Shift Doesn’t Just Happen: Breaking Out of Imaginative Gridlock

On occasion I have a problem associated with the firing of the neurons in my brain. Some event triggers my amygdala, releases dopamine stimulating my frontal lobe—and I enter into a state of hyperarousal. My thoughts go into hyperdrive, and I charge over the hill like I am Braveheart leading an uprising against Edward the Longshanks. 

Some see this characteristic as me being overzealous. I prefer to think of myself as…enthusiastic. Either way—at some point I see a need to pause, reflect, and not lose a sense of balance. 

My most recent “Braveheart” event led to my last post, Imaginative Gridlock, on the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) – a concept coined by Klaus Schwab which creates excitement – as well as vagueness and ambiguity. No matter what name we give it, the events of the 4IR will have far-reaching consequences.

Shifting Technologies

As far back as 2011, the Center for American Progress predicted the emerging disruptions of the 4IR will present an “[…] opportunity to rethink many of the age-old assumptions about higher education […] to create institutions that operate very differently and more appropriately to address the country’s challenges.”

As 2019 begins, we see some indications of these changes, including Education 3.0 with its confluence of neuroscience, cognitive psychology, and educational technology. The idea of the Massive Open Online course (MOOC) paved the way for sharable, competency based micro-credentials, digital badges, and nano-degrees as viable alternatives. Emerging learning platforms such as Singularity University, Udemy, Udacity, EdX, and Coursera offer flexible, on-demand online learning. 

When predicted changes such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented reality, virtual reality, open systems and open pedagogy, and blockchain digital ledgers start coming at unprecedented accelerated rates—we have to consider if higher education has the capacity to adapt. 

In Imaginative Gridlock, I asked if innovation, seeking new answers to existing questions, will be enough to see Higher ED through the challenges of the 4IR.

What may be required are new models—a paradigm shift. 

ELearning is in a key position to contribute to the leadership needed to break the gridlock and lead Higher ED in a 4IR paradigm shift. 

Getting Unstuck

Now that I’ve had my Braveheart moment, let’s pause and reflect to find that needed a sense of balance. 

The reasons organizations become stuck are not intellectual—they are emotional. How can those of us in eLearning lead these gridlock breaking paradigm shifts? Especially since we’re often not the ones on the bridge steering the ship out of the harbor. 

We may not be the captain, but after more than two decades of experiences in a vast array of fields the depth of our understanding of learning is deep. 

Often when Higher Ed faculty and administration consider eLearning they focus on the technology rather than our understanding of learning—which is a misguided practice. But for the moment this is OK. 

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn developed a simple cycle for explaining how paradigm shifts occur. First, an organization finds itself in a situation where their current model isn’t solving its central problems of sustainability. When unsolved anomalies appear, the model cannot explain them. Finally, leaders help new models of understanding emerge out of these struggles. The new models are new paradigms. 

In the early days, online education struggled to be seen as legitimate. Many thought of it as inferior to the traditional face-to-face classroom. But for-profits like University of Phoenix recognized that online course delivery represented the logical conclusion of their drive to accessibility. But the delivery of online required a strategy—out of this struggle, instructional design and eLearning emerged. 

By 2017, 42 percent of Higher ED faculty taught on an online course for credit. This experience with the modality created a paradigm shift. In a 2017 survey, 77 percent of the faculty who taught online say they now think more critically about engaging students, 73 percent make better use of multimedia, and 48 percent gained comfort with techniques like active or project-based learning. 

In the 4IR, a fusion of technologies will converge and influence each other to create a synergy leading to situations where the current models of Higher ED cannot solve their central problems of sustainability. But just like online education, technology may be a driving force as the 4IR unfolds. The knowledge of learning methodologies will be central to breaking the gridlock leading to the needed paradigm shifts. 

The technology will be what brings the higher education to the table with eLearning. ELearning may not be the captain but we are the ones who hold the keys to change. 

Do you rush into the future without pausing to reflect? How can eLearning help the shifts looming on the horizon? Let us know.

References (n.d.). The Kuhn cycle. Retrieved from

Lederman, D., & Jaschik, S. (2013, August 27). Skepticism abounds: A survey of faculty attitudes on technology. Retrieved from

Author: Gary Tucker, Executive Director of eLearning

An early adopter in online education, Gary helped develop and deliver one of the first fully online Masters degrees in Educational Technology. Still an early adopter, he now depends on the expertise of his dynamic eLearning team. When off-the-clock, he reads and rides his bicycle.

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