The Partnership Portal Concept 

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"'The next big killer application for the Internet is going to be education. Education over the Internet is going to be so big it is going to make e-mail usage look like a rounding error' in terms of the Internet capacity it will consume." Thomas L. Friedman, New York Times, quoting John Chambers of Cisco Systems, 1999.

"Irrespective of how you measure it, education is big business. America's investment in lifelong learning amounts to more than $665 billion a year--more than is spent on national defense. Colleges and universities earn $175 billion a year making them twice as big a 'business' as airlines. Since 1992, education has ranked fifth in U.S. cross-border sale of services… College enrollments are expected to expand by 20 percent, college revenues by 50 percent and business spending on education and training by 35 percent." -- Diana G. Oblinger, formerly of IBM, CIO for University of North Carolina, "Hype, Hyperarchy, and Higher Education," 1999.

"Lifelong learning does not just mean more of the same for the rest of our lives. It should change our approach to initial higher education… Distance learning can be a superior form of education to the classroom lecturing that passes for higher education today." -- Sir John Daniel, Vice Chancellor of The Open University, "Lifelong Learning for an Ignorant World," 1999.

"Those of us who have worked with remote delivery of courses, using group communications and the Web, have found that remote students can do at least as well as on-campus students, and in some cases better… There is enough evidence from experiments and field trials to consider the above a scientific finding." -- Murray Turoff, Distinguished Professor of Computer and Information Science, New Jersey Institute of Technology, "Education, Commerce, Communications: The Era of Competition," 1999.

The Partnership Portal Concept

Due to the globalization of higher education, many predict that industry will develop a massive "educational portal" within a year. Such a portal would enable potential students to visit, get high quality comparisons and reviews of online courses, modules, certificates, or programs offered, and allow the portal's resources to assist them with all services needed. Students would no longer be required to wade through the individual Web sites, of many different institutions, searching for sources of online learning. The massive portal concept is unlikely to provide the one-on-one connections needed between learners and educational institutions and between businesses and educational institutions, however. One way to offset this is through what we term the partnership portal concept. The partnership portal concept focuses on connecting learners with educational institutions and with e-mentors at these institutions. The primary goal of a partnership portal is to increase the quality and quantity of citizen e-learning and achievement. To this end, it aims to link every citizen with an e-mentor for the purpose of meeting that citizen's lifelong learning needs. [Is a partnership portal to be used in conjunction with a massive portal, or in place of it?]

Figure 1 shows the major components of the partnership portal and the role of the e-mentor. Associations and businesses indicate the competencies needed, and the citizen brings his or her current education, training, and experience. The e-mentor helps to identify the gap between what the citizen knows and needs to know and helps to identify the educational resources available from a variety of entities (e.g., higher education institutions, corporations, etc.) to meet the learning need.

A Local Case in Point—Minnesota

Minnesota is experiencing wonderful economic times. However, in order to be responsive and retain a leadership role, the state must place emphasis on education for the knowledge age. This means building educational initiatives that meet the needs of the 21st century learner; building a curriculum that meets the needs of citizens, business, industry, and society; and developing the technological infrastructure to enable an e-mentor model to be designed, developed, and delivered to every citizen of Minnesota. At the local level, this requires that we develop a partnership portal based on connectivity and community, and the first phase of such a portal would be to connect citizens with e-mentors at our institutions.

As is likely the case with most states, Minnesota faces several economic challenges. One of these is the emergence of a global, technology-driven, skills-based economy. This is accompanied by a continuing shortage of skilled labor. The findings of a recent Citizens League report show that Minnesota’s new economic conditions mandate that more effort be put into educating students and training workers for the demands of high-skill jobs, and that both public and private agencies change their mindsets to better reflect the demands of the current workforce (Citizens League Report on Workforce Training, 11-22-99). These needs require that Minnesota develop a partnership portal that deregulates [Deregulates what?]and prioritizes[Prioritizes what?] around the citizen in all aspects of the learning enterprise. This requires the state to commit to an integrative, collaborative model that reinforces partnerships and the synergy that they generate. It requires that higher education develop a model built on access, quality, outcomes, and cost containment while acting in a responsive, thorough, and flexible manner. Again, our proposed partnership concept focuses on connecting the citizen to the learning enterprise.

The Back End

The success of the partnership portal concept is dependent on how well we address and construct the "back end" so that the partnership portal's front end appears seamless, and learners and e-mentors can meet, work, locate, and use the resources. To create this seamless back end, those entities working on such a portal must be innovative in addressing needs in the areas of content that integrates K-12, two- and four-year educational opportunities, and lifelong learning needs with an economic development strategy; choice that expands learner access to educational opportunities through a human, hands-on approach; connections that link the development of e-learning resources to the economic needs of the area, state, region, and nation; capacity that builds on multiple levels, including human, infrastructure, mental models, fiscal, etc.;

and policies that promote e-mentoring and e-learning. These needs obviously cannot all be addressed at once; however, we list them here to provide a means for those systems interested in this concept to begin working on foundational areas.


To develop programs in response to citizen need currently requires navigating through a myriad of levels and policies that often takes years. Given the relentless pace of the global economy, our citizens currently are not well served in terms of receiving the e-mentoring and e-learning resources they need.

The primary goal of a partnership portal is to increase the quality and quantity of citizen e-learning and achievement. Such a portal will link every citizen with an e-mentor for the purpose of meeting that citizen's lifelong learning needs. The partnership portal we propose would build e-learning modules and relationships, not just around traditional educational models, but in partnership with the emerging training and educational needs of our citizens.

[Can you provide concrete examples? If you’re proposing an actual portal be built, who would you suggest get involved in it, and what would they do? What precise kinds of resources would you include? Who would have access to it? Who would you expect to use it, and why? How would it address the problems you see currently in Minnesota, and how would it help to ready the state for the future?]