Day 4 – Chronicle of 1st D-TRANSFORM Leadership School (Nov. 17th, 2016)

by Jean-François Colas, UOC Doctoral School

Back to the main venue at Les Glòries (Barcelona) for a fourth day of the 1st D-TRANSFORM Leadership School rich of interventions on Senior leadership and on Digital disruption.

Josep A. Planell (UOC’s President) opened the Keynote session ‘Universities disrupted’ with some questions that pave the way for UOC’s strategy. As an example of adaptation to the potential disruption produced by online learning he exposed the re-engineered model of university of the UOC, with the student placed at the centre of the learning process. But the change of paradigm in education in the informational society is more than just about information. The future of education being both about knowledge and know how, higher education should be preparing students with soft lifelong learning skills. As a model for this strategy he referred to ‘Stanford 2025’ ( that ‘looks back from 2100 at the era when the University brought an end to a society of alumni in favor of lifetime learning’.

Vijay Kumar (MIT Dean of Digital Learning) defined this disruption of universities as a mechanical-to-digital transition. Online education is a catalyst for higher education reforms. Universities can change. Disruptive change occurs especially when assumptions are challenged and when structural relationships—such as the relation of the learners with the institution—are changed. For doing quality at scale (that is, doing more with proportionally less resources), he urged to think of online education as a combination of on-site and online, and to do a judicious blending. He described the success of blended learning with the example of a chemistry course. The blended version of the course needs to be re-engineered. As a consequence, one of the recommendation in the new MIT policy on online education is to support the expanding profession of the ‘Learning Engineer’. As a particularly important principle of learning, he insisted on the power of hands-on experiences, of learning by doing. Also, we should try to use big data in a way that serves autonomous learners.

Ryan Craig (University Ventures) gave a rather ‘disruptive’ talk about the emergence in US of a fast-growing sector of just-in-time technical training companies that fills the increasing skills gap between higher education institutions and employment. This great unbundling of education into a competency marketplace is driven by the digital simplification of the transition towards competency-based learning. Craig envisions, for example, that within a 5-year time horizon it will be possible to predict whether a student has the job-creation competencies for becoming an entrepreneur, that is for ‘making job’ instead of ‘taking job’. Such a scenario brings the risk for universities that more value may soon be found in owning competency profile than in delivering postsecondary education. Although this disruptive scenario may appear quite worrying and excessively focused on training professionals instead of nurturing global citizens, Craig argued that by giving you a first sense of your ZPD, much more data on what you are, the competency marketplace provides a shorter, faster pathway to technical training and a first job. Thus, it may offer a more realistic primary step towards global citizenship for a lot of students. Whether this disruptive US situation is predictive of what is to come for EU is a matter of debate.

After an informal Coffee-talk by Jean-Philippe Denis (Université Paris Sud / Saclay) on ‘making strategy’, the first Working Session of the afternoon ‘MOOCs panel’ opened. MOOCs are not only offered by HE institutions. Hannes Klöpper, founder of the digital learning platform Iversity, explained by videoconference his vision of learning as a social process that should include 3 key elements: content, context & community. Anne Boyer (UL) presented 2 french national initiatives that link MOOCs and OERs and share a common core approach of mutualisation and openness. Manel Jimènez (UPF/CLIK) exposed a third model of a multidisciplinary MOOC team at the university dedicated to supporting teachers in the creation of new courses. He also emphasized the challenges for promoting internal and external financing of MOOCs, a MOOC costing them approximately 25000 to 40000 €.

The last Working Session of the day ‘Business models for opening up education’ started with Susanna Sancassani (Politecnico di Milano – METID) who introduced her model based on 4 strategies: Diversity, Quickness, Scalability & Sustainability. She used the biological metaphor of the rhizome to illustrate her vision of ‘Universities as leaders of a rhizomatic approach to knowledge production and re-production’. For Rajay Naik (Keypath), demand and supply are changing fundamentally. The Demographics are fundamentally different for online learners. Students all over the world want access to the great universities, even if they are far away. As demand is moving geographically, the main issue is how to create additional supply for area with growing demands. Online becomes the enabler. We need to deliver really high quality experiences online. We need to think more about partnerships with the private sector in course design, marketing, recruitment, student support and employability.

In ‘Business Models for online HE in a complex Europe’ Paul Bacsich (SERO Consulting) gave several possible definitions of a business model. One could be ‘the core strategy by which an institution tries to capture value from its activities’. Basically, courses cost money and money has to come from somewhere. In a few EU States, there is a viable business model of university funding for online learning based on students paying fees, helped by extra government resources for each new student or a by loss-leader variant. All other business models are marginal: they can be useful but will not scale. Paul concluded that, although there are relevant US practices worthy of attention in EU, we should take great care in drawing overall conclusions for EU from US.

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