We see it time and time again. In every industry, from technology to education, the evolution of the systems approach. With all of the chatter in the education industry, it is always important to underscore the fact that innovation in itself is merely a phase - and important one, at that - of a larger systems approach. Innovation historically sets a systems approach cycle into motion, which inevitably is followed the integration of new innovations, the convergence of many tools into one platform, followed by the adoption of that new convergence. What do these terms really mean?
Innovation is the creation of a new paradigm, invention or a new way of doing something. Innovation often brings new tools to bear on a task. In education, the online learning platform - or even distance learning, as we once called it - was a true innovation. It was a play on the "place" P of the famous Four P's in marketing, changing the very distribution system of learning.
Integration is the bringing together of new innovations and advances into existing systems. It allows the new innovation to be blended or woven into some meaningful system or structure. We see this in education through hybrid learning programs that foster both virtual and physical learning environments.
Convergence is where innovation gets the most traction. It is at the point of convergence where several systems or platforms, not just one, become integrated into a fully functional suite of accessible programs or tools. In education, we see convergence a reality in that when colleges streamline and successfully build degree platforms that assume integration.
Adoption is the final stage, at least until a new innovation is spawned. It is marked by the widespread adoption of the new systems, creating a new normal. The education world now readily (or maybe hesitantly) adopts several different but equal paths to a quality experience. This could include a series of programs that can be accessible in residence, virtually, in hybrid format, accelerated, or perhaps delivered experientially.
Some new innovations never make it past the first or second phase of the systems evolution. The trick, as always, is to spot an innovation that has both the legs and the stamina to see the complete evolution all the way to adoption. From a strategic standpoint, it becomes important to gain that needed clarity on innovations, if at all possible, before investing too heavily into them.
Education as an industry has a tendency to be faddish about innovations. I remember the first time I visited a school with totally retooled open classrooms. The walls were only three feet high, and I could see at least twelve operating classrooms by looking down the hall at one time. Two years later I visited the same school only to find the classrooms closed again with educational administrators claiming that the experiment just wasn't practical or conducive to great learning. The challenge, as always, is finding the sweet spot between innovations that have lasting power for integration, convergence, and adoption, and yet getting ahead of the competitive curve in the process.
Now, if someone could come up with a new, innovative funding model making high quality education accessible for all and paid for in an sustainable manner. I would invest heavily in that!