Let’s stop with Innovation Bullshit Bingo

I have personally worked in education innovation since 2013 and even before was no stranger to strategic discussions on higher education as a board member of the Leiden Studentunion among other things. My speciality has become education innovation through digital technology. The year of the MOOC. The death of the MOOC. The rediscovery of the MOOC, I have seen it all.

So you would think I am very much in favour of thought leadership on:

  • throwing post-its at every problem, quick design sessions without depth, cheap agile references
  • disruption of Higher Ed through digital technology, with the destruction of universities as we know them imminent
  • solving any workforce or scaling issue of education by going digital, now more than ever
  • providing free online education to all because we already paid for this through taxes

You would be wrong. All those concepts are mainly empty, re-used to fit very particular strategic meanings of the person wielding them (such as budget cuts, or receiving attention in strategy meetings), and seldom for the general quality of education. It is neither teacher nor student centered. It is very clear that both of them want, above all, human contact and if at all possible face to face real contact.

The bottomline is: online or blended learning does not reduce teacher-student time needs, it just reshapes it. In fact, when you start to apply digital technologies you will have to invest time and energy to get it going before it becomes a way of life. It takes very deliberate design of every aspect of learning, including informal social contacts.

It is not all bleak. There are people who actually match evidence based, data driven insights with talent and in true co-creation with teachers creating education that really bring quality to a next level. I am sincere when I say I believe in blended learning, XR for learning and the concept of life long learning, and the way that digital technology helps that along, as a tool, not a goal. Centre for Innovation of Leiden University is one of those places were we genuinely and earnestly work on those themes for the greater good. I have not lost my faith in that.

However, I think that some innovators take the easy way out by just blabbering their thought leadership in the direction of what those in power want to hear, when it is not what higher education needs. It is very persuasive to think technology will solve all the ills of society, that it will reduce cost AND be a positive benefit at the same time. Win-win, what is not to like? Except that it is bullshit. The data is not there. Well designed online learning costs aprox 6-9 months of development and continued upkeep for years on end.

That doesn’t stop it from being a temptation for politicians and their assistants, and you keep seeing attempts at floating “a new normal where innovation solves everything”. Well, no. Not even if you write it into numerous columns in national newspapers. Real innovation takes hard work, with your feet in the clay of actual education, standing side by side with teachers.

You have the innovation bullshit bingo players, and then you have people with actual talent. It pays to mind the difference when deciding to follow up on their advice.

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