his article “Inquiry into nature and causes of the Wealth of Nations”, the concept that nation building is best performed by people, trained for and performing specialized tasks. (Accountants, Lawyers, Architects, Engineers, Teachers etc).
Sadly, without a change in policy from the government elite, our educational institutions continue to prepare students for an industrialized specialist world now offering diminishing employment prospects and in doing so runs the risk of an angry backlash that they just won’t see comming. That corporate job that matched the student’s qualification on entry will have been outsourced to an Neo-Renaissance entrepreneurial firm by the time of graduation, forcing the student to join the ranks of so many graduates that must take lower paid work in fields unrelated to their study.

This generation of graduates, may eventually condemn us for making their path to accreditation, like ours (expensive, arduous and time-stealing) when a new, gap training, cost-effective and time efficient online learning option was so readily available to them. Others on the planet who have achieved their competency via the internet learning platform, have already established a head start in their careers that may take many years, if ever, for the ‘industrial-aged’ specialist to rectify. Unlike the wealth creating industrialised mediums of the past, the internet (the new wealth creating medium) affords no currency to a ‘piece of paper’ without a similar level of applied skill and competency. The internet is blind to your credentials but is a wealth creating slave to your skills and abilities.

Anyway, it is not your credentials that guarantees success in the global/information age but rather your problem solving abilities, critical thinking ability that can discern ‘fact from fiction’, your ability to adapt (un-learn & re-learn), your creative and innovative abilities and your life-long love of learning. If your ‘piece of paper’ failed to deliver these then whilst it may have successfully prepared you for the industrialized 20th century economy but it has certianly failed you in the globalized 21st. Rupert Murdoch [14], chairman of the global media company News Corporation, spoke just recently of the fact that ‘we have a 21st century economy with a 19th century education system’ and in this context called for a reform of our (Australian) education system.

Now, we will still need to have these specialist jobs performed but the way we train people for them is more likely to reflect the on-the-job apprentice/intern model than the locked away in institutions one. The irony is that it was the inefficiency of the apprentice/intern model that created the centralised institution in the first place (because the expert was on campus) and now it is the inefficiency of the centralised institution that is creating the need for the apprentice/intern approach once more (because the expert is in cyber space). We can learn on-the-job because the world’s best knowledge resource will be available at our fingertips … literality … with the mobile phone connected to the internet and conected to the ‘best in the world’.

This training may even concentrate on highly micro-specialised area but the big difference is that the student is not looking to the profession as a whole of life career – just one of the many they will perform in their working life. Furthermore, the student mind-set is to learn the skills of the current profession and by applying knowledge from previously skilled areas, develop cross-discipline innovations that they may exploit for their benefit or share with their employer.  Educational institutions will still play a part in the new paradigm but the mind-set, functions and place in the learning process will need to dramatically shift. Fundamentally, institutions need to get out of the role of being the only authority (or censor) that controls the dissemination and transfer of information and find new roles  and relevance (of which there are many) in the new paradigm. They will also need to implement a business model with greatly reduced dependance on governments with their conditional funding so that they can once more realign their mantra to truly serve the common good of the community and current needs of industry.  

Whilst the current ‘first-world’ nations, that have to-date benefited greatly from Adam Smith’s insights, debate and argue these educational paradigms, third world countries are embracing the new Open-online learning paradigm with obsessive enthusiasm. The economic growth and wealth creation abilities of countries like India and China should be a wake up call to Western Societies. The information/global age, with its online learning and skill sets, has created a level playing field that may well lift these nations to pre-eminence over those nations fixated on the old industrial age educational paradigm. Education, in its own right, has the power to turn both third world countries into first and first world countries into third.

