Death of learning in universities: Part II. Explanation, origins, rampaging researchers and catastrophic consultants

This is a follow-up to a post from yesterday that appears to have struck a chord. This post offers some additional explanation about the purpose and origins of the post and adds two more archetypes.


As explained in this comment on the original post, the intent wasn’t to suggest that there is no place for project managers, leaders/senior executive, quality assurance folk, or academics. It was also not my intent to suggest that all project managers are blinkered etc.

The intent was to suggest that when taken to extreme – as in the archetypes – then this is a major factor in the death of learning and teaching in universities. I also suggest that, as we’re all human, most of us will have suffered archetypal moments. I would also suggest that increasingly the environment in many universities (especially those not in the upper echelon) is actively encouraging these archetypes.


A surprisingly large number of people asked whether I’d had a bad day yesterday, the obvious explanation for such a negative post. Actually it was a good day. The previous day, however, I had to fill out course evaluation forms for four courses I’d just completed as part of Graduate Diploma in Learning and Teaching. On reflection, most of the problems I experienced in those courses were not due to the academics being “bad”, but due to flaws in the learning and teaching system. Flaws most often introduced by (or because of) the archetypes. Flaws that the system would not pick up.

Some additional archetypes

A bit more thinking identifies a couple of more archetypes.

Catastrophic consultant

Most often brought in by the “strategic” leader, the catastrophic consultant is paid to bring his/her expertise around the planned flagship project. The catastrophic consultant often has no idea about higher education or the specific institution. Their ideas are based on experience at another organisation (e.g. “when I worked at a software firm all the Xs did Ys. That will work at a university?”) or a theoretical principle.

Quality learning and teaching is not their concern. Implementing the flagship project is.

Rampaging researcher

Comes in at least two sub-species

  1. The ARC junkie.
    Teaching, what’s that? Journal papers, PhD students and ARC grants are the world for this archetype. Teaching is little more than an expense item on a grant application. The ultimate aim of the ARC junkie is to get a research only appointment. These are the folk that ask, “Why do you spend so much time on teaching?”
  2. The Nutritionist (or a little out of date, The ALTC junkie).
    This is the L&T researcher. A list of L&T grants as long as your arm. On the editorial board of L&T journals and societies. If this is the “Web 2.0” year, then they are working on a “learning and Web 2.0” paper and helping the university develop a “learning and Web 2.0” policy. Are expert in all L&T theories and terminology. Firmly believe that they could improve all L&T at the university. If only the academics would all restrict their diets to bran, fruit and veges and water and would jog 5 miles each morning.

One thought on “Death of learning in universities: Part II. Explanation, origins, rampaging researchers and catastrophic consultants

  1. M-H

    Oh, I agreed with many of your comments; I wanted to point out that there are other models that are working. But yes, we are dogged with some requirements that make us tend to the ‘quality nazi’, and it is really hard trying to avoid the urge to paint the project outcomes as better than they are. But one of the difficulties that I experience is ‘selling’ the value of eLearning to faculties who aren’t interested in T&L at all – I guess they have a predominance of ‘idiot academics’. It’s hard not to paint them all with the same brush, and think “If they’d only listen to us…’. My view is that there is a generational change is needed, and will come. But I will be retired before it’s worked its way through, so I just keep plugging on.

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