I’ve been thinking lately about the model that sees education as an industry, with students as the product. Or , really, educated students as the product. Or that model’s cousin, which sees education as a business with students as the customers or consumers. It’s not a new model, by any means. It’s one that’s always been popular among conservative critics of education (naturally enough, since it’s a completely capitalist, and completely anti-liberal model).

It’s a model that I find fundamentally in opposition to any liberal philosophy of education (including my own). If we see education in a constructivist (or connectivist) light, if we are interested in a process for students of growth and deeper understanding, then a focus on “delivery” of a “product” is a focus aimed in totally the wrong direction.

But what’s been bringing this to my attention lately is the (to me) startling prevalence of this model in discussions of educational technology. Even sources like Sloan-C, which is (I think) generally faculty-driven, and which really should know better, embed right there in their (careful, this is a pdf link) “five pillars” (“learning effectiveness, cost effectiveness, access, student satisfaction, faculty satisfaction”) ideas which, while important, don’t seem to me to be have kind of organic, creative, developmental emphasis which I consider so essential in my own teaching, and in any good teaching I remember experiencing or witnessing.


These pillars (and all the different phrasing of similar ideas) are, certainly important. And it is, maybe, important to break things down for purposes of measurement, analysis, and even assessment. But I worry about, always, and part of me rebels against, always, the idea of breaking down too much.

I think often about the comment of someone at one of our Visible Knowledge Project presentations.

I don’t want everything to be ‘visible.’ Some of what teaching really is, at its best, is necessarily invisible. It’s not all science. Some of it is art, and you can’t just take away the art.

It’s a challenge to keep hold of that “invisible” stuff, while still trying to look rigorously and critically–to make teaching and learning (especially with technology) a subject of serious scholarly inquiry.

And I think it’s a mistake, in working with that challenge, to fall too deeply into a “business” or “corporate” model. We’re not doing the same thing, in a liberal education, as job training.