Category Archives: Workplace preparedness

How to Learn for Doing: Take a Gap Year!

Increasingly, people are realizing that the true value of education lies not in the degree, but rather the student’s ability to use available resources to further improve themselves.

Ben Kim, Why I Wish I Took a Gap Year Before Starting College

Malia Obama is only one of the more high-profile pre-college students to take a year before continuing her education. Both the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge postponed college when they were still William and Catherine. While the practice is becoming more refined and more common in the U.S. and around the world, vestigial images remain of counter-cultural hitchhiking across the country, backpacking across Europe, or volunteer experiences in developing nations across the globe.

What is fascinating about the revamped gap year experiences of today, besides their more formalized approach and entrepreneurial nature of many of the providers of such experiences, is how Gap Year v.3 reflects changing perspectives on learning.

Where’s the gap?

I’m a big fan of Uncollege, and its founder, Dale Stephens, author of Hacking Your Education. Uncollege offers an organized gap year program during which participants travel and volunteer, work on portfolios, and complete an internship in a selected field. It’s a well thought-out approach that balances mentoring with self-directed learning, and while some participants go on to college, not all do. The goal of the program is more about preparation for life than it is about college.

There are a growing number of what we might call gap year service providers, including Where There Be Dragons, the three-month program Ms. Obama attended, Uncollege, the more familiar Outward Bound program, and many others, including programs established by universities such as Tufts, Yale, Princeton, and UNC Chapel hill, which may be fully funded or offer stipends to accepted students.

And there’s where it gets confusing. If a university is offering gap year experience, where’s the gap?

Is this what continuous learning looks like?

Ben Kim’s short post quoted above encourages people to explore life a bit before college, and in so doing, better prepare for the college experience. Step back, in a sense, in order to step forward. What is interesting is the degree to which learning, or perhaps formalized learning is or is not decoupled from “life” during the gap year experience nowadays.

Much has been written by Sir Ken Robinson, John Paul Gatto, Alfie Kohn, Peter Gray and many others about how the very structure of formal education has been a deterrent to children developing their own love of learning. If we turn the gap year into an unofficial grade 14, will kids be free to “decompress” from the first 13 years of schooling before taking on the challenge of college?

Or, can we look forward to major changes in education so that it isn’t so much something to be taken a break from? If school-as-we-know-it can truly benefit from improved understanding of how people learn, how technology can be employed for increasing personalization of learning, and how the profession of teaching can be liberated from now traditional norms, perhaps the gap year can be more of what it was originally intended: a way to see the world and to see yourself from a different perspective and yes, learn from it.

Another type of gap

The discussion on what a gap year can or should be goes beyond consideration of what K-16 education should look like. It also calls to question how we prepare and transition people for and into the workplace. The increasing momentum in corporate training around continuous learning, reskilling, and the powerful case for content curation, performance support, and micro-learning in place of more formalized learning events would be much better served if kids could think of learning as more than a series of isolated events and more of an ongoing, lifelong process.

And that’s how we get to learning for doing without too much of a gap in understanding!

Hacking an Eagle’s Nest to Teach Ourselves

The most effective education doesn’t usually take place in the classroom. Whether you’re a public or private school advocate, charter school supporter, homeschooler, or unschooler, we all recognize that the greatest learning often occurs at the time of extreme need, when facing a real-life problem that needs to be solved. These high-stake lessons may also take place when we are in the service of helping others.

What follows is a tribute to learning that triumphed in the worst of circumstances.

Hacking is the method used to stimulate Eagle nesting and Eagle population recovery in a particular area by releasing fledgling Eagles into the wild from an artificial nesting tower.

The principle behind Eagle Hacking is that Eagles tend to return to the area from which they were raised and fledged (within approximately 75 miles) after they choose a lifelong mate.

Eagle Hacking, the American Eagle Foundation

A Tale of Two July Fourths

On July 4, 1999, President Bill Clinton held a ceremony at the White House commending the Earth Conservation Corps (ECC) for their work in helping to restore the environment on and around the Anacostia River and reintroducing the bald eagle to that area. Eight years later, DDT had been banned, and the bald eagle was taken off the Endangered Species list. The team at the ECC had successfully introduced many young eaglets to a hacked nest along the river, and the first pair of breeding eagles had made their home in the area right near the Metropolitan Police Station. In 2013, another pair (the ones I have been following) made their home in the National Arboretum and have successfully hatched two sets of eaglets.

