How technology is “democratising” the future of learning

Reading Time: 4 minutes

elearningFrom Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose, California, Dr. Deborah Snyder and John Duhring, author of a new higher education series in advance of their upcoming book, tentatively titled “Old School, New School, No School,” provide a new perspective on what higher education means and how it can be more effectively experienced across the globe. This column also appears in “View from the US.”

By Deborah Snyder, PhD and John Duhring, Cogswell Polytechnical College, San Jose, California

 The four year college experience sets in place habits that will repeat themselves throughout careers and lives. Technology has widened the range of interactions possible. No longer do only a privileged few know the power of their networks and how to use them effectively. For students with access to virtually all knowledge through the smartphones in their pockets, college takes on new meaning. Rather than pursuing a field of knowledge for its own merits and possibly a career within academics, students today have the resources at their disposal to confront who they are, what they will become and how they fit into the world they live in. They can research any topic they wish. They can associate themselves with teams consisting of others students across campus or in whatever community they choose to join. They can design and run their own experiments. They can build their own equipment. Many opportunities once reserved to only those in elite institutions have been democratized at a fundamental level. Those who make the most of their environment, who learn to adapt with their classmates, who make things happen while they are in college, attract the attention of hiring managers and can create the careers they desire.

learners-technology-archiveCollege represents a four-year opportunity in which to develop skills, knowledge and a professional disposition. From the moment they set foot on campus, today’s students are afforded a unique set of relationships and opportunities regardless of the institution they attend, what books are assigned and the makeup of their classmates. Elite universities have developed the networks and methods for not only selecting the best students for their institution, but also for effectively using the resources at their disposal. All colleges have the potential to facilitate the personal transformations that occur and the cultures that they cultivate.

Ultimately, the college experience presents a mixing function. Students are mixed with others and left to their own wits and ingenuity to adapt to challenging circumstances. It’s a part of the college experience that can’t be taken away. Even as traditional classes have limited flexibility in order to power through standardized curricula, students mix outside of classroom environments. Today’s students can coordinate their activities using a host of social media tools and can choose what activities to pursue in ways that would be unimaginable in earlier generations.

“Baseball is 90% mental and the rest is half physical” – Yogi Berra
10-10-2009: the game between Wisconsin and Ohio State at Ohio Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio
10-10-2009: the game between Wisconsin and Ohio State at Ohio Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio

For their part, colleges have been adapting in their own way. Even small schools have discovered they can attract students who might otherwise go to a top-level institution if they expand their athletic and other performance-based opportunities. In 2007, the athletic association tied to top-tier colleges initiated a highly-successful branding campaign, which positioned athletics as a career service. Its famous tag line activated a culture: “There are over 380,000 student athletes, and most of us go pro in something other than sports.” Since that time, even tiny colleges are building their athletics programs, attracting students who might otherwise go to more prominent schools. The mixing, teamwork, discipline and habits required to compete in athletics has been shown to improve classroom performance and to enhance career options. Of course, only a fraction of those who plays baseball in college goes on to become a baseball player. However, the effort and habits students develop on athletic fields accompany them on the paths they choose and with the people they choose to meet along the way.

Similarly, student makers and entrepreneurs are encouraged by clubs, incubators and involvement with industry. The recent “lean startup” movement encourages student entrepreneurs and with it testimonials of its merits. The intense challenges of running a startup match those of competitive athletics. The terminology of the scrum, the sprint and the pivot evoke the level of commitment and effort required in both arenas. Entrepreneurs must adapt to changing circumstances, which makes learning a required skill with dramatic consequences. It’s not something you can read about, take a test to show you understand what’s going on and move on to something more important. Every detail is important. The habits learned by trial and error are what will serve as a foundation for a career and a lifetime. When students learn to get in the game, to play vital roles in emerging new ecosystems, the sky is the limit.

In both of these examples, students develop skills, take on roles on teams and measure their progress with real-world feedback. Playing vital roles in startups and sports teams informs the pathfinding and career choices that lie ahead. The explosive growth in their popularity might indicate some of what is possible across a growing spectrum of college experiences.

Going Pro 

Never before has such adaptation been supported by free or inexpensive resources. No longer is knowledge the province of a privileged few. Now longer is technology so expensive that the resources required to shape it to individual needs makes it beyond imagining. No longer does intimate contact with global communities require extensive travel and permissions for access. In short, students today already have the tools and resources they need to put their own ideas into play on a world stage. It is all about how we put these to use, and that is what this book is about. This is what higher education is truly all about.

At an individual level, the higher education process repeats itself throughout a lifetime. College represents a first time through the cycle of adaptation and the transformation that comes with it. The process of “learning how to learn” is often cited by graduates as  their most relevant college outcome. As graduates move through their careers, as they evolve as a neophyte trainee, an expert, a master and a mentor, they repeat what they practiced in college and adapt their practices to the situations they face. The tinkering they learned to do is as important as the knowledge they acquired along the way. What they made in school is as important as their degrees. How they employed their own skills and knowledge while in college is what hiring managers are looking for. It’s what VCs are searching for. Ultimately, while desirable career outcomes are often not fashioned by what we now think of as college, but they could be in the future. How students remove their blinders and step into roles will show that new educational processes are well within the capability of any college or university. The legitimacy provided by a college degree will continue to reflect a unique cultural message and to identify its holder as someone worthy of respect and consideration.

