About Me

Education, the knowledge society, the global market all connected through technology and cross-cultural communication skills are I am all about. I hope through this blog to both guide others and travel myself across disciplines, borders, theories, languages, and cultures in order to create connections to knowledge around the world. I teach at the University level in the areas of Business, Language, Communication, and Technology.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Creating the felt for the velcro to stick

I believe that colleges create a felt upon which the velcro of future learning can adhere. In other words, schooling should prepare students to be receptacle to learning from new environments, interactions, information, and experience. Like felt, new ideas will "stick" best to younger learners who have more room in their developing brains. However, as we age, the felt becomes crowded with knowledge we have accumulated. Older learners may need to change their thinking (lift the velcro from the felt) which can be difficult. In addition, like velcro, there will always be a bit of the felt that stays behind and makes it difficult for new information to stick.

So what is the "felt" of education that we should developing in education and training?

1) Learning is lifelong and does not stop with formal education. Even now my kids talk about how they look forward to getting out of school and never having to learn again. We need to start at an early age acculturating students with the idea that learning is lifelong and will never stop.

2) In a recent article in Thought & Action, Chad Hanson identified 4 area that businesses could learn from colleges and universities: innovation, structure/tradition, diverse lines of inquiry, and social relations. These are good places to start in creating a citizen that will be flexible enough to retool/relearn and be productive in a knowledge society.

Colleges and universities should prepare students to look beyond what is to what can be. Unfortunately, many businesses say they want an innovative employee, yet are looking for skills to answer just-in-time needs of the company. This tension can be resolved by identifying the parameters of a field, but at the same time, helping to push the parameters past current culture. In other words, it is not enough to teach students within a structure of current discipline or business structures, there must also be the push beyond what is known to what can be.

This is where the diverse lines of inquiry come in. Students must understand how to move between disciplines. The liberal arts education pushes students to work with different vocabulary, different knowledge bases, different rhetoric, epistemologies, and forms of inquiry which will develop them into employees that can move between departments, cultures, and work environments. My own research confirms that the most successful members of distributed groups were those that were able to move between and within groups. Their expertise in accessing resources, translating them for others, and bringing that knowledge back to their departments made them invaluable.

The social networking by employees are only one aspect of of social relations. Living with a diverse population, working with those of varying abilities, and understanding the way a community works are all skills colleges develop which can be brought into the workplace.

3) Colleges and universities require students to learn things that may not make much sense to a student today, but which may be important for future environments. I think, for example, of the economics class I took, which did not make sense until I was in the working world. The content was not as important as the theoretical basis upon which the content (which has changed in the 30 years since I took the course) was based. The same is true of computer science, which was in its infancy when I studied it. Many of the models and basic understanding of programming remains the same, although the languages I learned are no longer used.

While some people complain that colleges are too theoretical, students without that theoretical underpinning cannot keep up with changes in the field, the environment, tools, and knowledge. These theories make the felt of learning flexible and strong, allowing for change and the ability for learning to stick.

Learning in the future

In order be successful, our educational system needs to create life long learners, who are flexible, able to see possibilities, understand the social structure of knowledge (including transactional and negotiate knowledge), able to access resources though social networks they have created (partaged knowledge), be able to move between disciplines, learning the language and rhetorics of those disciplines, and, most importantly, develop a positive attitude towards lifelong learning and self-regulated learning.

To accomplish this, the educational system, especially undergraduate education, needs to continue to require students to have a liberal arts basis so students can develop knowledge within the context of multiple disciplines. They must also develop problem solving skills, communication competencies,technology/digital literacies, and critical reading/thinking skills. This needs to be accomplished through exposure to multiple environments and unstructured problems (e.g. project based learning). The focus needs to move from content to either content within context or skill based learning.

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