The new learning mediums of the digital and now global age, will produce masses of Neo-Renaissance people unfretted by the outdated and restrictive dimensions of specialisation. It is these people who will become the new nation builders of the future. Encyclopædia Britannica describes “Renaissance Man” as a person who “develops their capacities as fully as possible” and the Compact Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “a person with a wide range of talents or interests” or as the author Margaret Lobenstine [15] defines “A person who thrives on a variety of interests and who redefines the accepted meaning of success.”
With the learning source of the internet, these Neo-Renaissance people will have mastered the art of learning not just of specialist information. They will acquire new knowledge and gain comprehension in a fraction of the time previously required to master any field in the industrial age education system. In the time it takes for the industrial age learner to obtain their ‘piece of paper’, the Neo-Renaissance people will not only have mastered the learning in that field but will already be exploiting the applied benefits from the global internet community. Neo-Renaissance people will not only learn from the best in the world but they will also collaborate with them in making the world a better place. Geographic constraints will no longer inhibit their learning and education. They will have mastered the skills necessary to cross-pollinate learning from one discipline to another, bringing extensive innovation and improvements to all fields of human endeavour. They will be whole of life learners motivated to living a life of significance. They will be the true entrepreneurs in the noblest meaning of that term
Thomas L. Friedman [16] in his book “The World Is Flat: Expanded Edition A Brief History of the Twenty-first Century” shows “how and why globalization has now shifted into warp drive”. He gives an account of “the great changes taking place in our time, as lightning-swift advances in technology and communications put people all over the globe in touch as never before – creating an explosion of wealth in India and China.” These countries are acquiring the knowledge and skill necessary to succeed in the golbal/information age at breakneck speed, whilst 1st World economies continue to educate for an industrial age now past.
“With or without you – history is going to happen” PB


Paradigm Shifts & ‘Creative Destruction’

Tim O’Reilly [17], founder of O’Reilly Media and an internet guru since its inception with his publication of the highly acclaimed “The Whole Internet User’s Guide & Catalog”, talks about recent examples of commercial Paradigm Shifts and the consequences for the organisations that failed to recognize and adapt:
The Swiss invented the quartz watch but failed to patent or market it leaving the Japanese to make all the money by doing just that. The Japanese didn’t have the influences of the old paradigm, locking them into a way of thinking that believed in the pre-eminence of the mechanical mainspring watch. Consequently, the Swiss watchmakers have watched their market share slip from 80% in 1968 to less than 3% today.
Whilst being instrumental in creating the following inventions, Xerox failed to adapt to the Paradigm Shift and missed out when they did not pursue the graphical user interface, on which Windows and Apple are based, along with the mouse, the laser printer, computer networking, internet protocol, bitmapped graphics and e-mail.
IBM created a Paradigm shift in 1981 with the introduction of the standardized architecture in their personal computer by building it from off-the-shelf components. They never pursued fully the opportunity of the personal computer PC market because of their belief in the pre-eminence of their minicomputers and mainframes. In less than two decades, their personal computer were replaced by clones and the markets for their minicomputers and mainframes had evaporated.
IBM suffered the ‘double whammy’ when they failed to see the future Paradigm Shift in computing from hardware to software and so agreed to license their operation system from a small company called Microsoft, instead of purchasing it outright. Sadly for IBM, they could not make the shift from the hardware-dominated mindset and allowed software and Microsoft to became the new centre of the universe in the computing industry.
Global hardware firms like Digital and Compaq failed to see the Paradigm Shift in personal computer hardware from enhanced proprietary models to the commodity stock that the outsider Michael Dell saw and exploited to become the largest PC vendor today.
These few commercial examples demonstrate that when a Paradigm Shift is in play, as I believe it is with education and learning, it would be organisational suicide to simply rely for safety and security on the pre-eminence of old paradigms.
“A new opportunity can never be seized by someone whose hands hold too tightly their existing possessions” PB

Open Online Learning Opportunities

It may be prudent for me to declare at this point as both entrepreneur and vocational educator, that my interest in this topic has less to do with an academic research into the history, philosophy, anthropology, education or cultural studies relating to this phenomenon but rather the great drivers of entrepreneurialism being: Making a significant societal contribution in combination with value-adding commercialization.

