Category Archives: Higher Education

Is Gen Z Prepared for the Real World or Not?

This weekend’s Job Market Column, “Make Way for Generation Z,” by Alexandra Levit intrigued me frankly because of the overall optimism of the piece. Given today’s heated educational climate, with all the focus on and anxiety over testing, for example, I was surprised by all the positivity. To be honest, I don’t hear too many of the Gen Zs in my own personal orbit expressing a great deal of optimism.

Levit noted that this group of kids, the Gen Zs (born between 1990 and early 2000s), are overall:

  • Independent
  • Proficient with technology but prefer face-to-face interaction
  • Driven
  • Schooled in emotional intelligence
  • Diverse

The essence of the article appeared to be summed up in the following quote by a Gen Z conference attendee characterizing her fellow Gen Zs: “It’s an upbeat group that’s full of passion.”

I decided to investigate a bit and try to understand just how prepared these kids feel about the future. If we take into account Z’s view on their high school experiences, their attitudes about college and the future, and the perspective from the workplace, we appear to be looking at quite a complex character.

“Unprepared for College and Work”

Not surprisingly, there are some Zs who are expressing dissatisfaction with their current lot and appear to be less optimistic than those Levit met. Released in December 2014, the “Rising to the Challenge: Are High School Graduates Prepared for College and Work?” report was based on an Achieve survey of 1,347 graduates from the high school classes of 2011 through 2014. Many of the student respondents report being unprepared for college and the workplace, specifically citing:

  • At least some gaps in preparation for college work (83%)
  • Large gaps in preparation for college work (49%)
  • A lack of clear expectations of the work required in college and the working world (two-thirds)
  • Not enough encouragement to take the challenging courses that would help them later on (two-thirds)

Admittingly, these students are being asked to comment on their high school experience as pertains to college and the workplace, but the overall sense of the report leaves us assuming these kids are not feeling entirely prepared for their future. How does this mesh with what else we’re hearing about Gen Z?

“Entrepreneurial and Self-Directed”

Another poll making the rounds is the “Meet Generation Z Poll” conducted in October 2014 by Northeastern University for their fourth national innovation survey. This poll queried 1,015 16- to 19- year olds on their views on higher education, civic engagement, public policy technology, financial literacy and person aspirations.

According to the poll, these respondents expressed “a strong desire to work for themselves, learn about entrepreneurship and design their own programs od study in college.” They specifically cited:

  • Strong expectations to work for themselves (42%)
  • The need for colleges to teach entrepreneurship (63%)
  • A desire for colleges to allow students to design their own majors (72%)

In terms of this group of respondents’ attitudes about college itself:

  • 81% said college is very or extremely important to their future career
  • 65% believe college is worthwhile and believe that the benefits outweigh the cost

These kids’ attitudes seem to mesh better with those Levit describes in her article.

Will the Real Gen Z Please Stand Up?

Clearly the two surveys differ in their goals and demographics. Yet, you have to wonder where one group is getting its overall optimism while the other is expressing mostly frustration. Can we assume that if students who answered the first survey were instead asked to answer the second that their responses would have been as positive? Or if we asked the kids in the “Meet Generation Z Poll” to evaluate how well high school prepared them for college, would they come up with the same responses as that cohort did? Obviously we are not looking at a level playing field. What can we do to better prepare all Gen Zs for a better future?

Leveling the Playing Field

The respondents to Achieve’s survey supplied a list of their own recommendations for change:

  1. Provide opportunities for real-world learning (90 percent);
  2. Communicate early in high school the courses needed for college careers (87 percent);
  3. Give opportunities to take challenging courses (86 percent);
  4. Provide more help for those who need extra tutoring (83 percent);
  5. Have an assessment late in high school so students can find out what they need for college (77 percent).

We know that these approaches are being carried out in certain schools but obviously not enough. So, not only in college but also in the workplace, we are seeing a range of preparedness amongst this group.

Observations from the Workplace

Another interesting perspective is provided by those in the workplace who are already working with members of the Gen Z. Bruce Tulgen, a workplace consultant whose observations are summarized in the article “Generation Z: Why HR Must Be Prepared for Its Arrival,” describes a generation that “grew up post 9/11 and came of age in a time of fear and awareness of vulnerability.” Citing “helicopter parenting” as one particular cause, Tulgen notes a lack of problem-solving skills, communication skills and critical-thinking skills. Again, citing their upbringing, Tulgen describes Gen Zs as a group whose “access to information, ideas, images and sounds is completely without precedent. At the same time, they are isolated and scheduled to a degree that children have never been.”