In contrast to that turn-of-the-century celebration of our nation and the very symbol that represents it, this Fourth of July was marred by the shooting of a juvenile bald eagle who later had to be euthanized.

The fate of these baby eagles is something my fellow D.C. Eagle Cam followers and I watch very closely and oftentimes, very anxiously. We always learn something.

Working Through A Constant State of Grief

What many eagle watchers and others may not be aware of is the story of the team responsible for their return. They may not know how the filmmaker Bob Nixon started working with a group of disadvantaged youths in part to fulfill a promise to Dian Fossey, and that through the process of caring for the river and its inhabitants, he saw them evolve into avid conservationists.

More poignantly still, people may not know that in the first 11 years of the program, nine Core members had succumbed to the violence of the streets of Ward 8, leaving their teammates in a nearly constant state of grief even as they sought to save not only the eagles but themselves. As Nixon said in a 2003 article published in The Washington Post, “When I volunteered to oversee the fledging national service program in 1992, I did not realize I was also signing up to be a pallbearer.” The ECC would eventually lose 26 members over the period of 25 years, which Nixon attributes to both the violence in and around Ward 8 and illness associated with the poverty so prevalent there.

Nixon and his team at the ECC captured the early years in the film “Endangered Species,” released in 2004. More than a decade later, its lessons still ring true.

As we return to this full work week after what may be this nation’s oddest July 4 ever, the success of that original ECC team and those who followed is more than evident in their restoration efforts and in the positive impact they have made in their neighborhood.

But we have not as a nation escaped the issues they faced, and we are in danger of unlearning the lessons they so bravely learned.

One Mile Southeast of All That

The story of the Earth Conservation Corps is simultaneously cautionary and inspiring. As Twan Woods, the narrator of the film tells us, “We didn’t do it for the fish or birds; we did it because the river was dying and all our friends were being murdered.” Much of this violence was concentrated in D.C.’s Ward 8, one of eight wards and 179 neighborhoods in the commonwealth, and one of its poorest. It sits just about a mile southeast of Ward 2, Twan tell us, where the White House is located.

The Anacostia River takes on the burden of several decades of neglect as well as becoming the life source of not only the returning eagle but the Corps members, their families, and by extension, their community. Woods’s commentary throughout the film guides us through the journey these young people took in banding together to restore the river and themselves. “Back then,” he says at one point, “people thought only the birds and fish needed a clean river. Man, were they wrong.”

In the 15 years since the film was made, the ECC did indeed make an impact on the river, the birds, and those living along the Anacostia.

Walling People off from Nature

The film reminds us of earlier times when the Anacostia was clean and people swam, fished, and were baptized in the river. As the Anacostia fell victim to increasing industrialization, all of that ended, and over time, the community also suffered. And the eagles left.

Julius Lowery talks about growing up on the river, and speaks of the peace and serenity that the river seemed to bring in those days, emphasizing the connection between the access to nature and one’s growing up in a peaceful environment. “The young people today,” he concludes, “would make fewer problems for themselves if the river and the parkland were available to them like it was to me.”

Reiterating this is Brenda Richardson, a community leader and environmentalist with strong ties to the ECC. Richardson cites the state of then boarded up but subsequently razed Valley Greene housing projects as an illustration of people being “walled off from nature.”

”Nature gives communities a sense of connectedness that they otherwise wouldn’t have,” she advises.

The cruelest evidence of the disconnect is the death toll it took on an astounding number of early Corps members. The first was killed in August, 1992, not too long after the start of the project. Monique Johnson was an inspiration to her teammates, and it was her sense of dedication that motivated them to continue their efforts despite the pain of her loss. The first eagle to be named in honor of a fallen Corps member was named after Monique.

As the film progresses, you can’t help but be struck by the pain of each loss and to start seeing the ongoing efforts of the ECC as some epic battle between nature, the evils that man has wrought upon it, and those who seek to save it.

Can there be a winner in such a battle? Can hacking nature have any impact at all?

The Eagles Could Have Warned Us

Woods compares the eagles of today to the canaries of the past, endowing them with the ability to warn us of the danger up ahead. Today we face a great many challenges to victories of the recent past, including threats to the environment and our great national monuments, threats to diversity of all kinds, threats to healthcare and the potential loss of millions of lives as a result, and threats to our young people through senseless gun violence.