When a paradigm shift is in play, it is typically the ‘new entrant’ entrepreneurs that are most likely to see and exploit the opportunities that are inevitably created. This is because the custodians of the old paradigm believe they have too much to lose and will use their energies to erroneously try to ‘command the tides’ as the Viking King Canute [18] vainly attempted in times past.
14j3i4hyjvi88-ax5rnq-rwemerson2Seasoned entrepreneurs like myself have also become less interested in pushing new inventions on unsuspecting target markets and are more likely to take Ralph Waldo Emerson advice and “Hitch your wagon to a star”. For every person on the planet with intellectual capital (know-how, unique experience, specialist expertise, uncommon knowledge) online learning is that star. When sufficient momentum is established, online learning will create a vast amount of new commercial opportunities for individuals currently excluded by the old educational paradigm. Open-online learning is the idea whose time has come, not because I or others declare it so or because we believe it can be marketed as such, but because the global community is embracing it at such breakneck speed that they will eventually declare it by overwhelming affirmation and application – The New Paradigm.
Anyone who has studied entrepreneurship or economics will be familiar with the work of the 20th century economist Joseph Schumpeter [19] who identified that some innovations bring about a form of “creative destruction” in the world in which they are introduced.
Schumpeter used this term, borrowed from Marx, to describe a process in which the old ways of doing things are destroyed by the previous beneficiaries who choose enthusiastically to replace it with a better way. The traditional way is discarded not as a close competitive loser but because it becomes irrelevant. It is my belief that the emerging Open Online Learning is a new Paradigm that will ultimately ‘creatively destroy’ much of the current traditional educational Paradigms.

Many educational institution are making valliant efforts to accomodate the new Open Online Learning paradigm, but it just doesn’t fit comfortably into the old mould for reasons that I have outlined above and below, together with their fixation on qualifications over competency, their top down rather than bottom up learning resource creation and their continuance with a failed commercial model (offering uncompetitively priced products to a diminishing market – Think IBM).
The single greatest barrier inhibiting the old paradigm from embracing the new is the price of learning. The new open – online learning can be produced for a fraction of the cost, maintained ‘on the shelf’ for a cost approaching zero and has an inherent scalability that delivers a commercially sustainable enterprise at a fraction of the sell price currently offered by the old paradigm. Think about the price drop in software from custom-built to the online genetic download and you get a picture of the price change that is about to hit custom-built educational product. The genetic version of the $50,000 custom built program of the past can be downloaded today for less than $500 in the same way that the $5,000 knowledge transfer required for a degree under the current paradigm will soon sell for $50. The new price is more than enough to support a virtual educational enterprise selling data products to a global market but it will ‘creatively destroy’ the financial viability of the old paradigm with its overheads of extensive infrastructure maintenance, administration and compliance costs and academic payroll not to mention the complete income annihilation of the current ‘on-campus’ product if they adopt the new.
To a large extent these two Paradigms are incommensurable because they each live in different worlds and imbibe different and possibility irreconcilable mindsets. Recent entrepreneurial history is peppered with examples of industry leaders (like the traditional educational institutions) who were hidebound and fixated on traditional ideas yet watched helplessly as their markets were destroyed for failing to identify, embrace or change to the new Paradigm. These institutions are further inhibited by their dependance on government hand-outs rather than market forces, to underpin their financial viability. So a few hundred ‘purse string holding’ government policy makers, largely detached from market realities are setting agendas heavily politicised and appear to control the educational institutions like puppets on a string and may well be leading them like the mythical Pied Piper of old.
Educational systems today must develop, if they can, new capabilities to effectively respond in the face of this continual and fast-paced change. An educational system thrives only while it mirrors the community that it serves. Traditional educational products only lead while they satisfy new consumer demands better than other available options. The educational process only serves while it delivers new and improved performance outcomes as demanded by the learners. If the current educational system does not fulfil these criteria then the global community of learners will declare the traditional educational paradigm as irrelevant as they embrace with enthusiasm the new Open Online Learning one.
It is not the messengers but rather the technological, commercial and social agents of change that are driving the new paradigm shift in education. The signs are everywhere to be seen. In fact, the shift is already well underway with a global move from a mechanistic, manufacturing, industrial based society to a more organic, service based and information centred one. If educational institutions ignore these agents for change then the gap in the market that they create by their inactivity will be filled by ever willing and ever ready entrepreneurs, with the help of passionate teachers and knowledgeable industry experts, keen to exploit possibility one of the greatest global opportunities ever presented to individuals or entrepreneurial firms.