Tulgen is not alone in noting that companies must prepare appropriately to engage with Gen Z in the workplace.

Recommendations for Future Success

We’re all concerned about the workplace being refreshed in the next few years as the last of the boomers retire. As Tulgen says “The grown-ups are leaving, and there will be a new, young workforce to take their place.” Tulgen’s advice includes stricter designs for social media interactions, more detailed job descriptions, and “engaging workers with smaller bits of information,” for example.

Levit recommends that employers reach out “to develop relationships today with teenagers in grades seven through 12. Get into their schools, provide mentorship and education, and put yourself in a position to help shape their career decisions. They are eager to listen.”

I couldn’t agree more. For whoever the real Z is, all of our kids will benefit from more real-world interaction in school and exposure to the word at large before they get there. And a little project-based, hands-on learning to help develop those critical thinking skills wouldn’t be bad, either.

Are you the parent or employer of a Gen Z, or are you a member of this generation yourself? What are your thoughts on preparedness? Are you optimistic about what’s to come? Let us know in the comments below.

Are Technical Innovations Enough to Save Education?

We all know about the great work being done by both the headliners and the very small businesses in terms of introducing technology into the classrooms. We have gone from chalkboard to whiteboard and from smart board to tablets. Whatever we have thought about MOOCs, their arrival on the scene woke up the sleeping giant of online learning, and now innovators such as Canvas Infrastructure have challenged Blackboard for one and are making a name for providing tools for universities to get more classes and programs online. This is all good. In K-12, we have gone from Oregon Trail to Minecraft and all sorts of newer games to teach competencies such as problem-solving and specific skills like reading, math and science. Classroom teachers use platforms such as Edmodo and others tools to share resources with one another and to offer content and content creation capability to their students. Soon more teachers will be incorporating cellphones into the toolset that they and their students access in order to support the learning process. This is all great progress. But let’s explore what we really mean by innovation when it comes to education.

Is technology innovation?

We are all familiar with the fairytale history of Introduction to AI, Sebastian Thrun and Peter Norvig’s Stanford University Massively Open Online Course that garnered an enrollment of 160,000 students from around the world in the fall of 2011. When the course ended, 23,000 students from 190 countries finished the course. Then the debate started over the merits of MOOC-style learning.

Is “access” innovation?

The connectivist concepts inherent in MOOC learning and the sheer volume of students enrolled in these offerings contribute to defining the role that MOOCs play in innovative educational practices. Being able to reach so many students in so many countries fulfills one highly regarded mission, that of access. And there are those who would argue, as Dan Friedman did in this article on TechCrunch, that access is something that we may already have been solved by iTunesU with over 1 billion downloads of its courses.

How can we measure learning innovation?

Since early on, people have been asking how much knowledge is actually retained in the MOOC model and how many students remain engaged and complete the programs. Critics point to figures that show 4 to 6 percent of people who registered the classes actually completing them. However, in analyzing completion data for nine HarvardX courses, researcher Justin Reich observed that a large percentage of students actually sign up for classes with no intention of completing them. Looking at self-reported data, Reich concluded that only 58 percent intended to earn a certificate, and amongst those 22 percent actually did.

Over time, learners will tell us what they need (or provide it themselves).

It may be more interesting to look at how MOOCs are evolving and the changes being made to the courses, sometimes by the learners themselves, in order to make them more effective. One example from early on in the MOOC game relates the challenges learners experienced in using the existing

discussion boards to better understand course material and work through course assignments together. One inventive student coded a piece of software that enabled everyone to more effectively scan discussion subject headings without leaving the page where the video was playing. It’s one small example among many, but it shows how learners in the course were actually contributing their talents to making learning more effective.

How people actually use technology and adapt it within the learning situation seems to be the biggest measure of innovation there is.

Innovation in K-12

Within the K-12 realm, there’s a lot of technology being introduced to support an existing (albeit relatively new) educational model. With the new technology come new business models and new ways of operating. The partnerships between technology companies and schools are powerful examples of ways to leverage the latest technology within the schools.

