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Post-Secondary Education


Learning for a Rapidly Changing World

The safest prediction is that reality will outstrip our imaginations. So let us craft our policies not just for what we expect but for what will surely surprise us.Sendhil Mullainathan, professor of economics, Harvard University

Professor Mullainathan argues that, in this age of disruption when constant innovation results in creative Economist-lifelong-learningdestruction of businesses, we need to think differently about the education of people throughout their careers. He writes:

… in a rapidly changing world, the fundamentals that were useful decades ago may be obsolete now; more important, new essential skills may have arisen. Anyone helping a grandparent navigate a computer has experienced this problem.

Once we recognize that human capital, like technology, needs refreshing, we have to restructure our institutions so people acquire education later in life. We don’t merely need training programs for niche populations or circumstances, expensive and short executive-education programs or brief excursions like TED talks. Instead we need the kind of in-depth education and training people receive routinely at age 13.

I don’t think we want to subject adults to the kind of learning experiences typical of a 13-year-old’s classroom. But I do agree that all workers today need to be continually learning and our institutions need to recognize and support this learning.

In the Knowledge Economy, learning cannot end with school. Learning at the individual, team, and whole organization levels must be continuous. Training programs are not sufficient. E-learning programs are not sufficient. On-the-job coaching and mentoring are not sufficient. Workplace learning must be all of these and more.

Former mine workers are learning coding. Car prototype builders who used to build clay models are learning how to use a 3D printer. Teams that previously took years to develop a new product are learning to be agile and develop new products within weeks or months. Organizations are learning to experiment with new structures, without the controls that bureaucracy and hierarchy have provided.

The economy depends on people learning throughout their careers. A special report in The Economist titled, Lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative, concludes:

To remain competitive, and to give low- and high-skilled workers alike the best chance of success, economies need to offer training and career-focused education throughout people’s working lives.

We need to prepare people for jobs that don’t currently exist. Tom Friedman, in an interview for Deloitte Review, said:

If work is being extracted from jobs, and if jobs and work are being extracted from companies...then learning has to become lifelong. We have to provide both the learning tools and the learning resources for lifelong learning when your job becomes work and your company becomes a platform. So I'm not sure what the work of the future is, but I know that the future of companies is to be hiring people and constantly training people to be prepared for a job that has not been invented yet. If you, as a company, are not providing both the resources and the opportunity for lifelong learning, [you're sunk], because you simply cannot be a lifelong employee anymore unless you are a lifelong learner.

Companies have a responsibility to provide resources and opportunities for learning but people have a responsibility to learn how to learn lifelong. The mindset and skills that K-12 students need to learn in school and then in college are not the same as the mindset and skills needed to learn in the workplace, and these are not the mindset and skills needed post-employment. Lifelong learners move from teacher-centered learning to learner-centered learning over the course of a career. In the workplace and beyond, learning in the Knowledge Economy has to be self-directed. People must pull the learning they need, when and where they need it and faster than they ever have before. In this age, ability of individuals to learn fast and learn well is critical to organizational survival.


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Closing the Skills Gap by Improving Corporate Culture

Missing from the conversation about gaps in the labor market is an analysis of how supply, retention, and IMAG0188productivity of workers is affected by their workplace experience.

U.S. Politicians and economists talk about jobs, jobs, and jobs. They say they want to close the skills gap, better prepare young people for employment, and retrain workers for new, high tech careers. They claim that if only people were better educated and trained (especially in STEM fields) and we did a better job of matching people with jobs, we would grow the U.S. economy at a faster rate and expand the middle class as a result.

For example, Michigan’s Governor Rick Snyder has made jobs a high priority of his administration. Although unemployment in Michigan is at a 17-year low, estimates of the number of unfilled jobs in the State go as high as 100,000. The Governor is encouraging private-public partnerships to train people in the skills they need to fill that gap.

What these politicians and economists don’t seem to realize is organizational culture is a major barrier to attracting, developing, and retaining the people that companies need to be successful. Nobody wants to work in a poorly managed organization, yet policy makers don't factor this into the equation. They don’t ask companies to make their workplaces more attractive to workers.

That is a black-box theory of work, with company culture being the black box. It’s an analysis of inputs and outputs without examining the thru-put. They count the number of degrees among new hires and the GDP of the economy but they don’t look at indicators of the quality of the workplace experience.