“Apples had been falling out of trees long before Newton came along. It’s just that no one before had thought about it quite like he did” PBThe single largest untapped gold mine in the world is the human intellectual capital [20] buried deep in the minds of individuals with know-how, specific expertise, broad based inter-disciplined education, unique experience, intuition, original thoughts and uncommon knowledge. In the past, only the immediate geographic zone or employer organization could benefit from this value and to a large extent was lost with the passing of that person’s life. Furthermore, there was no easy medium for the person possessing human intellectual capital to turn it into both learning for the planet and intellectual property (tangible products) that they own for themselves. This is because their lack of academic station may have excluded them from contributing to learning in the old paradigm or the previous publishing paths were block by either the nessessary endorsements of the academic elite or were thwarted by the commercial constraints of book based publishing. The internet, together with projects like Google Knol, eBooks and courseware programs like &, have to a large extent eliminated these barriers. The one final barrier is the process needed to turn intellectual capital into learning resources and materials that others can easily understand and apply. Enter the teacher. This is a core competency of teaching and one that the new paradigm will call on with great urgency as it gains momentum, thereby ensuring significant income streams for teachers                                                 

‘Industrial Age’ Vs ‘Global Age’

Here is my summative comparison of the two paradigms. It highlights the different and possibility irreconcilable mindsets of the two paradigms whilst also incorporating the usually overlooked, business/entrepreneurial commercial facets of education.
EDUCATION & LEARNING The Institutional ‘Industrial Age’ Paradigm The Open Online ‘Global Age’ Paradigm
Learning Foundation Stone. The Teacher & the institution delivering specialised knowledge transfer The Learner, the internet delivering multi-faceted skills
Place of Learning Institution User choice
Teaching & Learning takes place At the same time – Synchronous At different times to one another – Asynchronous
Learning is Micro-managed & time staged  Self-paced according to the individual’s needs & availability
Learner benefit Postponed Immediate
Primary goal As an end – ‘Qualification’ – Specialist knowledge transfer As a means & a process to learn how to learn.  
Certified by Time spent on the task – 3 yr degrees. Set learning time – set assessment time. Competency – Demonstrated ability to successfully apply the knowledge.
Learner Motivation Extrinsically – To satisfy an external requirement Intrinsically – To satisfy a want/need – to solve a current problem
Information Source Top-Down – Institution filtered, determined and dispensed – Closed but for the academic elite Bottom-Up – The global community capturing & sharing their Intellectual Capital – Open to the world
Learning Philosophy Learning – censored and sterilized Democratized Learning.
Checks & Balances Government regulated – institution controlled Benefiting interest group or by industry association assessment (i.e. Chartered Accountants)
Information Type Predominantly text – textbook based. Holistic – Text, graphical, musical, audio, visual – extensively digital.
Subject Expert Best available person within the geographic constraints. Best person(s) in the world
Collaboration Possibilities Constrained by time, costs & place. Local social network bias. Extensive & easy – like mindedness, passion and aspirational network bias.
Learning structure Mandated courses to complete with little regard to the individual’s prior knowledge. Hyper-individualised learning – gap learning only.
Learning Surrounds Detached institutionalization On-the-job apprentice/intern style or virtual reality simulation
Participant engagement Class time + extra curricular Supplementary learning camps, workshops, peer-peer discussion groups, social networks