But as long as we’re stuck supporting a model of education centered on high stakes testing, it’s difficult to register these practices as entirely positive innovations. Creating a platform for blended learning is a great step in the right direction. Being able to personalize learning with programs designed to tailor learning to individual needs is one of the best uses of technology that we are seeing in edtech today. But when the majority of that learning is focused on performing better on the next exam, it loses its edge.

Innovation in education has to be innovation in learning practices that contribute to learners becoming more capable of thinking for themselves. Some of the partnerships that we’ve written about previously support innovation in K-12 learning, including Tools at SchoolsThe Future Project, and Betaversity. These are organizations that focus on design thinking, entrepreneurship and maker spaces respectively.

The Innovation Challenge for 2015

We have such a solid foundation of change on which to build the successes of the coming year.

  • In higher ed, it would be great to see more online programs that leverage technology to offer courses with optimized facilitated learning opportunities. In addition to the technology and instructional design to make that happen, we also need business models that enable cost-effective course development and tuition costs, and means of faculty resourcing in order to build and facilitate the courses.
  • In PK-12, let’s leverage that foot we have in the door to create technology assisted learning opportunities to build problem solving and critical thinking skills.
  • In both spaces, let’s work to offer more hands-on learning activities to prepare students for real world challenges as they prepare to enter the workplace of tomorrow.

Stay tuned to Designs2Learn for more on learning design for social impact.

Partnerships for Lifelong Learning

By default and most frequently by definition, most schools are designed to ensure success measured by graduation and college acceptance rates. And socially, we have been encouraged to measure our own success by these milestones and by the one that logically follows, the landing of a respectable job with a respectable salary. In “Is High School the Mother of All Event-Based Learning?” I questioned the emphasis on these specific goals at the potential loss to those lifelong learning skills such as the ability to identify, organize, plan and allocate resources; work with others, acquire and evaluate information; understand complex interrelationships; and work with a variety of technologies. Clearly, we need to continue preparing young people to enter the workforce with the appropriate level of skills. How can we more effectively provide the competencies that are going to help them through a lifetime of work and learning?

Project-Based Curricula in PK-12

In previous blogs, I’ve shared ideas around incorporating more project-based learning and Maker curriculum that require both individual and team effort to succeed. These projects not only bring teams of kids together with more thematically-driven material, but they may also bring outside expertise into the schools. Think of how flipped classrooms remove the sage from the stage and make the teacher more accessible to groups of learners as well as individuals. These partnerships around project-based learning broaden the range of role-models and potential mentors and also actively model real-life collaborations as part of the learning process. Here are a couple of examples of groups doing some of this great work today.

I’ve mentioned Tools at Schools before as one organization doing great work in this area. They partner with schools and companies and introduce design thinking as a means to problem solving around a specific real-world issue. Tools at Schools and the manufacturing partner then work with the students to develop prototypes of the design solution that is presented at a final “market launch.” The six-month project has teams of students working together steadily building many of the competencies associated with resources, information, relationships and technology.

Another group doing some good work in this area is team at The Future Project. The Future Project brings “Dream Teams” into schools to work with students to create “Future Projects” that may include clubs, websites, companies, etc. Not only do students complete individual projects, but the sense of esprit de corps and cultural changes resulting from the overall effort benefit the entire school community. Working with volunteer entrepreneurs and businesses, students create brands, budgets and project timelines for implementing their business plans. An annual Dream Con event showcases final projects. Here, too, those lifelong learning skills are addressed through the duration of the project.

Apprenticeships for Millennials

Beyond K-12, Enstitute is a very impressive group matching millennials with mentors and apprenticeships that engage them directly with the type of work they want to do. These year-long paid apprenticeships may enhance or provide an alternative to traditional higher education programs. Enstitute develops the relationships with the host companies, selects the candidates, and manages the year-long program.

UnCollege is another group providing a more hands-on alternative to a formal college experience. The group, started by unschooler author Dale Stephens, offers two main programs. The one-year Gap Program is a four-phased program that includes travel abroad, a U.S.-based residency, an internship, and a capstone project. It’s a skills-based program built on the principles of self-directed learning and connects participants with mentors and internships. A more streamlined “Hackademic Camp” provides participants with a three-day workshop drawn from the Gap Year curriculum. Skills development focuses on networking, building social capital, negotiation and more.

