Another problem facing Digital Education is its tendency to sustain or even foster our neoliberal society. The way we live today makes us sick and exploits others. We are taught to be consumers, unable to see the inhumanity of the system – unable to see that we can change it. Digital Education is part of this framework.
Hamilton and Friesen, analyzing technology in its broader social and philosophical context, urge us not to look at technology as an independent tool, but as part of human history and development.
„Technology is not independent of society, as essentialism claims, but develops as a concrete response to social interests, claims and values. But neither is technology merely a set of passive tools, as instrumentalism insists – rather, it structures human activity in ways that are not entirely in the control of users.“ (Hamilton, Friesen, p.3)
Schools and universities today increasingly operate as businesses, shifting their reason of existence from educational to commercial ends. In order to deliver needed fiscal results, best outcomes need to be produced with as little financial means as possible in order to increase profits and to stay competitive not only on a national but on an increasingly international level. Technology plays a key role in this development, for example by reducing costs caused by what is often labeled human resources and and human capital, but also by making use of data collection and analysis to monitor and promote an institution’s performance in comparison to the market’s competitors, as Selwyn points out:
„Most significant, perhaps, are the pervasive forms of data work that now exist across regional and national education systems.“ Among these „league tables“. (Selwyn, Learning, Media and Technology, p. 66)
So education, driven by technology, not only operates in a neoliberal society, but is an integral part of it, educating and forming scholars to function within this society, sustaining and fostering the rules of this system.
„The use of OER can be perceived […] as a further refinement in the exercise of power. The OER movement needs to acknowledge its own discursive alignment with the marketisation and commodification of education, and the ways in which this technology constructs the learning subject as human capital.“ (Knox, p.830)
„Inside the university, economic and technological interdependence increasingly restrict human agency and the possibility for emancipation.“ (Hall, p. 1009)
In other words: Universities try to reduce costs and increase revenue by using technology in teaching. This technology not only limits the agency of the teacher.It also limits the agency of the student. In a set frame defined by money and technology, free thinking and emancipation of the individual can not be possible.
The ironic co-existence of freedom and limitation (or force) in education was already seen by Immanuel Kant 200 years ago, when he summarised the aim and limitation of Bildung by asking:
„How can we teach freedom when force is involved?“
The answer is the ideal of Bildung, as Kant himself concludes:
„Children should be educated not for the current state of mankind, but for a future state of affairs, which is possibly a better one.“ (Kant, 1983 (originally 1893), p. 707)
So schools and universities should not teach us how to fit into the current system. We should be taught to challenge current beliefs. In order to be able to this, we must be taught to be free, independent and critical. An education based on and pursuing the ideals of Bildung will help us achieve this.