Information currency Time lags for books & articles (soon out of date). Commercial constraints (reprint numbers) on updates, out of dates & mistakes. Up to the minute – quick fix of mistakes & updates. Little commercial constraints.
Access to learning contained in multi-lingual articles Poor – Teacher or learner need specific language expertise requirement High – Online translation of multi-lingual documents.
Peer Review The academic elite Trusted reference group with current and proven competency in the field
Ability to respond to the exponential growth in information The release of accredited information marches to the academic elite’s beat. Constrained by time and cost. Unlimited capacity release and storage – search engines and trusted reference group rank and extract on specific relevance.
Courseware designed To produce ‘industrial age’ specialists – Information to cover extensive but non-contextualised information To produce neo-renaissance multi-skilled practitioners – Information to cover ‘How to …’ Learning highly contextualised
Learning ‘touch point’ Detached from life – Classroom-centric Incorporated in life – Life centric – Computers, mobile phones, MP3 players, Handheld TV, Video games, video magazines, iPods, electronic newspapers.
Learner’s primary goal To gain recognition To gain confidence
Resource Reliability Teacher unavailability (sickness, holidays), facility access, maintenance & repair. Day/night, weather, time-zone & cultural activities restraints. (holidays, religious observance) Nearing 100% – 24/7 availability
Start point assumption That all learners arrive at the next level with the appropriate amount of prior learning That new learning builds on prior understanding and in any group there will be vast individual discrepancies in the start point.
Educational System Didactic (instructional), Prescriptive (regulated) with enforce passive reception – Active participation,  discovery based and life-long-capable learning
Educational Design Learning designed to understand all options Learning designed to know the right/best/ most appropriate option
Information flow One Way – Learn what is unknown Two Way – Learn what is unknown + Contribute what is known
Primary product sell point A product – An accredited  qualification A skilling process – Multiple current and proven competencies
Business Model – Scalability (income increases without a corresponding cost increase) Not scalable, Increased enrolments = increased costs. Brilliantly scalable – One set-up cost = potentially millions of sales.
Repeat Customers Limited repeat custom -(Large one-off purchases) – Process ends at highest level. Multiple ‘little & often’ sales (Cherry-pick options) Whole of life repeat custom – learning & product development never ends.
Commercial Constraints Each product offer must reach critical mass of buyers -Generally restricted to only offering the top 20% of possible courses.- Affordable to ‘first world’ markets only. Virtually no cost to maintain courses (once developed) in the most marginalized of areas. It makes all courses/learning (knowledge) commercially viable. Price affordable to world wide markets.
Teaching role Expert in their field – ‘Sage on Stage’ – Filters information A guide, coach and mentor – Facilitates learning – Teach discernment skills – ‘fact from fiction’
Content & Style Theoretical knowledge – de-contextualised, instructionism. Passive, stand and deliver Learning skills for real-world integration – empowering learners to learn for themselves. Active, gaming & simulation
Cost of Learning Substantial – institutional overheads – high costs of student engagement (travel, parking, time opportunity cost) Negligible – electronic transfer – miniscule cost of student engagement
Promotes education As inflexible ‘life phases’ – a compartmentalising of learning and working life. As recurrent and on-going process that will refresh knowledge and ensure lifelong viability. Incorporated in living.
Believes in A finite body of knowledge, a fixed curriculum & slow controlled release of information from ‘hand picked’ limited sources A learning on how to identify ‘truth’, the short shelf-life of information and gaining instant infomation from multiple multimedia sources as required.
“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” —Alvin Toffler