Today’s challenges in the educational arena require an extended network to ensure that we are developing capacity for a lifetime of learning rather than moving students from one milestone to the next.

Stay connected to Designs2Learn for more on how learning design today is helping to shape tomorrow’s workforce.

Is High School the Mother of All Event-Based Learning?

Many parents have been ushering now senior high schoolers through the college application process for almost a year now. If you’ve been working at it at this level of intensity for much longer than that, my condolences to you and your child both. The 2015 graduation crop is filling out the last of their applications, sitting in on the last of those interviews and auditions, and perhaps breathing one sigh of relief before starting to panic over fall finals and AP exams they’ll be taking this spring. And once June comes around, they’ll have that one foot out the door and the other tentatively reaching out toward the next phase.

Whether the “2015 grad” is going on to college, taking a gap year, has chosen or is continuing an alternative educational route, it is questionable that the majority of our 18-year-old population is suitably prepared for these next steps. Is it possible that we have spent the past four years prepping and grooming these kids for essentially one task and left them somewhat unprepared to take that next step?

The skills needed to succeed in the years ahead continue to evolve, but even if you submit (as I do) to the premise of “we don’t know what we don’t know yet,” we do know a few things about what it takes to engage in today’s workplace. The U.S. Department of Labor and Education even reported on this in 2000 with its SCANS report and can provide some context for the purposes of today’s discussion.

So, at a time when so many of our nation’s youth are struggling with not only a regular course load but also the challenges of the college application process, it seems reasonable to ask if we have prepared the next generation to engage in, succeed in and perhaps even enjoy participating  in the workplace and society overall.

Can our young adults effectively do the following upon leaving high school?

  1. Identify, organize, plan, and allocate resources (Resources)
  2. Work with others (Interpersonal)
  3. Acquire and evaluate information (Information)
  4. Understand complex interrelationships (Systems)
  5. Work with a variety of technologies (Technology)

Developing these competencies requires a continuous learning process that is designed with ongoing engagements to ensure the building of these processes over time. Agreeably, for many families, as their students go through the application process, there is currently increased emphasis on test scores and application forms. But so much of our PK-12 education has led to this point that it begs the question as to how prepared our youth are once they walk out the door.

For more on effective learning design across the continuum of the educational spectrum, visit us at Designs2Learn.




Designing a Place for the PK-12 Student in Our Social Network

A recent article in the Chronicle by Judith Shapiro, The Value of a Shared Education, laid out the principles of Gemeinschaft and Gesellschaft as part of an intriguing discussion on trends in college curricula. The main question Shapiro poses is “To what extent are undergraduates moving through overlapping though largely differentiated networks, and to what extent do they share experiences, priorities, and goals?” Shapiro walks us through a series of considerations including individual achievement, the current interest in competency-based education, and the impact of information technology on how young people interact with one another.

When we think of changes in higher ed nowadays, most people go directly to the challenges of integrating or competing with technology itself. Shapiro brings us back to the more critical question of how we are guiding people through their intellectual pursuits as they move closer to adulthood and the workplace. Similarly, we should be re-examining how we are guiding our PK-12 audience prior to their entry into college. How do curricular practices these days impact on how the PK-12 student sees herself as part of society?

Our thinking on this goes beyond standard socialization practices within the classroom and playground to the greater scope of ongoing learning activities that have or can be incorporated into today’s curricula. Some best practices for consideration:

Blend the curriculum to balance group and individual learning activities.

Today’s blended learning designs included personalized, peer-to-peer and teacher-led activities. Students learn on their own, and receive automated feedback and personalized teacher support; they learn from their peers in small group activities or as a whole class with teacher-led activities. The range of activities in a well-designed blended learning program represents both individual and group learning.

Build more Maker activities into the curriculum to build esprit de corps.

Project-based activities that require team cooperation in the design and production of a final product can develop both individual competencies as well as team strength. More time spent on these group activities earlier on in the process will pay off later on.

Bring in the experts to provide a range of role models.

Practicing scientists, designers, chefs, etc. can all play a part in knowledge and skills development in PK-12. By increasing the sphere of expertise in the classroom, and by working on projects requiring shared expertise, the PK-12 audience can start building their network early on. These experts may bolster existing curricular units or might be part of the extended projects referenced above.