Most workplaces are unpleasant places to work and most managers are not very good at managing people. Employee disengagement is consistently measured at around 70% and managers are the primary reason why employees leave their jobs. Research by the Learning and Development Roundtable of the Corporate Executive Board (Gartner) found that “nearly 60 percent of frontline managers underperform during their first two years.”

Why would people want to work in an organization and do their best in an organization where they are not respected, where they are not trusted, where they do not have an opportunity to apply the knowledge and skills for which they thought they were hired, where there is little opportunity to learn and grow, where the performance goals are not clear, where they are chastised for trying something new when it doesn’t work out, where they are discouraged from collaborating with people in other units of the company, where they receive feedback only once a year at a perfunctory performance review meeting, and where pay and benefits are awarded unfairly?

Of course, increasing employment in good paying jobs, especially for women and minorities, is a worthy goal. But without a workplace conducive to learning and growth, people will be discouraged from seeking work and doing their best after they’ve been hired. And when sexual harassment and racial discrimination are allowed to continue in some workplaces, people will not want to work in those organizations. Many who experience these indignities prefer to either work for themselves or stop seeking work altogether.

It isn’t enough to get people into jobs; we should also be helping them stay in their jobs, be successful, and develop career competencies. Having the knowledge and skills needed by companies is part of it but we also need to make sure that people have a positive workplace experience if we want the economy to grow faster and have more people enter the middle class.

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The Future of Education and Training in an Automated Workplace

It's a vexing question: As automation, robots, and AI do more of the work that people used to do, and do it better and safer in many cases, what will people be doing and how should we educate and train people for these new roles?

The Pew Research Center and Elon University address this question in a survey they did that resulted in responses from just over 1400 experts and highly interested individuals, selected because of their familiarity with the internet and its impact on work and education. They were asked what they think will happen to jobs and education over the next 10 years.

Claire Cain Miller, in her analysis of the survey report for the New York Times, concludes:

The logical response seems to be to educate people differently, so they’re prepared to work alongside the robots or do the jobs that machines can’t. But how to do that, and whether training can outpace automation, are open questions…People still need to learn skills, the respondents said, but they will do that continuously over their careers. In school, the most important thing they can learn is how to learn.

The authors of the report reduced the many lengthy responses to five major themes, presented in the summary below.


No doubt, the workplace now and over the next 10 years will require people to be continuous learners and to be more self-directed in what and how they learn. Methods of learning in schools, colleges, and in the workplace will continue to evolve and be more learner-centered. Proof of competency will become more important than evidence of educational completion. Companies will have to assume greater responsibility for employee learning in response to an ever-changing workplace. The danger is that people who can't adapt readily to change, who are not independent learners, or who are not a good fit with the new workplace culture, will be left out in the cold.

[Look for our forthcoming book from ATD titled, Minds at Work: Managing for Success in the Knowledge Economy]


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Learning Different

What and how people learn is changing dramatically. Digital technology has opened the door to new learning formats and created a demand for new, more fluid types of training and development efforts. Globalization, automation, and networking are making continuous acquisition of new knowledge and the upgrading of skills part of life and work.  

In “The Lifetime Learner”, a publication of Deloitte University Press, the authors argue that the demand for new forms of education and training are quite different from what is being delivered by traditional post-secondary institutions and corporate training departments. They write:

Individuals are…challenged by an accelerating cycle of skill obsolescence in a period of unprecedented transition from skill set to skill set. The rapidly changing business landscape demands constant learning of new skills and domains, retraining, and applying existing capabilities in new contexts. It also demands a greater fluency in digital tools and comfort in virtual environments. It rewards those with greater capacity to seek and access resources and to build social capital through personal networks and participation in communities.

In this “rapidly changing business landscape”, we need individuals and organizations that know how to learn. Those institutions that can learn quickly and constantly will be competitive and will survive. It’s MP900422122no longer about having the most creative training events; it’s about developing a culture that values and supports continuous learning. This must be evident in the actions of leaders, in the manager-learner relationship, in the allocation of resources, in the recognition and reward system, in the way people communicate with each other, and in how people are held accountable.

We need agility in learners and in learning interventions in organizations. Employees need to take responsibility for their own learning. They need to learn fast and learn just-in-time, whether how to fix a machine or how to fix an organization. And organizations need to create opportunities for individuals, teams, and the enterprise to learn how to learn fast and effectively.

