90706 NIST and TIP focus on eLearning

ATP now TIP has a brief history of learning technology within its high priority technologies. In 1996-98 I knew a Dr. David Fisher in NIST as he developed learning technology within the ATP system and was in the founding meeting for ADL. David was back at Carnegie Mellon when we submitted a proposal to ATP. Of the 56 proposals, we were first to receive a call from the program director. He explained that of all the proposals ours was the best by far for the business section. But the NIST experts could not understand David’s expert-system tutoring model for technology support of learning. We did not receive one of the three $2 million packages awarded.

We understood that technology that drives eLearning did not have a research base in the late 1990’s and still does not.. Other technologies have decades of research and a cadre of PhD’s deeply immersed in R&D. eLearning has little recognition as a unique technology. The vision of eLearning transforming academic performance has yet to take root. The meme is a few computers in the back of the classroom and legacy pedagogy. If you do progress with eLearning I recommend  a significant effort in securing a cadre of proposal reviewers that are knowledgeable about eLearning.

I have attached a 2005 study for OSD-IDA where my team designed a portal for eLearning communities of practice. It might be a starting place for studying the expertise levels available for an eLearning TIP.

Building on the ADL definition for a learning object I am defining eLearning as:

Any learning supported by digital means.

Off ” White Paper

Critical National Need Topic Area:

Education both formal and informal, training to academic.

Your 2009 CNN Topic Areas are:

Civil Infrastructure


Green Chemistry




Personalized Medicine.

eLearning is a foundation issue that cuts across all technology areas. Somewhere in each of the studies (including Rising Above the Gathering Storm). The expressed concern is about one or more deficits in:

Educated/trained workforce;

Knowledgeable users/consumers;

Critical thinking populous;

Tech savvy political and adoption system;

Citizens fluent in long range analysis and commitment to change.

Many of technology studies gloss over the 21st century education deficit with education statements based on wishful thinking. The general theme may be: “Educators will self reform their education process and all teachers will miraculously improve their capability to top decile.” Us technical folks are very familiar with systems design and what it takes to transformation of our technology based industry. We are very familiar with disruptive innovation that is critical for transformation. But somehow we do not make the technology industry parallel with education and prescribe incremental innovation to reform of a very mature education industry.

As Henry Kelly opinioned in his 1988 congressional research report, all major industries except one have used technology to increase effectiveness, accessibility, productivity and efficiency. The one hold out is education. After a century plus of acceptance and celebration of technology transformation ranging from transportation to medicine education still does not get it.

Because the application of technology to support human learning may be the most difficult challenge is not reason for NIST-TIP to ignore it. With initial use in WW II (Link Trainer, etc.) the creation and adoption of eLearning applications has been slow. The normal technology driven industry innovation cycle takes 40 to 50 years. Twenty years from invention to initial ramp then another 20 year to maturity. But after 60 years sporadic eLearning adoption in K-12 education only 3% of learning is technology supported. The tippling point of 10% is many years off.

Industry revenues are estimated at $20 billion. The largest online provider is University of Phoenix Online, a $3 billion Phoenix operation. The largest digital curriculum provider is Pearson Digital in Chandler, AZ at $300 million. Pearson is a roll up of a half dozen AZ and San Diego K-12 eLearning startups. The eLearning industry is a tiny size if you consider the $trillion+ global market for formal and informal learning. It’s federal research budget is less than $100 million  which has not materially changed in 20 years.

What is the problem?

One is leadership at all levels failure to recognize and address this opportunity. The second is the low level of R&D funding to develop theories, support invention, create engineering design tools and develop and test applications. The third is the need for systems transformation of the entrenched legacy system for formal education.

NIST-TIP’s role plays out within the second problem. NSF, NIH, DOD and Department of Education have spent a tiny fraction of their budgets on eLearning R&D. There is little coordination and little application within the eLearning industry. What is needed is R&D leadership at the federal level.

NIST-TIP normally sends rifle shot into a half dozen technologies that are within a well established industry that needs innovation acceleration innovation in a critical area. I recommend that NIST-Technology Innovation Program take on eLearning as center piece program that addresses needs of all emerging technologies. A systems approach to eLearning technology innovation is recommended.

Components of this system might be:

  1. Bump long range global R&D 6.1, 6.2, and 6.3: Host the development and operation of the eLearning communities of practice portal. Coordinate the development of this community with FAS, DOD and other entities along an eLearning systems technology roadmap.
  1. Provide TIP funding in a coordinated invention-application effort within the critical elements of the eLearning system.
    1. eLearning savvy teacher development;
    2. Digital curriculum development;
    3. Real time formative assessment;
    4. Data decision support systems from teacher-student to administration;
    5. Broadband access for 100% of students.;
    6. Student interfaces for learning;
    7. Distributed learning systems.
  1. Be the champion within our national governance to promote the invention, development and adoption of effective eLearning systems to serve all citizens.

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