Top Ten Ways to Fail with Technology in Distributed Education

Several years ago, I was challenged by Steve Ehrmann, who was then at FIPSE (later Annenberg , AAHE and now TLTR), to start talking about the failures as well as the successes of technology in education.  Everybody always publishes the success stories, but no one wants to publish the failures, the crazy mistakes, and the foolish errors.

The problem with that approach is that people made the same mistake over and over again.  They would build multimedia lecture halls, do hour long PowerPoint presentations as classes, and assume that learners could learn from visiting well designed web sites.  Those of us who often refereed papers in technology based education  marveled at how little knowledge of prior work that these papers often showed.  In science, every paper builds on the work of others, and anyone missing a key citation is severely castigated by reviewers.  In Educational Technology, papers too often seem like they were opening entirely new areas.

I responded to Steve's challenge by giving a talk entitled "101 ways to Fail with Technology."  There were not really 101 ways, but the concept was there.  I was invited to one of the NRC/NSF conferences and asked to give a version of the talk, and then I included material from that talk into many later invited speeches.  

At the very least, the talk would provoke animated (sometimes heated) discussion and that was the intent.  I may have hit the low point when I gave a public lecture at the invitation of the President of one of our top (unnamed) private research universities.  I gave the talk without realizing that one of the top ways to fail was exactly the strategy that had been articulated by the President only a few weeks before.  I quickly learned about that after the talk.  I have not been invited for a second talk.

I also created a list of ten commandments based upon the same set of experiences.

Here are my top ten favorite ways to fail with technology in distributed education.  I also have a  waiting list for the top ten.

----Jack M. Wilson

Top Ten Ways to Fail with Technology in Distributed Education

  1. Broadcast the best lecturers to thousands of people.  The lecture is a wonderful time tested technology!  It's easy and fun!   Paul Samuelson can teach everyone economics!
  2. Build the coolest multimedia interactive websites (or CD-ROMS) with the production values of Star Wars.
  3. Build multimedia lecture theaters which can be used to send the experience worldwide.
  4. Design an Asynchronous Learning Environment so that all interactions are defined as between student and instructor.  Keep that instructor at the center.  
  5. Ignore the work of others who have gone before.  You can do it better!
  6. Assume that Anytime/Anywhere education is the holy grail of distributed education.  Anyone can learn anything on asynchronous learning networks.
  7. Cost is not an issue here.  We are only interested in quality.
  8. Make a necessity into a virtue.  For example, since bandwidth does not allow good video, then video must be unneeded.  Instant messaging and chat will do just fine!
  9. Once you have adopted a platform, stick with it in spite of all the changes that keep going forward in internet time.
  10. Be very doctrinaire about the learning models.  There is only one right way to do this for everyone and every field.

All pronouncements made with authoritative gusto are to be viewed with suspicion and that includes these ten.  However, if we can understand why these approaches can fail, then perhaps we begin to create learning environments that will meet real students needs and be exciting places for real faculty members to work.

For those who object to the focus on failure and the negativism that is generated thereby, I would encourage you to reverse this list and create the accompanying list of the "Top Ten ways to Succeed with Distributed Education."  That is left as an exercise for the reader.

Have fun!