by Hap Aziz
As the educational community has learned over the past several decades, technology applied to a process often transforms that process in revolutionary ways. We have seen this happen often enough now that we can reliably anticipate revolution, even if we cannot always predict it. Some of us even make plans on riding the revolutionary wave as opposed to simply reacting as the tide comes in. Terry O’Banion has written
Even if there were no revolution in learning, the ubiquitous application of information technology to every facet of the educational enterprise will create monumental change that gives the appearance of a revolution.
The conceptualization, development, and eventual implementation of an Education Positioning System (EPS) is, potentially, just such an application of information technology: an industry-wide integration of technology tools as well as business processes (even across geographical boundaries) that allows learners, faculty, and staff to interact through “information transactions” through consumer devices in order to enhance the learning process, serving academic and career development. Backing up a cycle in the development process of IT tools in higher education, we see that the idea of an EPS is a logical outgrowth of another, more basic technology-applied-to-process application commonly known as the Learning Management System (LMS). (It is interesting to note that the LMS itself is an outgrowth of the application of information technology to a process almost completely lacking in IT services prior to the 1960s. One might consider the EPS a second-generation revolutionary application.)
However, while an LMS is focused primarily on the processes involved in admitting, maintaining accounts and data, and ultimately graduating or matriculating students through an institution, the role of an EPS should be much broader and much more personalized. In addition to providing these services on demand directly to the learner, an EPS would expand the process into an “environmental manager” intended to enable learner self-sufficiency in a much larger context than had been previously considered. Once we are able to act on the realization that learning is effected by elements outside of the academic environment, we are philosophically prepared to provide the tools and solutions that allow learners to minimize distractions and interruptions to the learning process.
This realization is triggered by observations of the consumer technology realm: we see the effects of networked technologies that facilitate communication and data-sharing across geographical as well as technology-standards boundaries. We see the adoption of social networking behaviors that are enabled by the proliferation of smart devices in consumer hands. We see that opportunities and potential for meaningful collaborative activities built around consumer game technologies such as the Xbox, the Playstation, and the Wii, along with their respective network environments. The acceptance and integration of these technologies into the fabric of the consumer lifestyle has laid the foundation for the acceptance of the EPS model.
Certainly, the concept of an EPS is interesting in the abstract, but we still need to pose the question: What happens next? Let us articulate what might happen from the learner’s standpoint, and see if that provides a hint of direction.
Information and data particular to a learner can “follow” that learner from department to department seamlessly within an institution. Much information (transcripts, for example) may even be compared and transported across institutions in order to answer questions or provide the learner with some additional decision making capability (“does it make sense for me to enroll here given that only so many credits will transfer with me?”) What if the information and data held by institutions that can follow a learner across institutions was held directly by the learner instead? Not as some metadata standard to pass student information across various learning management systems; but rather as tokens that belong to and reside with the leaner at all times?
We begin to see the potential of connecting learning environment pockets at individual institutions within the education landscape into an institutional-neutral enterprise. Imagine that the investment a learner makes in developing an academic and career plan at a community college is not lost when that learner matriculates to a four-year university, for example, or to any institution anywhere in the world. Certainly the plan may be expanded, edited, tweaked, altered, and otherwise modified as desired by the learner and the learner’s institution. However, those academic and career goals suddenly become truly global from the learner’s standpoint rather than remaining relative to the learner’s current institution.
As more and more institutions of higher learning develop and implement education positioning systems, educational technologists will create the black box technology necessary for these systems to communicate across institutions. This technology would have a natural home positioned atop current and emerging smart device and consumer video game technology. Learners will be able to carry their own customized “learning environment” with them on their smart devices as they move from one place of learning to the next, not needing to relearn the learning landscape or redevelop their learning plan with each transition.
In dealing with discrete information bits for learners, we adopted the term Learning Management System: LMS. Shifting our emphasis to the learning process and developing systems to enhance the process as well as individual learning we arrive at Education Positioning System: EPS. One might reason that we are still focused on learning, but we will apply a system to manage the individual EPS communications protocols universally across institutions. Like a GPS, the data provided to the user is relative to the user’s position in the world, and all directions take the user from where he or she is to where he or she wants to be.
Whatever name we attach to the future amalgamation of technology and process planning, the result should be a system that encompasses the whole academic experience, weaving that experience into the learner’s daily life in significant and meaningful ways. That, undoubtedly, will be a monumental change ushering in the next revolution in the process of learning.