Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Nash equilibriums and resistance to technology in higher education

Why does our university, and other higher education institutions, seem resistant to new technology?
It often seems to me that public higher education institutions are reluctant to adopt new technology even when this technology offers new long-term learning opportunities and enhanced learning outcomes down the road. In fact, it seems to me, that the university (I am using the term generically) is better at creating barriers to, rather than opportunities for, innovation. Why does this happen?

Perhaps the answer (or at least part of the answer) can be found in game theory. A Nash equilibrium is an important concept in game theory. A Nash equilibrium occurs when each player is pursuing their best possible strategy in the full knowledge of the strategies of all other players. In this case the "other players" can be viewed as other educators as well as other universities.

Once a Nash equilibrium is reached, nobody has any incentive to change their strategy. The Nash equilibrium becomes a barrier to change and forms a natural barrier to the adoption of new technologies and teaching methods. It is named after John Nash, a mathematician and Nobel prize-winning economist. Nash was the inspiration for the movie "A Beautiful Mind."

As long as our university, and other institutions of public higher education, exist in a Nash equilibrium there may be no incentive to change and a huge incentive not to change. There may also be a huge incentive to discourage voices that advocate change that (at the time the change is advocated) does not seem to offer an immediate significant advantage over the other players of the game. As long as the players of the game are collecting their rewards in the near-term for playing the game, perpetuation of the game without significant change may be simple human nature.

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