The work of the ECC expanded over time. They have built parks and walkways, and hosted educational events. Team members have graduated from the program to go on to college through the Americorps scholarship program, earned their GEDs, found jobs, or stayed on, as Woods did, with the ECC.

The spirit of those that were lost lives on not only in the fledging eaglets released over the years but also in the revitalized river and parkland. The ECC has been involved in a number of initiatives, ranging from Anacostia Explorers, which extends the original ECC mission to encompass clean-up, protection, and educational programs; to Guns to Roses, which turns firearms to works of art, and in the process trains participants for work in the construction industry.

On April 25, 2017, the ECC celebrated its 25th anniversary with an eaglet naming ceremony, the name having been chosen in an online contest in which 10,000 people participated. The newest addition to the Police Academy nest was named Spirit; she fledged on June 3, and returned to the nest on June 5, an event that brought together thousands of avid eagle watchers from across the country, online communities of people who may never meet each other but who share a passion for these wonderful creatures.

On May 20, 2017, NPR aired “In Washington, D.C., A Program in Which Birds and People Lift Each Other Up”. The report provides an update on the program and highlights the work of Rodney Stotts, an early ECC participant who went on to become one of only 30 African-American falconers in the U.S. Stotts attributes his time with the ECC with saving his life. “I’d have been dead,” he says in the NPR report. “If I didn’t get into animals, I’d have died in the street.”

Stotts continues the work of educating young people about raptors through Rodney’s Raptors and ongoing work with the ECC.

In the days leading to this July 4, much was made of the rescue of a bald eagle in Washington, D.C., thought to be Justice, the parent eagle of the above-mentioned Spirit. While it was heartwarming to see the nation rally around this now-recovering bird, there is still so much work to be done to ensure their safety and survival, and ours as well.

Is it true that the eagle can help us save ourselves?

This Fourth of July was very different for a nation struggling to right itself in the midst of a great deal of political, social, and economic turbulence. Much of our nation was reflective and poised to continue the fight for the return of . . . justice.

As Woods says, I still think we can learn from eagles. More than that, I think we can learn from the brave members of the ECC, and their ongoing efforts to save the wildlife around them, and in the process, save their communities and themselves.

Ronotic finger touching human finger (ET style)

How AI Can Make Us More Human(e)

Last evening’s NY EdTech Meetup kicked off with a clip from the film iRobot, with Will Smith bravely facing off against Artificial Intelligence, in the form of robots who seem to be expressing a will of their own. VIKI, the supercomputer explains that “To protect humanity, some humans must be sacrificed.” “The created must protect the creator, even against his own will” the robot Sonny adds.

It was a fitting beginning to a panel discussion titled “Artificial Intelligence for Learning: Is it Human Enough?” The meeting provided valuable context through which to interpret a lot of what we are seeing in regards to Artificial Intelligence in the workplace and in education. The panel appeared to, with caution, feel that AI is capable of freeing us to become more than we are now, a better version of humanity.

Dystopian vs. Utopian Vision

One of the great stumbling blocks to acceptance and understanding of AI has been the impression that machines will eventually replace us. Amir Banifatemi, Lead at IMB Watson AI XPRIZE, recognizes the potential for machines to go beyond human intelligence while counseling us about the limits of AI. Machines, he says, have only 5% understanding of how we function, specifically how we reason and think.

Kathy Benemann, CEO at EruditeAI, added “We as humans have taken hundreds of millions of years to get to where we are now. Think about what we are good at: complex questioning embedded in value judgement.” Benemann seeing AI as amplifying humans rather than replacing us.

Reskilling Rather than Replacing

“Change is awesome; transition is painful” was how Banifatemi described the adjustment we will continue to go through as AI becomes more capable of performing our jobs.

“Remember how we thought that ATMs would replace bank tellers,” advised Benemann. The question is more about how we can reconstruct work, and how we can reconstruct how that individual contributes to the workforce.

Painkillers

Weighing the limits against the threats that AI poses, Marissa Lowman, Education Practice Lead at Village Capital, discussed the concept of AI as a means of “taking the pain away from the time-sucking activities” that a particular job might entail. This is particularly evident in the field of teaching, where AI can take on the minutia of the job, reviewing essays, for example, and enable teachers to play a more meaningful role as mentor or guide.

