The internet as we know it, is less than 30 years old, Facebook less than half that and the first iPhone came out just over ten years ago. Despite its prevalence, the World Wide Web it is still an emerging technology. Even in the early days, educational institutions figured prominently, not only in the development of the internet itself, but also in terms of content. J.C. Licklider of MIT in 1962, discussing his “Galactic Network” concept, envisioned a globally interconnected set of computers through which everyone could quickly access data and programs from any site. By the mid-70’s research facilities began communicating via what would become the internet to share information (Leiner, Cerf, Clark, Kahn, Kleinrock, Lynch, Postel, Roberts, and Wolff. 1997).
Increasingly, students, teachers and instructional designers are turning to the internet for research and to facilitate learning. Udemy, one popular online educational platform claims to offer 65,000 courses to more than 10 million students. It is estimated that by 2019 at least 50% of all classes will be delivered online and in America roughly 77% of companies offer training online to help train their employees with 81% of learners partaking in online study for personal development (iMod Education, 2016).
As it pertains to education, in general, the internet provides newly developed opportunities to collect data, organize it and present it. The following are just some of examples:
The internet has broken the teacher and the student free from the limitations of the classroom. Education can occur almost anywhere at anytime. Studies have shown that learning can be effectively facilitated through a community who may be geographically and temporally separated to “construct meaning through sustained communication’’ via the web (Garrison et al., 2000, p. 89 as in Wankel, 2011. p. 21).
Not only has the internet moved learning beyond the classroom, it has moved content away from the reading/writing paradigm as well. Many courses do not have textbooks anymore, relying instead on web-based resources. Educational materials are now much more highly interactive and visual. This increases the challenge for the instructional designer in order to use these tools effectively. Content, packaging and delivery need to align and function across a variety of platforms, including smart-phones.
However, like any tool, there are potential downsides for this manner of education. Concerns include ensuring the veracity of information and protecting intellectual property rights of authors. Students in one study “were concerned of the possibility of mixing personal, trivial, or potentially inappropriate messages with class-related messages”, which in turn may lead to issues around identity theft or other forms of e-extortion (Wankel, 2011).
Several recent developments underscore why concerns are justified. For example, just yesterday (3/23/18), the FBI announced indictments against eight Iranian nationals, accused of hacking into computers around the world and stealing intellectual property. This comes just after it came to light that Cambridge Analytica, a data mining and analysis company, had used Facebook to access the personal information of millions of people. As more and more people live a part of their lives over the internet, incidents such as this raise concerns about the security of information transmitted over the world wide web.
Despite these concerns, it is highly unlikely that the internet genie will be put back into the proverbial bottle. The positive attributes of the web too far outweigh the negative and it is not uncommon for technological innovation to outpace sociological change. It wasn't until several years after the first cars were on the road before lawmakers began to consider topics such as excessive speed and engineers developed the stop sign. The Sociologist William Ogburn coined the term “cultural lag” to describe how elements of culture typically trail behind the changes that come from invention (William Fielding Ogburn, n.d.).
To paraphrase Shakespeare, the future is an undiscovered country. As it pertains to the internet, it is a wild and unsettled land; a Terra Incognita. As we move forward to the manifest destiny the this presents, it will be incumbent on teachers and instructional designers to educate learners about how to use the internet safely and correctly, in addition to whatever other subjects they may be teaching, just as a tradesman needs to learn how to properly use their tools.
Leiner, B. Cerf, V., Clark, D., Kahn, R., Kleinrock, L., Lynch, D., Postel, J., Roberts, L., and Wolff, S. (1997). A Brief history of the internet. [web log comment] Retrieved from: https://www.internetsociety.org/internet/history-internet/brief-history-internet/
iMod Education (2016, July 27). The Popularity of Online Courses & E-Learning in 2016 Based On Trends & Statistics. [web log comment]. Retrieved from: https://www.imodeducation.com/popularity-online-courses-e-learning-2016-based-trends-statistics/
Wankel, C. (2011). Educating Educators with Social Media. Bingley, UK: Emerald Group Publishing Limited.
William Fielding Ogburn (n.d.) [web log comment]. Retrieved from: http://www.asanet.org/about-asa/asa-story/asa-history/past-asa-officers/past-asa-presidents/william-f-ogburn
Visualizing the Early Internet (n.d.). [Web image]. Retrieved from: http://avl.ncsa.illinois.edu/project-archive/visualizing-the-early-internet
Kraft, John (2016, November 6). Terra Incognita. [web image]. Retrieved from: https://flatlanderspursuit.blogspot.com/2016/11/terra-incognita.html