Author Archives: Ryan McCormack

Online learning content and the rising tyranny of choice


Online learning is experiencing what would appear to be its golden age (even though it’s been around for quite some time). Technologies have evolved to the point where it’s now possible to deliver engaging educational course content to hundreds of thousands of people simultaneously, in the context of an online "classroom" that supports questions, interactions, and exchange. In principle, all a student needs is Internet access, and the knowledge is there to grab. The technology platforms to deliver learning content in this way are becoming widely available, in many cases for free, which leads to an obvious conclusion: online learning content is going to explode. Anyone who wants to publish and has the means will. Continue reading

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Open-source education: Lessons from cathedrals and bazaars

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Open is the new black in the world of education. From open educational resources (OERs) to massively open online courses (MOOCs) to Mozilla’s open badges initiative, there is tremendous excitement and buzz about how the philosophy of the open-source software movement might transform aspects of traditional education. As people explore these new frontiers, it’s useful to look back and see what lessons we might learn from the past. Eric Raymond’s seminal essay on open-source, The Cathedral and the Bazaar, is the best place to start. Continue reading

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SXSWedu 2013: Thoughts, themes and takeaways


This week saw the third-annual SXSWedu conference in Austin, Texas; it’s an event that has grown rapidly since its inception, driven by the explosion of interest in the intersection between technology and education, and by the rising chorus of voices calling for educational improvement and reform. While smaller than its SXSW cousins (interactive, film, music), SXSWedu drew intelligent and passionate voices in education from around the world, across an array of topics. As someone relatively new to the edtech space, I found it to be an exciting and inspiring event, filled with thought-provoking content and interesting people.

In no particular order, here are some thoughts on the four days I spent in Austin with a great group of innovators and educators. Continue reading

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SXSWedu: Let the games begin, with open minds


The third annual education conference at South by Southwest (SXSWedu) gets underway today, and it promises to be an exciting event filled with great ideas. The roster of speakers is global, and includes luminaries like Bill Gates, along with many other key players in the world of pedagogy and edtech entrepreneurship. Themes span the hot education topics of late (e.g., MOOCs, big data, Makerspaces), broader questions of policy and reform, and exploration of new approaches to effective teaching and how technology might help. Continue reading

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The messy semantics of educational achievement and value


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The educational world has its own shibboleth, and so do the worlds of policy and business. As these three worlds come into contact, the terminology and buzzwords used by each collide. People make assumptions that they are talking about the same thing, but in many cases they’re not. Educational establishments have language rooted in tradition (though even the terminology used between US and international educational systems is somewhat different). On the other hand, business people (especially those in startups) often seek terminology for the purposes of marketing, rather than precision, and it’s no different with the rise of edtech startups. One set of terminology that’s riddled with confusion is the language used to describe achievement.

In an effort to cut through the buzzwords and imprecise usage, here’s my objective take on the language of educational achievement. Continue reading

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Education in the 2013 SOTU

Tweet Education was a major theme in President Obama’s 2013 State of the Union address. From K-12 through higher education, he laid out the ways in which the world has changed, how our current system is failing students in many … Continue reading

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The education revolution – Part III: The Value Equation


This is the fourth in a series of posts about the pillars of the revolution in education. The previous posts examined the impact that technology is having on learning, and the thorny question of qualification. We now turn to the final question: value. Continue reading

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The education revolution – Part II: The Qualification Conundrum

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This is the third in a series of posts about the pillars of the revolution in education. The previous post examined the impact that technology is having on learning, and now we turn to the thorny issue of qualification. Continue reading

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The education revolution – Part I: Learning and technology

This is the second in a series of posts about the pillars of the revolution in education.

The most critical pillar of our educational system is obviously learning. Education without learning is like a car without wheels: it’s not going to get you very far. So let’s pull apart this first pillar of education and see where new technologies and online opportunities are having an impact.

For this discussion, I’ll define learning as the process of knowledge acquisition for an individual, through whatever means available and independent of the benefits it provides (either to the individual, employers or society). The facets of learning can be broken down using process as a lens:


So what’s happening with technology in the different facets of learning? A few generalizations seem clear at this point:

  • Technology is impacting almost every facet of the learning process in a fundamental way, and more deeply than technologies have in the past
  • Questions about scalability, student-teacher interaction and online assessment must be addressed; fierce debates rage on these topics and more regarding the best approaches
  • Effective integration of technology in the learning process will require training and support for educators, but it’s often missing due to time and budget constraints
  • The political and economic realities of educational institutions create inertia and foster an environment of antagonism between edtech entrepreneurs, educators and administrators; collaboration will be a key to success
  • Progress is being made in the realm of guiding principles (e.g., the Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age), but serious disagreements still need to be resolved, political and otherwise
  • Change may come slowly, but it is coming, and the pace of change has accelerated

Let’s dig a little deeper on technology and its impact on learning, using the facets above as a guide. Continue reading

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The pillars of the education revolution: Learning, Qualification and Value


The Internet is spawning revolutions across all facets of society, and our traditional education system is the latest industry to face its disruptive power. In the following series of articles, I’ll provide a simple model for thinking about the education revolution, break things down into manageable chunks, and explore some of the business innovations going on with online learning and the so-called edtech revolution. Continue reading

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