Education in the Digital Age

min read


Rice University

Education in the Digital Age

By Joel Thierstein, Executive Director, Connexions

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Education is moving into the digital age. Pedagogies have changed to engage the latest digital technologies. The methods of distribution are now a blend between face-to-face and some other combination of virtual interfaces. The content is moving from traditional text-based learning to text-plus-multimedia. The community is now involved in the development of content. One of the leaders in this transition is Connexions.

Connexions ( is an open-source platform and open-access repository for open educational resources, enabling the creation, sharing, modification, and vetting of open educational material accessible to anyone, anywhere, anytime via the World Wide Web. Since 1999, Connexions has pioneered digital education. Connexions' global knowledge ecosystem, where anyone can create materials, is free of charge. Connexions' modular interactive information is in use by colleges and universities, community colleges, primary and secondary schools, and lifelong learners worldwide. Connexions' materials are available in many languages, including English, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, Vietnamese, Italian, French, Portuguese, and Thai. Through a partnership with innovative publisher QOOP, Connexions is part of an exciting new distribution system that allows for print-on-demand and accelerates the delivery of educational materials into classrooms worldwide.

The world of education is still in transition; the move to an all-digital environment will not be completed for some time to come. The cost of creating high-end multimedia content, although coming down, is still prohibitive for all but the very edge of the marketplace. Thus, print and text-based content remains a major part of the education world. Connexions bridges the print/text-based and multimedia worlds. Connexions' XML-based platform, which enables the development of the most sophisticated multimedia content, includes a print engine that allows materials to be printed on-demand.

With the modular nature of the content in Connexions, along with authors’ ability to enter their own content, material can be adapted to meet the individual needs of the user. Through Connexions, users can adapt educational material to make it culturally relevant, to have it meet the learning style of the information consumer, and/or to make the material grade- or age-level appropriate without having to create the entire piece of content from scratch. The combination of repurposable, modularizable content and Connexions' print-on-demand system makes it easy for Connexions users to produce customized, fit-for-purpose textbooks.

Connexions is also redefining knowledge creation. The community is now involved. Everyone is welcome to create knowledge and place it into the knowledge commons. The inclusion of the entire global population into the knowledge-creation process leads to the greater probability that the overall advancement of the knowledge base will occur at a higher rate than if only selected members of society can participate in the creation of knowledge. However, the probability is likely to increase only if a forum for vetting exists whereby some of the material can be filtered while the possibility for everyone to participate is maintained. With Connexions' lensing feature, both traditional and nontraditional vetters can endorse material in a variety of ways, thus allowing for the filtering of information so that users can more easily manage the volume of information now available in the digital world.

Because of Connexions’ intellectual property licensing structure, content can not only be created by the community but also be re-created and advanced by the community. Connexions has chosen the Creative Commons Attribution (by) license ( to permit material to be reused by anyone, anywhere, anytime—provided that users attribute their adaptation to the original author. This engages the entire world, whether for-profit or not-for-profit, in the re-creation and advancement of knowledge.

Finally, Connexions has also taken the next steps in the digital world by implementing permanent versioning: all content that has ever been placed into the Connexions repository is still in the repository. Permanent versioning gives educators the confidence to use Connexions' material in their learning efforts, secure in the knowledge that the version of the material they select will always be available to them and to their students, even though the material can be repurposed and updated.

The rate of change in the world’s knowledge base and the integration of that knowledge base into the educational space have added to the increasingly dynamic nature of the education sector. Digital ecosystems like Connexions have facilitated the development of new paradigms by which educational content is created, used, and distributed. These developments have radically improved the likelihood that everyone can engage in the world of education.

© 2009 Joel Thierstein