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Informed Pessimism: No More Industrial Revolutions?

Posted By Administration, Wednesday, October 17, 2012
Updated: Friday, October 18, 2013

October 17th, 2012

From the NY Times:

This post, a scholarly blog, rubbed me the wrong way. The point is made convincingly -- we are past the big "bumps" or "bubbles" in terms of sudden 30 to 50 year GDP growth based on industrial revolutions. But it is convincing only if you believe that we humans in the connected world can only do industrial revolutions. Seems to me we humans did an agricultural revolution a few thousand years ago. There would have been no industrial revolutions without the agricultural revolution.

What about the revolution we are in now? This blog writer seems to think the computer revolution has already run its course, at least in terms of computers spurring a rapid growth in wealth.

Most of you, like me, are directly involved with the computer revolution. Do we agree that the big changes are over, and that the doc com bubble that burst in the year 2000 was the last computer wealth bubble?

I certainly don't know, so I have no answer. But I do know what I believe. It all depends on how one understands humanity's move to digital everything.

Immediate changes in efficiencies doing what we already do, and doing what we do within existing cultural memes, was easy and is still easy. Efficiencies in existing processes is the phase we are in now: efficiencies in marketing, delivery of products and services, efficiencies in communication, in archiving, searching, displaying, efficiencies in social organization, efficiencies in research and big data, in aggregating knowledge and so on. We do everything faster and with less need for humans to support each embedded process. Even our machines are now more efficient because digital technology manages how they work. Buildings are designed and built that could never have been built without CAD and CAM.

But is that all that we can expect in this digital age? In education, we are beginning to see efficiencies in the creation of learning opportunities -- such as MOOCs. But MOOCs, albeit provided by gifted educators and superb graphics complemented by social networking, are still teacher-centered and not outside the learning paradigm we are all familiar with.

Still, MOOCs and other trends -- assessment of prior learning (or recognition of prior learning), eportfolios as a way to evaluate achievement with much fuller data, micro-credentialing (badges -- really a form of peer review at the student level), high-impact educational practices, social pedagogies, new recognition of how people actually learn best, the flipped classroom, and so on -- do in fact indicate an important new phase of the computer revolution.

This new phase is what we might call "the university of the whole." Our economy is now a knowledge economy. The economy has become a learning economy. And institutions of higher learning are moving toward human processes and structures that are appropriate for "the university of the whole."

The university of the whole is where the real and lasting and profound knowledge revolution is taking place. No, this is not an industrial revolution, this is a revolution in how people think. This is a revolution at the source of all revolutions. ePortfolios are already native to "the university of the whole." We are all, in the eportfolio community, going there (to the university of the whole) and already there. Welcome.

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