I think this recent book Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses (University of Chicago Press), asks good questions. It challenges the way we define quality. As Clayton Christen posits (in Disrupting Class), I believe we are watching a disruption at its early stages. Technology is opening up options for learning that don’t require students to adhere to traditional forms of lecture and lab, of constrained times and location-centric institutions. It also lets them learn across institutions. The classroom looks increasingly antiquated in the 21st Century.
Costs, class and competencies will redefine education over the next several years. Higher costs with lower opportunity will challenge the very idea of education value. Class will increasingly divide as wealthier students gain access to elite institutions while those with less means either drop out of the learning gain, or on the positive side, lead the distributed reinvention of learning. Competency in teaching, in learning and in co-creating engaging learning experiences will set new benchmarks.
I harp on the idea of the sustainable knowledge economy. We still see undergraduate work through a industrial age lens. Thus the cost cutting, the moves toward efficiency over effectiveness, 3-year Baccalaureates, funding cuts in public education to balance state budgets, lotteries that push personal wealth chances over awareness for education funding that prompted their creation. I believe wholeheartedly that until we create a system of measurement that defines the outcomes we seek, and the way to measure them effectively, we will continue to treat undergraduate programs as factories, not as opportunities for learning engagement. We have to make learning relevant, celebrated and interesting. It has a lot to compete with these days, and if we don’t look at education as a competitive business, not just US institutions vs. the world, but competition for the minds and time of our children, we will never improve. We do measure this in a negative sense. This report is one such measure. The failure is not just in effective learning, this report challenges the model that it measures, at its deepest levels. Incremental improvement will not suffice. The future of learning is radically different, and until we understand that and confront it, we will see continued deterioration, and no amount of money or time spent on triage will help.
What education needs are courageous leaders willing to remake the experience. They need to challenge parents and unions, students and faculty, in a ways that unleash, empower and activate those constituents. And they need to not measure the outcome like a shop foreman, but create a cognitive feedback loop that makes learning about learning central to the experience, for everyone involved.
Read more from The Chronicle of Higher Education:
Are Undergraduates Actually Learning Anything?