Learning design in PK-12 is evolving to a point where students can more effectively develop their individual capabilities while playing an important part of both school and extended society. While the argument can be made that “socialization” has always been a goal in the K-12 curriculum, it can also be said that with the intense competition of the past decades, the race for success tends to silo learners from a very early age. We can use our design skills to create the type of curricula that supports the concept of shared success from the start.

Visit us at Designs2Learn for more on learning design and social impact.

Why Not a 14th or 15th Grade to Better Prepare Students for the Real World?

Frustrated high school studentA recent article in Slate, aptly titled “Welcome to 13th Grade,” reports on an Oregon initiative to add a 13th year to the high school experience in order to help better prepare students for college. The program uses the state allowance of $6,500 per student to fund each participant, who exits the program with not only a high school diploma, but also with the option to enter college as sophomores. This may sound attractive and appropriate given the challenges with community college completion rates in Oregon and elsewhere, but there’s certainly a global perspective that needs to be examined here.

The timing of the article amused me, as I had just had two conversations, one with a high school senior and one with a university junior that led me to wonder about some of the issues surrounding the 13th-year plan, and specifically how much time we give our kids to prepare for college and the working world. The high-schooler was telling me that she planned to opt out of some AP exams and was willing to retake the subjects again in college if necessary. “Maybe I’ll get a better teacher. Maybe I’ll be able to understand it better.” The university student was experiencing challenges in time management given the workload implicit in a degree program requiring extensive reading assignments.

I actually even said to the high schooler “I know you wouldn’t want to have any more high school, but I wonder if you all actually have enough time . . .” Needless to say, I was cut short and left to ruminate on this paradox on my own. We’re working so hard to get our kids out of high school yet so many arrive at college unprepared for the rigor, the level of inquiry, and the day-to-day management of their lives? Some of these challenges are generations-old adjustments that are made throughout the college experience, as students mature with the curriculum. Others could probably be alleviated with additional support within the school environment, and many universities offer Bootcamp-like training or additional support for specific skills-building activities. But, if we look at the bigger picture and as we consider students preparing to enter the workforce and contribute to our ever-complex global economy, is more time in high school really the answer here?

The Oregon plan seems to be a band aid solution, representative of larger issues in PK-12 curriculum. The challenges are getting increasingly complex. How will we stem the tide of change as the world becomes ever more sophisticated? The concept of preparing students for jobs that don’t even yet exist, was stunningly presented by the Karl Fisch and Scott McLeod “Did You Know” presentation first in 2007, and has been rifted on by countless numbers of educators and pundits since. We don’t know what we don’t know, yet we need to keep preparing for it. The solution is not more years of high school, but more in-depth, inquiry-based, maker-driven, project-based, curricula that prepares this generation and succeeding ones how to problem solve rather than how to take exams that only teach them how to . . . take exams.

The expanding curriculum design that we are seeing across the country, greater access to online, personalized learning programs and the growing partnerships that are evolving to help enhance the educational experience within the schools is a great start to getting us closer to where we need to be. More practical, experiential learning experiences will go a huge way to bridging existing and future gaps. More practical internships earlier on in the PK-12 years will make an obvious impact as well.

A 13th year will undoubtedly help a number of students bridge the gap between what they have learned to date and what they need to properly function in the college environment, but we need to consider expanded and alternate approaches throughout the continuum of the educational experience to truly prepare people for an ever-changing workplace in the global economy.

For more insights on the impact of effective design on the educational experience, visit us at Designs2Learn.

Time to Check in on Continuous Learning

Time To Learn. Education Concept.As corporations and educational institutions  either exult in or struggle with the evolution of learning, debates continue to rage over the myriad of technologies available to achieving success. According to Bersin by Deloitte, annual spends on learning are back to pre-2008 levels. Brandon Hall is reminding us to connect learning to organizational goals. Watch your KPIs! There is much to sort through. At the end of the day, one change in perspective is going to make all the difference: We simply must stop considering learning to be a one-time event and to approach learner success with a continuous learning strategy in mind. Here are the top five things you need to consider when mapping out a continuous learning plan for your organization.

1. Can you provide a continuous learning environment for your employees?

Despite the non-stop discussions over the appropriate selection of learning management systems, and despite the fact that 42% of organizations are looking for a new LMS, an LMS alone is not the solution. These discussions miss the point. Yes, you need a high quality LMS to track learning, manage learning plans and competencies, and depending on the nature of your business, be able to provide a rich set of data to see how learning is supporting your organization’s business strategy. But in the absence of the easy access to resources, company communications, and access to experts and peers, the LMS itself is not going to get you to where you need to be. Let’s break it down further.

