In response to our post last week’s article, “Learning Innovation: Ph.D. Or Ed.D.” Anthony Pina, deputy director of online teaching and learning at Sullivan University, asks:
I would like to know why learning innovation is not a specialization / concentration within the widely used field of educational and learning sciences. These programs (with their seemingly infinite number of combinations of titles of learning programs, education, teaching, systems, design, technology, sciences, etc.) are already interdisciplinary. It seems that learning innovation could easily fit into the existing field. If there is something that makes innovation much different in learning, I would be very happy about it.
The questions that Pina (Tony) asks for a new interdisciplinary field of innovative learning are good and are exactly what we are interested in here and in our next book (published by Johns Hopkins University Press in spring 2020).
So, what makes innovation different when learning from existing areas?
Despite all the great work being done throughout the higher education sector, in schools of educational, teaching and learning centers and centers for scientific innovation, the conversation about innovation in learning is often fragmented and transient. The work of innovation experts in the field of learning is largely separate from innovation in terms of learning support.
Schools are very good at improving pilots to improve student learning, but little is known about the impact of these pilots and the factors that enable them to move outside the local school context. Universities and universities are highly motivated to look for ways to improve learning outcomes (including reducing early school leaving and graduation time) while addressing cost and accessibility issues. However, they have little systematic framework, methodologies or defined problems to guide their actions.
Institutional efforts to achieve non-incremental student learning progress are often taught by on-campus organizations on campus. These include CTL, academic computing units, and correspondence and online education departments. Those who spend most of their time researching and teaching on issues related to change in higher education and teachers may work mainly in academic departments or in schools.
We believe that there is a discrepancy between practice and the challenge of innovation in learning.
The result is that the liveliest communities of practice and interinstitutional discussions about innovative learning often take place in professional conferences and social networks, rather than in the places proposed by Tony.
These platforms are great for creating networks and sharing best practices. They are not so good at sustainable and critical studies of beliefs, practices, and outcomes.
To take these and many other issues seriously, innovation in learning must move from a professional practice to an academic pursuit of knowledge.
An academic field creates and disseminates knowledge while providing a framework to move forward in this area and train the next generation of professionals and academics. Frameworks that go beyond the theory of disruption and those that are most closely aligned with the mission and culture of higher education need to be developed and tested to guide learning innovation decisions.
We know that there is little agreement on solutions or approaches to the future of higher education. We also believe that it is equally important that there is little consensus on questions, concerns and the definition of approaches to ask questions about the future of higher education.
We hope to change that by further exploring this field. This does not mean that the many existing programs are not useful for this search, but that they should be part of a larger whole.
Innovation in learning differs, therefore, in that the question of how universities and colleges change with regard to student learning is fundamental, and this is crucial to the broader structure of the post-secondary ecosystem.
This is not (or not only) an area where people learn. There are many excellent approaches to understanding this problem. Nor is it a designated area to examine the role of technology in education. There are already many good places to do that, as Tony points out.
However, the innovation researcher needs to make his analysis of the organizational changes related to learning within the historical, cultural, demographic and economic forces that affect colleges and universities.
What we call innovation in learning must be the literature and methods of higher education with those of the science of learning, with technological innovations and the changing understanding of learning analysis, design theories, justice, inclusion and many others.
The learning innovation expert has to master history, economics, political issues and other areas related to the transformation of higher education. This fluency in post-secondary studies with the institution and the post-secondary ecosystem as units of analysis must be complemented by the same experiences in the teaching and learning fellowships and in the areas mentioned above.
The task of learning innovation is applied work. This work is done daily in schools and universities across the country. Each institution serves as an informal laboratory for innovative learning.
The organizations or departments in which this work is performed involve the separation of academic and administrative units. Academics / practitioners of innovation in learning occupy the border area between faculty and staff. Innovation knowledge in learning through practice and theorization. The separation between scholarship and service is blurred.
It may not be necessary to say that one of the great cold wars of higher education is the tension between teachers and administrators, and the latter is often blamed for the high cost of higher education.
We believe it is important to recognize this division and to do our best to close it. Understanding innovation in learning as a critical study of the overall involvement of all in higher education (teachers and administrators) in the education of our students is one approach that we believe can be fruitful.
Identifying innovations such as learning therefore recognizes that campus organizations and learning professionals can maintain their service portfolio at the same time as they take on a role as creators of new knowledge and as creators of courses, programs and programs.
In how many cases does CTL exist as a place to offer programs and services at the same time as directing and publishing original scientific research and launching new graduate programs?
Methods and theories that relate to the design and analysis of learning can be taught at universities that use these theories and techniques in their online programs, and are sometimes taught by the people who do this work, but it is almost never the “home”. “These courses and programs are a campus learning organization.
Innovation in learning requires communities of academic practice that have a range of common research questions, theoretical frameworks and methods, and a research language. It also has to be recognized as an economic production unit. It can only survive and grow with its ability to be renewed and renewed by training new participants in the field.
If we can study innovative innovations, we can teach innovative innovations. Teaching and learning become symbiotic. They are interdependent. And everyone relies on the continuous knowledge generated through the application of the theories and methods to advance learning through new programs and initiatives and associations in our institutions.
If we want to shape the future of higher education, we need to highlight the work that we all do at our own colleges and throughout the university ecosystem.
The practice and learning of innovation in learning seems to be happening everywhere. Learning innovations are presented in all conferences and expert discussions. The challenge is that the learning innovation community exists in a wider range of professional associations and networks.
Those who engage in the practice and study of innovation in the field of learning need to use a wide range of competing academic responsibilities and existing professional communities to seek and learn on the basis of the profession.
Identifying something, such as learning to innovate as something other than the work in the schools that Tony points to in his response, would create a new space for doing that work.
This identity expressly rejects the calcified notions of academic vs. professional, teaching vs. personal, academic vs. academic.
In a field of learning innovation, those who research / teach in areas of promoting student learning through organizational change can more easily identify and connect people with similar roles, challenges and concerns.
An academic field is defined not by the conclusions it defends, but by the questions asked.
But how would you answer Tony’s question? Do you think that people in the post-secondary ecosystem ask questions about learning innovations that are sufficiently different from questions in established occupations and disciplines to justify the beginning of something new?