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Corporate Online Courses and NanoDegrees: Pluses & Minuses

Starbuck’s is providing its employees with the opportunity to earn a degree (at considerable expense to the company) by taking online courses from Arizona State University. AT&T is offering employees the opportunity to earn a “NanoDegree” that will qualify them for entry-level positions in the company. And Udacity has been designing MOOCs for Google and Cloudera to address technical learning needs of their employees and customers.

Is this the future? Will all companies tailor a credential to their own needs, bypassing the traditional College-classroom2-year and 4-year academic path found in colleges and universities around the world? Will the demand for highly skilled workers, the pace of change in technology, and the high cost of four-year institutions cause people to seek a narrow, job-focused, technical education? Will the study of history, social sciences, literature, languages, and the arts be sacrificed for the immediate benefits of learning just enough to get a job.   

For most people, college is the last time (maybe only time) beliefs and values go through significant change. It’s worrisome that at the same time Emotional Intelligence, collaboration, and cross-cultural teamwork are being recognized as essential competencies of a successful workforce, we are drastically reducing the exposure of workers to the breadth of ideas, values, and culture in our global society.

I applaud Starbucks, AT&T, Google, and Cloudera for providing courses and credentials to their employees. This is good for the employees that take advantage of these programs and good for the economy which needs skilled and knowledgeable workers. However, I worry that we are preparing people for a job, not for being successful in an organization.



Organizational Learning in Colleges and Universities

Recent newspaper stories have questioned the value of acollege education (although it is clear that college graduates earn more money over their lifetimes) and the burden of students taking on debt to pay for that education. What isn’t discussed much is how colleges and universities need to change in order to increase value for students and society.

Jeffrey J. Selingo, editor at large for The Chronicle for Higher Education and author of the new book, College books College (Un)bound: The Future of Higher Education and What It Means for Students, says,“American higher education has lost its way.” He points to the high cost, the high number of non-completers, the proliferation of online courses available anywhere at any time, and a disconnect between what is taught and what employers need.

And there are other pressures on higher education institutions to change and improve. Stakeholders (board members, funders, employers, legislators, state and federal agencies, etc.) want their institutions to be entrepreneurial and create businesses from intellectual property, be responsive to the talent needs of the private sector, provide an ROI that justifies the high cost of a college education, and be more responsible for student access and success, all while fulfilling course requirements in the various disciplines.

In order to change, colleges and universities must first learn; that is, acquire new organizational knowledge and new organizational skills. They must create an organizational routine of feedback, reflection, and active social learning. They must develop a community in which administrators, faculty, and staff are constantly sharing information and seeking performance improvement through new knowledge, new skills, and new applications of knowledge and skills to achieving the goals of the institution.

They need to learn how to examine what they do, compare that to what needs to be done, reflect on what they have learned from their actions, and make the needed changes in the organization. They must be open to true transformation; not simply incremental improvements. 



Are Classrooms Obsolete?

Sugata Mitra, winner of the 2013 TED prize, says, “Schoolsas we know them are obsolete.” His conclusion is based on his research with very poor children in India who, when given unfettered access to a computer, learned English, math, and science without being in school. Mitra calls this SOLE – a self-organizing learning environment. You might conclude that although SOLE is the future for poor kids in India, it is not the future for kids in urban centers in the West. I think that would be a naïve assumption. Development of the hundreds of millions of children who live at the bottom of the pyramid will have a profound effect on the rest of the globe. How they learn and how they learn to learn will shape the cultures of all global organizations. 

And the challenge to traditional classroom-based education is not coming only from K-12 educators. Educational leaders, parents, policy makers, and students themselves are demanding results from their investment in colleges and universities.  Computer technology is beginning to provide a solution and it is not in the classroom.

Tom Friedman, in a column for the New York Times, writes:

Institutions of higher learning must move, as the historian Walter Russell Mead puts it, from a model of “time served” to a model of “stuff learned.” Because increasingly the world does not care what you know. Everything is on Google. The world only cares, and will only pay for, what you can do with what you know. And therefore it will not pay for a C+ in chemistry, just because your state college considers that a passing grade and was willing to give you a diploma that says so. We’re moving to a more competency-based world where there will be less interest in how you acquired the competency — in an online course, at a four-year-college or in a company-administered class — and more demand to prove that you mastered the competency.