2. What kind of support can you offer for completing everyday tasks?

Learning happens every day on the job, and part of the way to help your employees perform better is access to the resources they need to get the job done. Whether it’s a library of best practices, sales presentations, product specifications, case studies, etc., how easy is it for your teams to find the information they need to meet the needs of your customers?

3. Where are your experts hiding?

How easy is it for employees at any level of the organization to get help when training and resources don’t provide them with what they need to know? What is the mechanism for requesting help? It should not be phone or email. And reverse the roles and ask yourself, how easy is it for experts to keep up with the requests? Mentoring is key to a solid continuous learning strategy, and you should be providing the tools and processes to make this happen.

4. How engaging is the actual training you provide?

None of this is meant to diminish the importance of well-designed and professionally executed training. There’s a YouTube video out there for nearly everything, and we love Khan Academy and the fantastic resources that are out there today that can and should be available to help drive learning and performance. But when you target the 10% of formal learning you need to provide today, don’t forget to bring along your instructional design team and make it worth your learner’s while.

5. How connected are your employees to the successes and failures of your organization?

Another vital component of your continuous learning environment should be regular communications from senior leadership as to how your company is doing. An environment in which your CEO can report by blog, video post, etc. about recent wins and even losses makes for a cohesive ecosystem in which everyone understands the part they play. Lessons learned through this type of communications strategy are no less important than those in a 5-minute video or one-hour training module.

Continuous learning is a key strategy for success in the workplace. Promoting continuous learning is something we should start doing in kindergarten and throughout one’s formal education. And once people get to the workplace, we should have the tools to support continuous learning and company success.

College as the Ultimate Software Simulation

Worried College Grad(Or “Can College Prepare You for Real Life?”)

Last spring, I took a road trip with my then sixteen-year-old as we visited five colleges in six days. We drove a huge loop, traveling nearly 800 miles in total, heading northwest from New York City, where we live, stopping in Ithaca, Syracuse, Benington, Boston, and western Connecticut. It’s an annual rite of passage for thousands of families, and for someone in my line of work, one that brought into very sharp focus much of what I have been treating as somewhat . . . academic . . . these past few years: the value of a four-year, brick and mortar college experience in preparing people for adulthood and the workplace.

First, a couple of questions:

1. You can’t get a job without a college degree, but what’s the likelihood of getting a job with a college degree?

According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE), in 2013, only 29.3% of graduates had found jobs prior to graduation. A follow-up of recent grads revealed that 59% had found jobs 6-8 months after graduation.

2. What factors impact on how prepared college graduates feel for “the real world?”

What combination of skills, luck, and extra-curricular activity did it take for those 59%, and how much of a role did their alma mater play in their landing that job?

The colleges we visited ranged from enrollments just over 21,000 to just over 700. Dormitories ranged from concrete boxes to cozy cottages. The curricula we were exploring went from highly prescribed to incredibly open. The opportunities for study abroad varied somewhat, particularly when looking at specialized curricula, but most of the colleges provided a good amount of support for making that happen. All of these factors come onto play in terms of learning to function in a larger social group, to make yourself heard, to plan ahead and make decisions for yourself, and to experience other cultures.

What stood out most to me in terms of preparedness were the opportunities for internships available at the different institutions and how integral a part they played each college’s overall curriculum.

Without the opportunity to actually put into practice what you’ve been learning in the classroom, the chances for being prepared for the working world decrease substantially. Or without the exposure to the potential range of career options and job roles within those for any given career, the less prepared a graduate is and the more unrealistic the scenario of one’s education becomes.

I cut my instructional design teeth on the development of complex, scenario-based learning programs. In these programs, we placed our learners in different roles in which they were required to either make decisions for themselves or advise others. While our learners were provided with tools with which to make decisions, we expected them to fail, and when they did, they had access to knowledge building and better decision making.

So, at the end of the day (or at the end of a nearly 800-mile journey), the great value of a four-year, brick-and-mortar college education is the series of scenarios one engages in on the road to adulthood and employment. How safe or how realistic those scenarios need to be really depends on the student and the selected program of study. But it is the blend of formal and informal learning, the academic and experiential learning that is going to help prepare people for the workplace and drive their success once they arrive.