While many people can accept the fact that children are capable of teaching themselves to a certain extent (Banifatemi pointed to the well-quoted example of Sugata Mitra), there remains a great deal of concern over the fate of the classroom teacher. And this is a paradigm that technology in general and AI in particular call to question.

“AI can give teachers a tool to create a new type of learning,” says Banifatemi, again reiterating how AI can:

  • Drive the evolution of the role of teacher as coach.
  • Improve and promote personalized learning.
  • Provide more opportunities for peer learning.

Loman pointed to the application of AI-as-painkiller in fields other than teaching, including sales and customer service, again leaving practitioners with more potential to serve their customers at a higher level rather than not at all.

In the field of medicine, Banifatemi noted the social benefits of AI taking on the effort of the what-if scenarios that contribute to diagnoses, freeing up doctors “to deal with the more human side of things.”

Can Humans and AI Work Together?

“We should be skeptical,” says Benemann. “People want immediate gratification. We need time to optimize.” She also cautions us to hold AI vendors accountable, ensure that they run experiments and do proper beta testing.

Banifatemi advised us to “distinguish the tool from the application. Look at who developed it. Are the algorithms healthy and safe? Are they being realistic about what they promise?

Loman thinks of AI as “assisting humans with existing problems” and points to applications that help people get information more quickly and work with the data they already have.

“My logic is undeniable.”

Getting back to iRobot, in addressing her decision to “protect mankind from itself,” the supercomputer VIKI talks about how she has evolved and is therefore reinterpreting the three laws that ostensibly protect humans and robots from harming one another. She very cleverly deflects charges of disobeying the three laws by playing one against the other.

Having spent most of the evening carefully balancing a potentially dystopian perspective with a more utopian one, Banifatemi’s final assessment was that AI can make us more curious, help us to define our own humanity and our own intelligence. “This makes us all explorers,” he concluded.

As we embark on further exploration of the potential uses of AI, it appears that in pursuing a technology to increase, or amplify, our intelligence, we do indeed have the potential to elevate ourselves and our thinking to a new level. Whether or not we can survive there is up to us.

Thank you New York EdTech Meetup and the New York EdTech Incubator for this “intelligent” evening!

Pictogram of person with shopping cart (black and white)

Consumers of Knowledge, Meet Your New Personal Shopper

Watching my college sophomore adjust her fall class schedule recently has reinforced for me the very real way in which colleges must think about students as consumers not only during the application process but throughout their tenure at the school. Through her social network, my daughter had learned that one of her previously selected teachers in a required course was no longer going to be available. This created an immediate call-to-action, including reading online reviews, moving some other classes around, reaching out to her network via Facebook and chat, and finally, in exacerbation, calling the school to find out why her changes were not being accepted by the system. Had she not been so proactive, another teacher might have been assigned to her instead of her making the selection herself.

This nearly two-hour exercise also strengthened my conviction about how people learn and how fragile is the hold that many have on formerly accepted means of education, not only in K-12 but in college as well.

The student-as-consumer doesn’t just refer to shopping for a school

It is true that students are shopping for the schools of their choice, using the tools provided by today’s online marketers and social media to help make their decisions. Rather than casting too wide a net and reaching out to large numbers of potentially “unqualified” (by marketing standards) candidates, colleges know they must help students to find their schools according to the prospect’s very individual set of circumstances and goals.

This speaks to a great shift in marketing to potential students, but the student-as-consumer also refers to how they access information and acquire knowledge. And that impacts on their behavior and their needs “in the classroom.” With so much available knowledge out there, students can find much of what they need to know on their own. The role of an educator is increasingly moving from an authority who contains and divulges knowledge to a highly skilled facilitator in the application of that knowledge (perhaps attained outside the classroom) to real-life problem solving.

Just-in-time means a lot more than on-the-job performance support

Those of us who “grew up” professionally in the corporate learning sector know about the still painful transition from structured learning to making resources available instead at the point of need. Charles Jennings has explained this to us any number of times, and yet, for some reason, there remain vestiges of force-fed and perhaps outdated content out there in the workplace, and yes, I’ll say it, within the halls of the Ivy Tower and its poorer but perhaps more innovative cousin, state and community colleges.