Changing Role of Teachers in Open Online Learning

Whilst the paradigm shift brings dramatic changes for both teacher and education instution, it is the teachers I am most concerned about at this point. Teachers that have read this Knol may have become a little worried about their future with the changes brought about by this paradigm shift.
The reality is actually quite the reverse, for I believe that open online learning will be the fastest growth industry in the early part of the 21st century and teachers are the best placed individuals on the planet to exploit and benefit from this change. It is you, not the administrators, certifiers, auditors and education policy makers that the world really wants. The knowledge hungry people of the planet need help to turn the exponential growth in information into learning that they can absorb and apply to their need, suituation and problem. So break free from the shackles that may have restricted your passion and take your place in the emerging open-online revolution.Here are a few things you might want to consider when preparing yourself for the change:
  • Admit to yourself and the world right now that you are not the expert. Lose forever that fraudulent feeling. Redirect, rediscover and revitalize once more that passion for teaching. You have the power. The future is yours. It is you the world wants.
  • Learn a foreign langauge in an emerging zone likely to want your resources. For sheer number of people then Mandarin or for most countries and most people then maybe Spanish. Arabic would be equally as good.
  • Go read some (or all) of the handouts of the educationalist Ian Jukes [21] in relation to digital age learning.
  • Go and put a learning module on Richard Baraniuk’s (Rice University Texas) Connexions educational website on something you lots about and it’s located at .
  • Rediscover your love of learning use the internet to become a world expert on subjects deep within your passion. No one owns you. You are a learning companion for the global community. You are a teacher – what an honor!
  • Leave your current courseware resources and Intellectual Property (IP) with the rightful owners. Remember – “Render to Ceasar the things that are Ceasars” .. but the rest is yours. Use your creativity to make new and different IP products that the information/global age really wants. Don’t have your thoughts clouded by the constraint of certification and out dated courseware structures. Just help students become competent in their areas of interest and concern.
  • Write! Write! Write! – Write because you feel compelled to express and post it to the web for the world to see. Try it now – write a Knol then link it to the course you have created on where you can establish a passive income for yourself whilst you add value to the lives of the world’s hungry learners.
  • Create digital products and sell them to the world – Powerpoints, e-topics, e-books, worksheets, workbooks, simulation games, ask the expert audio series, create a diagnostics test, make a multimedia CD, make up a game, get on the speakers circuit. Create new digital educational products and sell them on eBay or through online affilliate networks.
  • Free your mind from the shackles of audit, administration and compliance. Seize the day! Spend time to think through and find answers to those areas that have bugged you for so long. Seek out original thought and then tell the world about it – on the web. Right here in a Knol.
  • Teach your students how to learn. Teach them how to discern ‘fact from fiction’. Expose them to the world of multi-media information and misinformation and show them how to master it, how to discover the gems and to discard the rubbish. Promote censorship in learning no more. You have suffered enough and you should take it no more. Free the people!
  • Become a guide, a coach, a mentor. Facilitate learning – Say you don’t know and then go together with the student to find the answer. Partner with your students. Be the hungriest student in the room. No one wants to know the truth more than you.
  • Collaborate with your peers across the globe. Form social online networks. Enrich you life and your craft. Join some social teacher networks and look for like minded people to help create teaching & learning products with you.
  • You know that the only real learner is a self motivate one, so when you see the spark, light the fire instantly with online searchers. Forget timetables, capture that moment of interest – foster the love of learning.
  • Realize that you are creating renaissance people – people pursuing their full potential in a variety of multi-dimensional interests. Teach them about legacy, the life of significance and their contribution for the common good. Tell them they are going to ‘make a difference’ and then help them make it so.
  • Turn what you know into online courseware, whether it be maths, growing roses or just how to be a good friend. Charge $10 for the course and the 4.8 billion that are yet to log on to the internet and may pay it will be eternally grateful. Make money by adding value not ripping off -maintain your integrity.
  • Help others you know from industry or life with intellectual capital to create courseware or other IP products for their knowledge, know-how or expertise. Make money from the service or % of the sales. Put it online. Make money while you sleep.
  • Learn how to publish a Knol (unit of knowledge), how to create courseware for free on Start your own online university today on your area of interest. It’s easy!
  • Forget memorization. All necessary information will soon be available instantly on computers & mobile phones. Better to teach problem solving abilities, critical thinking ability that can discern ‘fact from fiction’, teach adaptability (un-learn & re-learn), encourage creative and innovative abilities.
  • Learn how to make a video and post it to YouTube. Share what you know with the world. Create a world-wide class of students who await your online posts. Try to find ways to turn learning into gaming. Teach by active participation in games. Incorporate simulation, virtual reality and role play in all learning engagements.
  • Put on workshops, facilitate discussion groups, create you own learning camp to re-engineer the social side of learning. Create a space where learners can come together and share their learning and experiences.


A Final Word                               

I write this Knol [22] fully anticipating the full frontal challenge from advocates and beneficiaries of the current system. In responce to this I will say but three things – (I) whilst you are ‘out on the lawn’ expending great energy simply arguing with the messenger, the rest of the world is picking your pocket and looting your home (II) this is not a philosophical argument, it’s a report on a happening and (III) I now understand Niccolo Machiavelli’s [23] quote all the better;

“It must be remembered that there is nothing more difficult to plan, more doubtful of success, nor more dangerous to manage, than the creation of a new system. For the initiator has the enmity of all who would profit by the preservation of the old institutions and merely lukewarm defenders in those who would gain by the new ones”

Finally, I would expect that a star rating of 2 or less for this Knol would indicate that this change is not yet imminent, however a rating of 4 or more and ‘God Bless Us All’ … for the revolution has already begun!

About the Author

Peter Baskervilleis a lecturer and facilitator of entrepreneurial education at Southbank Institute of Technology, Brisbane, Australia. He mounts courses and mentors student entrepreneurs in a role he calls “New Venture Architect.” He holds a degree and awards in finance, accounting and entrepreneurial education; is recognized in Australia as Content Expert in Entrepreneurship and Entrepreneur in Residence at Southbank. Peter has written 27 Knols and is currently ranked fifth among Knol’s top pick English language authors.



One response to “Open Online Learning – A Paradigm Shift

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