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

From Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose, California, Dr. Deborah Snyder and John Duhring, author of a new higher education series in advance of their upcoming book, tentatively titled “Old School, New School, No School,” provide a new perspective on what higher education means and how it can be more effectively experienced across the globe. This column also appears in “View from the US.”

Reading Time: 4 minutes

elearningFrom Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose, California, Dr. Deborah Snyder and John Duhring, author of a new higher education series in advance of their upcoming book, tentatively titled “Old School, New School, No School,” provide a new perspective on what higher education means and how it can be more effectively experienced across the globe. This column also appears in “View from the US.”

By Deborah Snyder, PhD and John Duhring, Cogswell Polytechnical College, San Jose, California

 The four year college experience sets in place habits that will repeat themselves throughout careers and lives. Technology has widened the range of interactions possible. No longer do only a privileged few know the power of their networks and how to use them effectively. For students with access to virtually all knowledge through the smartphones in their pockets, college takes on new meaning. Rather than pursuing a field of knowledge for its own merits and possibly a career within academics, students today have the resources at their disposal to confront who they are, what they will become and how they fit into the world they live in. They can research any topic they wish. They can associate themselves with teams consisting of others students across campus or in whatever community they choose to join. They can design and run their own experiments. They can build their own equipment. Many opportunities once reserved to only those in elite institutions have been democratized at a fundamental level. Those who make the most of their environment, who learn to adapt with their classmates, who make things happen while they are in college, attract the attention of hiring managers and can create the careers they desire.

learners-technology-archiveCollege represents a four-year opportunity in which to develop skills, knowledge and a professional disposition. From the moment they set foot on campus, today’s students are afforded a unique set of relationships and opportunities regardless of the institution they attend, what books are assigned and the makeup of their classmates. Elite universities have developed the networks and methods for not only selecting the best students for their institution, but also for effectively using the resources at their disposal. All colleges have the potential to facilitate the personal transformations that occur and the cultures that they cultivate.

Ultimately, the college experience presents a mixing function. Students are mixed with others and left to their own wits and ingenuity to adapt to challenging circumstances. It’s a part of the college experience that can’t be taken away. Even as traditional classes have limited flexibility in order to power through standardized curricula, students mix outside of classroom environments. Today’s students can coordinate their activities using a host of social media tools and can choose what activities to pursue in ways that would be unimaginable in earlier generations.

“Baseball is 90% mental and the rest is half physical” – Yogi Berra
10-10-2009: the game between Wisconsin and Ohio State at Ohio Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio
10-10-2009: the game between Wisconsin and Ohio State at Ohio Stadium, in Columbus, Ohio

For their part, colleges have been adapting in their own way. Even small schools have discovered they can attract students who might otherwise go to a top-level institution if they expand their athletic and other performance-based opportunities. In 2007, the athletic association tied to top-tier colleges initiated a highly-successful branding campaign, which positioned athletics as a career service. Its famous tag line activated a culture: “There are over 380,000 student athletes, and most of us go pro in something other than sports.” Since that time, even tiny colleges are building their athletics programs, attracting students who might otherwise go to more prominent schools. The mixing, teamwork, discipline and habits required to compete in athletics has been shown to improve classroom performance and to enhance career options. Of course, only a fraction of those who plays baseball in college goes on to become a baseball player. However, the effort and habits students develop on athletic fields accompany them on the paths they choose and with the people they choose to meet along the way.

Similarly, student makers and entrepreneurs are encouraged by clubs, incubators and involvement with industry. The recent “lean startup” movement encourages student entrepreneurs and with it testimonials of its merits. The intense challenges of running a startup match those of competitive athletics. The terminology of the scrum, the sprint and the pivot evoke the level of commitment and effort required in both arenas. Entrepreneurs must adapt to changing circumstances, which makes learning a required skill with dramatic consequences. It’s not something you can read about, take a test to show you understand what’s going on and move on to something more important. Every detail is important. The habits learned by trial and error are what will serve as a foundation for a career and a lifetime. When students learn to get in the game, to play vital roles in emerging new ecosystems, the sky is the limit.

In both of these examples, students develop skills, take on roles on teams and measure their progress with real-world feedback. Playing vital roles in startups and sports teams informs the pathfinding and career choices that lie ahead. The explosive growth in their popularity might indicate some of what is possible across a growing spectrum of college experiences.

Going Pro 

Never before has such adaptation been supported by free or inexpensive resources. No longer is knowledge the province of a privileged few. Now longer is technology so expensive that the resources required to shape it to individual needs makes it beyond imagining. No longer does intimate contact with global communities require extensive travel and permissions for access. In short, students today already have the tools and resources they need to put their own ideas into play on a world stage. It is all about how we put these to use, and that is what this book is about. This is what higher education is truly all about.

At an individual level, the higher education process repeats itself throughout a lifetime. College represents a first time through the cycle of adaptation and the transformation that comes with it. The process of “learning how to learn” is often cited by graduates as  their most relevant college outcome. As graduates move through their careers, as they evolve as a neophyte trainee, an expert, a master and a mentor, they repeat what they practiced in college and adapt their practices to the situations they face. The tinkering they learned to do is as important as the knowledge they acquired along the way. What they made in school is as important as their degrees. How they employed their own skills and knowledge while in college is what hiring managers are looking for. It’s what VCs are searching for. Ultimately, while desirable career outcomes are often not fashioned by what we now think of as college, but they could be in the future. How students remove their blinders and step into roles will show that new educational processes are well within the capability of any college or university. The legitimacy provided by a college degree will continue to reflect a unique cultural message and to identify its holder as someone worthy of respect and consideration.

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