Game on!

Learning to Fish with the Net

Fisherman of lettersDialoging (a polite term here at best) with my 17-year-old about her approach to one of her summer homework assignments, she turned what was going to be my argument on its heels. Instead, she reinforced much of what I’ve been advocating for professionally, and she illustrated more than ever the need for a more pragmatic approach to learning at all stages across the educational continuum.

My initial query into her approach centered on how closely she had read the assigned material for a particular class. The assignment consisted of reading the assigned book and locating at least five sources to substantiate responses to a number of questions on key points of the book. Some potential resources were recommended for the outside sources but not much else in the way of methodology or support for completing the assignment.

In the process of completing the assignment, she came to me with certain questions about the topics covered and also ran draft responses to certain questions by me for feedback. When I inquired as to how closely she had read the text, she admitted to having skipped certain sections, explaining to me how irrelevant they were to the assignment and bringing on all the teenage indignation appropriate to my questioning her process. On closer examination (and further dialog), she detailed to me the contents of some of these sections, clarified that most were detailed histories and streams of data not appropriate to the main subject matter, and revised her description of her own process from “skipping” to “scanning.”

I then asked her about the outside sources she selected, whether they were ones of her own choosing or ones that had been shared by friends. Some were provided by friends (there is much ad hoc team work that goes on that one wonders why team-based projects still create so much angst) and others she found herself, several simply in the process of trying to understand the content of the assigned source itself.

“You of all people should understand why I work like that,” she declared, and I knew that she was paving her own way through the process of learning, albeit with some peer support and some increasingly adept, self-taught research skills.

Two articles from August’s issue of T&D highlight the need to develop more independent learners from a corporate perspective. In “Teaching Learners to Fish,” Allyce Barron outlines an approach for placing “learners in an active role inside the training room, and out on the job after the training session is over.” In “Partnering to Improve Time to Competency and Efficiency,” Emily Dunn and Adam Krob provide an overview of and case for Knowledge Management and Knowledge-Centered Support in the workplace. Both pieces extol the long-term benefits for companies of teaching employees how to more effectively control their own learning and to become more efficient seekers of knowledge.

This is something we can and should start teaching earlier on. Just as corporations and universities are including the role of “curator” into their learning teams to help learners sift through the noise of available resources, so should K-12 schools support their student performance through the carefully guided acquisition of knowledge management skills and practices.

What’s your take on it?


Learning by Actually Doing

I Learn By Doing vs Reading Man Choosing Education StyleThose of you who have read my previous blogs know that I am a huge proponent of 70:20:10 learning across the educational continuum. We’ve seen this tested in the corporate world through the great work that Charles Jennings, Jay Cross and many others have done and written about. Recently, as I’ve toured the country with a rising high-school senior looking at different college options, we’ve paid close attention to the work study, internship and other experiential opportunities offered on and off the college campus. Depending on the type of program you are enrolling in, many schools offer great options for field-based or on-campus jobs or internships that help college students build skills and networks while still in school. So, should we and how can we apply 70:20:10 in K-12? Yes, now more than ever, and here’s a few ways how.

  1. Make more time for project-based learning where the project involves actually building something. K-12 curricula must include long-term projects that allow students to work through problem-solving activities over a period of time. The ideation and project planning processes, working toward interim goals (aka project milestones) and the concept of final deliverables all provide real-world practice and can incorporate many of the standards required in today’s public school paradigm.
  2. Collaborate with outside experts, mentors, and business partners. Just as in the workplace, we look to those with more experience to support our individual work efforts, so should project-based learning be supported by partners in the business world willing to put in the time to bring these projects to fruition.
  3. Incorporate technology to provide the performance support to build on the interdisciplinary skills required to work on and complete the project. Today, many teachers are using blended learning programs to strengthen individual learning within a classroom setting. DIfferent students working through a team project will need different levels of support. Whether it’s access to Khan Academy videos or support by groups such as Digital Promise or others, there are systems in place to help support the type of activity that can ensure individual success within a team-based project.

This week’s pick for cool K-12 experiential learning is Tools at Schools. They are doing some fantastic work in the schools through fantastic learning design and thoughtful collaborations. Stay tuned for more on making learning more meaningful and accessible across the continuum.