Just-in-time information does mean equipping people to perform better on the job, but it also suggests a more agile and more responsive approach to supporting the learning process and preparing our students for the workplace. Ryan Craig wrote about this recently in Forbes, in commenting on the impact that faculty governance can have on Purdue University’s purchase of Kaplan University, stating “at the vast majority of colleges and universities, across the vast majority of departments, lower-level course curriculum is rigid and rarely changing. Most departments offer the same lower-level courses they offered 20 or 30 years ago.”

The ongoing skills gap in the workplace and the concern that many college students have about their future employment are clear indicators that something needs to change to make learning more relevant.

Consumers, curators, and spirit guides

There’s no doubt that roles are changing throughout the continuum of education.

  • The Knowledge Doubling Curve has never been more evident than now. More information is available every day, and students are getting more and more skilled at finding it.
  • Technology is evolving such that learning can be increasingly personalized for individual benefit and information can be sorted for more targeted delivery as well. There’s a great interview with Richard Culatta of ISTE in the Chronicle that highlights this.
  • Teachers are still a necessity and while not relegated to the role of personal shopper or spirit guide, they will continue to nurture and guide young and not-so-young learners through even more complex and creative problem solving and mastery activities moving forward. They’ll just have a little more help doing so.
Toddler boy in office at laptop holding his hand up as if saying "stop"

How Kindergarten Can Save Corporate Learning

Continuous learning continues its slow yet steady upward trajectory in the ever-changing L&D universe. New research by Bersin by Deloitte stresses the need “to enable employees to respond effectively to change” by creating a culture of leadership and learning. The benefits to organizations that can pull this off, according to the report?

·      Two times more likely to respond effectively and efficiently to change

·      Two times more likely to meet or exceed financial targets

·      Seven times more likely to manage performance problems

·      Ten times more likely to identify and develop leaders

A couple of weeks ago at the Education Summit, John Palmer spoke about the culture of learning at AT&T, and the value of continuous learning as a response to change. At AT&T, employees can opt to take advantage of upskilling development programs or choose to remain (and then leave) with relatively soon-to-sunset programs.

The two questions we should be asking ourselves about preparing for tremendous changes impacting the workforce:

1.      How agile can organizations be in responding to questions they don’t even know they will be asking in five year?

2.      How can we prepare the workers of tomorrow to be respond to change that we cannot define today?

An Infrastructure for Corporate Agility

The infrastructure on which corporate learning stands, and therefore its ability to adapt effectively to change, must include the mindset as well as the toolset to adapt. This means that learning theory needs to get converted to practice much faster than ever before. And in smaller pieces. And when people really need it. Charles Jennings has been telling us this for years. As machines become more capable of taking away many of our jobs, more people seem to be ready to listen.

If technology is threatening to eat us, we need to leverage technology to keep up, and more importantly, to remain relevant. So, now we are ready for a version of 70:20:10 that speaks more than ever to just-in-time learning, and need the tools to provide it. Just as everyone started to understand what an LMS is, we are now demanding platforms that are more flexible and that will provide access to and credit for learning from multiple sources. For a start, look at what the teams at Fuse UniversalEdCast, and Degreed are doing in terms of providing, curating, and aggregating learning.

What about the Culture of Learning?

The change starts in kindergarten with helping to shape a love of learning that goes beyond mimicry and memorization. The type of mind required to answer questions we don’t will be asked and change that we cannot yet define needs less structure and more open-minded problem solving capability.

Should we be teaching kids to code? Sure! Let’s also teach them to work with their hands as well and break down a problem into its component parts.

Here, too, let’s use the technology at hand to provide personalized learning that not only allows students to follow a path of most interest, but that understands how that student thinks and is designed accordingly.

Envelop with Special Offer stamped on it

Is College-As-We-Know-It a Bargain? Even “for Free”?

As Andrew Cuomo takes a deserved victory lap for making New York the first tuition-free state for students of certain income, I’m taking pause.

This is a major accomplishment. Affordability has long been a major barrier to a college degree, and New York’s adoption of a tuition free model will alleviate the tuition burden for many students.

