Tony Bates: “Is there a future in online learning?” A response

Posted on Sep 18, 2015

Tony Bates: “Is there a future in online learning?” A response

The following is a response to Tony Bates intriguing article “Is there a future in online learning?”. In it, he makes a case for suggesting that “There is no (long-term) future in being an online learning specialist.”

Mr. Bates sounds an alarm about the lack of training for online instructors, and the marginalization of instructional designers. He states,

“In the future …, most teachers and instructors will need to be experts in subject areas, pedagogy, and learning technologies. These will all be integral parts of their jobs. We need to train post-graduates from the start in these areas, and to provide a two or three year probation period where they are monitored and supervised by more experienced teachers and instructors.”

I agree. He asks us to predict the future. I therefore offer the following continuation of the discussion based on a model career experience in the commercial post-production business, and its transformation in the late 1990s-early 2000s into something vastly different than it is today.


 Tony – A few comments, but first, I should mention that I am an instructional designer for a continuing education college in NH (UG, Master’s, Bost-Bacc) where >70% of our enrollment credits are online. My official title is Rich Media Specialist, which was an ID position created with the forethought that online teaching and learning will be something more than a forklifted set of hourlong lectures and online submission assignments.

Having worked in TV commercial and broadcast post-production for about 20 years prior to my ID career, I am seeing an emerging pattern in higher education teaching that might follow in the same footsteps as post-production.

For example, up until about 2002, post-production video editors used proprietary editing systems (both mechanical and computer-based) that no one else had any clue as to how they worked. We pretty much could charge whatever rate we wanted because we were the voodoo masters. But in the year 2002 or so — known as the DV Revolution — everyone had the ability to shoot video, hook it up via firewire to a laptop, use cheap editing tools (iMovie or Final Cut Pro), and suddenly EVERYONE was an editor and producer.

The result was that the means of production for the vast majority of decent paying work went “in-house” and to freelancers (“adjunct”, if you will), and boutique editors no longer held the leverage in the market they once enjoyed. Thus, the editors who only knew how to do simple cuts and dissolves were muscled out of the remaining market by younger editors who learned how to use advanced titling tools, Photoshop, AfterEffects animation, compositing, sound design, color correction, music editing, and final mastering/digital output.

By 2007, the effects of this turbulence (and a Screen Actors Guild strike, and 9/11) caused nearly every facility I had worked at to go out of business, and many of the foundation editing companies in NYC closed. It was total bloodshed.

And yet there has never been more post-production happening now than in the history of humanity.

What this all means in terms of the future of the “online specialist” and instructional designers is that there will always be a need for teaching professionals in all modes of engagement. However, there will be a shift in the amount of work available, with jobs moving towards individuals who more are able to apply multiple skill sets to the process. This shift will be driven by a combination a market forces, access to cheap/free technology, and the emergence of a new generation of teachers who have been using advanced communication tools and methods since they came of age.

I can’t say which facet will be the leading force in this, but from the perspective of one who works directly with new instructors in designing their online courses, there are more today who walk in the door with advanced communication skills than ever before. It is only a matter of attrition before those who limit themselves to only traditional methods of engagement will be trapped in an evaporating pond.

My prediction of the future will be that there will be more online learning channels available to people than ever before, more teachers available to teach them, less centralized quality control (“good enough is good enough”), and more fragmentation in the process of conferring a degree. There will be more work for teachers than ever before, it will be easier to facilitate at one’s convenience, but for less and less pay.

The only people, IMHO, who will emerge unscathed in this will be the people who have the talent to comprehend the changing landscape of communication and how it can be soundly employed in a teaching and learning context. Those people will be the ones who “read the manuals”, evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of various tools, and can teach instructors on using them well.

Those people will be instructional designers.

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