Online learning and the infinite replicability of digitised knowledge

Benjamin Habib, Rebecca Miles, Nicholas Pawsey

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Knowledge is central to the work and currency of universities. Through teaching and research, the project of the university incorporates both the generation of new knowledge and the transfer of knowledge to students and the public. However, contemporary universities, like other information-provision industries, are grappling with the nearzero marginal cost of the production of information that has arisen through digitisation, modularisation and other online technologies. In effect, information is now infinitely replicable, an outcome which has significant implications for knowledge transmission and the provision of online education.
Online learning practices frequently demonstrate a misunderstanding of the possibilities and limitations posed by the infinite replicability of information. Often they are employed by university managers as labour productivity tools to
de-skill lecturing work and save money on labour costs by breaking the lecturing role into component tasks, some of which can be automated. As an outgrowth of this productivity agenda, automated assessment tasks are also often
promoted by teaching and learning departments as a time-saving teaching short cut to increase the “efficiency” of assessment. This leads to two questions, one commercial and the other pedagogical. Firstly, if information is
infinitely replicable online, what is the value-added component of online learning that makes it worth paying for? Secondly, what online learning models and assessment tasks maximise the value-added component of online
education when information is infinitely replicable?
Our article presents a discussion of these questions, structured in four parts: First, the article reflects on the evolution of teaching delivery in higher education in response to constraints on funding of the higher education
sector. Second, it introduces the concept of the infinite replicability of digitised information and evaluates the implications of this phenomenon for higher education delivery. Third, it argues for a pedagogical approach to online
and blended learning that incorporates an understanding of the challenges of infinitely replicable information in the online environment. Finally, the article posits teaching interventions trialled by the authors in the disciplines of
international relations, education and business, based on models of online learning with a constructivist and andragogical focus. These interventions have been designed to help create deep learning experiences that extend
beyond knowledge transmission which provide a tangible value-added educational component to online learning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-13
Number of pages13
JournalFusion Journal
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2016


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