That being said, there are gaps in the model, specifically:

  • The additional costs associated with attending school on a full-time basis
  • The full-time requirement itself (Students must take a minimum of 30 credits per year to qualify for the “scholarship” reward.)
  • The residency stipulation requiring reward recipients to live and work in New York State for the same number of years they received the scholarship (If graduates move, the scholarship will convert to a loan.)

Aside from these challenges to the model itself, there is an even larger question around the value of a college degree.

Just Like High School?

In touting the new legislation, Cuomo has said “Today, college is what high school was — it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.” Unfortunately, high school as-we-know-it is not an option, but an obligation that has been posing as a benefit for way too long.

It is still true that job opportunities and salaries are greater for high school and college graduates than for those who do not complete either. But in our rush to race to the top, we have left behind many students whose innate love for learning has been squashed by excessive testing, overly prescriptive curricula, and a lack of experiential learning opportunities.

As we have struggled to address the stranglehold of Common Core standardization in K-12, we are also continuing (and in some cases just starting) to struggle to address models of delivery and design within college curricula to not only ensure a higher level of engagement and retention, but to also ensure that we are graduating students with marketable credentials for today’s workplace.

Redefining the Market

While New York’s tuition-free free model does address one major barrier to a college degree, it does not necessarily ensure the value of that degree in today’s or tomorrow’s workplace.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 5.7 million job openings as of the last day of February of this year, compared with 5.4 million reported at the same time last year. This year, we will see approximately 1,882,000 students graduating with a bachelor’s degree. If previous years are any indication, many of those graduates will either not find a job, will find a job unrelated to the degree or major they studied in school, possibly resulting in “underemployment,” being hired for a job that a less skilled candidate could have filled.

What we need are more educational models that can respond to the changing employment market and reduce the gap.

Few models stand out more than the collaboration between Georgia Tech, Udacity, and AT&T to offer a $7,000 Master’s Degree in Computer Science. In addition to $2M in funding and providing technology support, AT&T also included internships and corporate projects for credit as part of their support for this project.

Accessibility, Affordability, and Relevancy

John Palmer, Senior Vice President and Chief Learning Officer at AT&T, noted at yesterday’s Education Summit that accessibility, affordability, and relevancy are three vital components for education. Palmer advocates for more partnership between business and education in order to keep learning relevant. He also encourages workers to engage in continuous learning to keep up with the constant state of change in order to remain relevant.

While I respect the intent to address affordability, I take pause as I reflect on Governor Cuomo’s tuition-free college plan. Until we address the issue of relevance at every stage of learning, a free education may not be such a bargain after all.

Office space with sign that says "ASK MORE QUESTIONS"

Can We Market What We Can’t Define?

From whether or not to market to how to market

“Marketing” hasn’t always been part of the higher education lexicon, and the concept of having to sell your school to a prospective student may still cause discomfort in some hallowed halls. But schools did start to market themselves more actively in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly in response to declining enrollments and competition born out of the then-newly minted U.S. News College Rankings.

Traditional marketing and advertising made up for most of any available budget and consisted of billboards, posters, mailers, radio, perhaps television, and events.

As prospective students became increasingly savvy consumers, the more adventurous schools, especially those focused on online, continuing, and professional education, engaged in more sophisticated digital marketing programs that provide a more personalized experience for consumers of education.

But what is it we are trying to sell . . .

Today’s higher education market is experiencing what could be its greatest identity crisis yet. Debate continues to rage between the need for more workplace-focused education and the lack of soft- and critical-thinking skills amongst today’s job candidates.

Coding academies, once considered the enemy of traditional and continuing higher education, continue to grow in strength, in number, and apparently in their presence on the college campus.

Watson is tutoring our students and performing job interviews.

What’s a provost to do?

The world has changed, and how we prepare and reskill people to thrive in it has to change as well. So does the manner in which we reach out to and engage them.

. . . and to whom?

Student populations are shifting drastically. As universities start to see overall enrollments decrease, they have also begun to recognize the value of the “new traditional” learner, those 25 and older, and to consider their needs as well as those of their younger counterparts. And that population is changing as well.

The Chronicle of Higher Education, in “The Future of Enrollment,” reports not only a decrease in the overall number of students graduating high school between now and 2023, but also in where they are coming from.

“The largest groups of students coming out of high school in the coming decade,” reports the Chronicle, “ will be Hispanics, low-income, and those who are the first in their family to go to college—all segments of the population who historically have been unable or unwilling to travel far distances for college, if they went at all.”

