I con­sid­er the spe­cial task force at MIT that I described in Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series to be a spe­cial event, main­ly because it could affect all of edu­ca­tion in mul­ti­ple (and tan­gi­ble) ways. It shows real lead­er­ship vision. For my final post in this series, I would like to pull back the men­tal cam­era lens and make one impor­tant obser­va­tion that applies to cor­po­ra­tions and organ­i­sa­tions around the world. And it’s this: the future is inevitable and the best way to suc­ceed in the future is to set aside your fears of what’s to come. As I’ve men­tioned before, hope is so much more pow­er­ful than fear when it comes to lead­ing any­one to what’s next.

Bring­ing this back to MIT and the world of edu­ca­tion: it’s obvi­ous that the Inter­net is already hav­ing a pro­found impact on how peo­ple learn. One way to con­firm this state­ment is to jump to Tony Karrer’s web­site and see the stag­ger­ing list of con­fer­ences that have been held or are sched­uled to be held focussing on the sub­ject of eLearn­ing. Train­ing Mag­a­zine Net­work is anoth­er way to take the strong pulse of this trend. How­ev­er, one could ask why MIT would feel the need to con­sid­er any kind of rad­i­cal change. After all, a year ago, Bloomberg news report­ed that MIT was sec­ond only to Har­vard — in terms of glob­al pres­tige (Uni­ver­si­ty of Cam­bridge was ranked third). Was there real­ly a need to assign a task force to decide in one year what MIT need­ed to do to remain a leader? Could MIT not have stayed with what it was already doing (includ­ing pop­u­lar eLearn­ing pro­grammes)? Couldn’t MIT have sim­ply wait­ed for some­one else to make a big move first toward the future of edu­ca­tion, then fol­lowed?

visionI have no spe­cial inside knowl­edge about MIT, but I feel safe in say­ing that some of those in the fac­ul­ty and admin­is­tra­tion there must have felt that it would be far bet­ter to take on the atti­tude I have encoun­tered many times else­where: if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it. Such a point of view is dri­ven more by a fear of change than by con­fi­dence in the long-term via­bil­i­ty of the enter­prise. How these peo­ple must have felt when MIT Pres­i­dent L. Rafael Reif chal­lenged their view by announc­ing the task force and say­ing, “[W]e have a tru­ly his­toric oppor­tu­ni­ty to bet­ter serve soci­ety by rein­vent­ing what we do and how we do it.” Oppor­tu­ni­ty?

Yes! That is the point to stress here in my clos­ing obser­va­tions (for now) about this ini­tia­tive. No mat­ter how suc­cess­ful you have been or now are, the future is inevitable. With the future, hope­ful­ly, comes progress — and change. One can resist the future or try to shape it. This applies to peo­ple on an indi­vid­ual lev­el (where is your career going?), and it applies to organ­i­sa­tions, even nations. And the best tool you have to make the future your friend is to devel­op an oppor­tu­ni­ty fore­sense of what you and your firm could be, might be, should be. Rest­ing on your lau­rels is not only a tired cliché, it’s poi­son when it comes to progress.

In clos­ing, I salute MIT for what it’s doing in terms of shap­ing the future of edu­ca­tion. It shows vision on the part of its pres­i­dent and those who have tak­en his chal­lenge to heart and are mov­ing, now, to find MIT’s next. If I had one hum­ble bit of advice to share with MIT, it would be based on a Japan­ese proverb I like. MIT must con­vert its emerg­ing vision into action. MIT’s task force is sure to come up with some foun­da­tion-shak­ing ideas. They can be dis­cussed and debat­ed (as many in acad­eme love to do) for years, or they can be act­ed upon with appro­pri­ate imme­di­a­cy. Thus, my advice is in the form of this proverb: “Vision with­out action is a day­dream. Action with­out vision is a night­mare.”

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