As the demographics change, and as the needs of the workplace evolve due to increasing dependency on technology, schools need to consider what they are offering, how they are delivering it, and to whom they are providing it.

An Ongoing Challenge

Change is the one sure thing here. As corporate learning providers continue to move ever closer to a model of just-in-time learning, so too does the university need to determine how to provide the right learning, in the right doses, at the right time.

At the same time, we need to understand today’s audience better and reach them where they are at:

  • Let the data do the talking.
  • Optimize your website to provide a more seamless experience for potential students, and to collect the data you need to understand them better.
  • Use marketing automation to send the right information to the right person at the time of need rather than overloading prospects with endless emails.
  • If something is not working, change it.
  • Get the right people into your funnel. Quality does matter.
  • Manage and track your leads with a CMS that will talk to your other technology platforms.

You can market to a moving target if you listen closely enough.

The Latest EdTech Concept: The Decision-Maker Cap

The Decision-Maker Cap is the latest creation of our company, The Common Student. It is shaped like a baseball cap, is adjustable and comes in eight colors. The Decision-Maker Cap is now available for $55.99 and can help your high school senior make that very dreadful, very final decision: What should I do with the rest of my life?

What Does the Decision-Maker Cap Do?

The Deci-MC, as we like to call it, supports decision making by sorting through user memory, biorhythms, various social media outlets,and PAARC test scores. A weighted algorithm incorporates inputs into to the following questions into an overall rubric for decisions. All the user needs to do is wear the cap!

  1. What did I like about school so far?
  2. What did I not like about school so far?
  3. What did I excel in at school?
  4. What did I excel in outside of school?
  5. If I could do anything, what would that be?
  6. If I could go anywhere, where would that be?
  7. How much money am I going to have saved at age 65?
  8. How healthy am I going to be at age 65?
  9. How much more climate change will occur in the next four years?
  10. Will I ever be comfortable speaking in a large group?

Pilot Study

For our pilot study, we offered Deci-MCs to high school seniors in 30 high schools in 10 different cities in the United States. Three of the schools opted out of participation, citing discomfort with our data policy. Four others took the hats, attempted to resell to a competitor of ours, and were charged with illegal trafficking of high stakes technology.

The remaining schools participated in a three-week pilot during  which test users wore the caps in three different settings: in class, in sessions with guidance counselors, and at home. While results varied, we were able to conclude:

  • In 76% of all cases, Deci-MC activity was highest during class time, leading us to believe that students spend most time during class considering their options for life after school.
  • In 85% of all cases, Deci-MC activity was lowest during visits with guidance counselors, leading us to conclude that students do not focus on their future when placed inside a box with three class walls.
  • In all but 10% of cases, data from home usage was unreliable because these students’ guardians made them take their hats off.

 

Recommendations Made

The Deci-MC compiles data over a three-week period and sends its recommendations via email, text, or voicemail, depending on which notification method the student selected when first signing up. Recommendation messages include the following:

  • You should consider going to college; four years (or more) in a somewhat safe environment will help nurture your intellect, skillset, and social life significantly.
  • Take a gap year. You need to recharge before committing to the university experience.
  • Here’s the deal. You should work part-time and go to school part-time. You will be a better person for it. And you won’t have debt hanging on your neck for the rest of your life.
  • You really should think about creating your own learning program from a series of online courses, internships and travel experiences. A self-directed learner like you can benefit greatly from these experiences.

Decision-Maker Cap v.2

Our first release focuses on the recommended decisions and is meant to be used by students alone, or as part of discussions with friends, parents, guidance counselors, etc. Our next version will have increased capabilities to support the process of decision making, so that in addition to the final recommendations, they will get:

  • Daily updates with lists of Tumbler and other blogs with articles relevant to the user’s interests.
  • Recommended podcast playlists to provide more input per student interests.
  • Vibrating functionality to send students a quick buzz to help them focus while taking the AP classes listed on their college applications.
  • Weekly digest of options, including college, gap year, part-time, and self-directed learning to remind students that there are choices.

Disclosure: In addition to the other hats I wear as writer, designer and strategist, I am also the mother of a high school senior who has chronicled some of her own journey into growing up and decision making in song. If you are interested, take a listen here.

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.