Online course (free!) providers, such as Coursera, are starting to offer options for measuring competency and thus recognize “stuff learned” and not just “time served”.

The training and development industry needs to change also. The method of training is still based predominately on a centuries-old model of teacher-centered, classroom instruction while most of what employees need to learn would be learned more effectively if it was a combination of “elearning” and on-the-job coaching. It might be, as Mitra suggests, that even “knowing” is obsolete because anything we need to know can be found in the cloud within a few minutes.

I say all of this with a strong caveat. Some knowledge and skills are best developed, or at least supported, in a structured classroom environment, such as much of the social sciences and literature, subjects in which a facilitated discussion is essential to learning. So I think the classroom, whether in a school, college, or business, still has a place. However, currently we rely much too heavily on this method of developing young people and employees. As I wrote in a previous blog post, “Throw out the course catalog.”

Related articles

Tools of a Learning Organization


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Hyper-Connectivity: Get Used To It! Educate for It!

Why is it that the economy is expanding but the number ofhigh-paying jobs is not increasing (and World possibly decreasing)? Tom Friedman in his New York Times op-ed column suggests that the answer to this question is the “Great Inflection”. This is a time of dramatic change in work and education due to technology. He writes:

Because of the way every industry — from health care to manufacturing to education — is now being transformed by cheap, fast, connected computing power, the skill required for every decent job is rising as is the necessity of lifelong learning.

Job seekers, employees, and managers need to prepare themselves for this change. The days of going to school, learning a skill, and working for a company until retirement have long since gone. If you don’t come well educated, familiar with the latest technology, but also ready to learn whatever is new, you are not likely to find a good-paying, career-shaping job.

I live in a region of the country where many new businesses are being started. However, these businesses won’t make a dent in overall unemployment. They are too small, require only a few highly skilled IT professionals, and don’t have jobs for the secretaries and entry-level folks who filled workplaces in the past. Some of these companies have been created to get flipped, so they outsource as much work as they can. The few employees who are hired by these companies are tech-savvy, but even so, they will have to continually reinvent themselves as these companies grow and morph.

At the same time, not much has changed in the way we educate students and train workers to accommodate this new workplace. We continue to emphasize K-12 schools, two and four-year colleges, as well as employee classroom training even though all of these are centuries-old, arbitrary constructions designed primarily for the benefit of teachers, not learners. These methods of educational delivery are reinforced by a system that rewards time in class, credit-hour production, and continuity at the expense of learning. These institutions are not adequately preparing learners for the “Great Inflection”.

The change that companies and their employees face due to technology is mind-boggling. Friedman
quotes Craig Mundie of Microsoft as saying:

…not just elites, but virtually everyone everywhere has, or will have soon, access to a hand-held computer/cellphone, which can be activated by voice or touch, connected via the cloud to infinite applications and storage, so they can work, invent, entertain, collaborate and learn for less money than ever before.

We need education and training that are in line with this fast changing world of work.  As Friedman points out, it’s not only a flat world; it’s also a hyper-connected world.

A perfect example of this point is Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village for orphan and vulnerable youth in Rwanda. A third world country but the residents and graduates of this village communicate with each other using Facebook. They are hyperconnected which has profound implications for how they will live and work in the years ahead.

Related articles

Thomas Friedman: Hyperconnected
Why Learn?
Lifelong Employee Learning
I, Robot; You, Learn

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Continuous Improvement in Agahozo-Shalom Youth Village

In my last blog post I mentioned my evaluation work withAgahozo-Shalom Youth Village in Rwanda. One of the tools we used to help the Village staff think about indicators of success was a model of the residents’ total Village experience. See below.

ASYV Theory of Change

We asked the staff, “What indicates that you have been successful at each point in this model?” At "baseline", they said that it’s knowing students’ abilities and expectations when they first arrive at the Village. It’s understanding the circumstances they came from and how the Village is different? It’s knowing their hopes and dreams...if at that point they are able to hope and dream.

During the “process” stage, indicators of success include the level of participation of residents in their school and non-school programs. Measures of learning, examples of leadership, examples of volunteering to help others in the Village and outside, and examples of showing initiative were all considered evidence that youth are learning and developing into knowledgeable, self-sufficient, and productive adults.

Some of the indicators of “output” success are the number of students who stay in the Village for four years, the number who graduate from the High School, and the number who pass Rwanda’s national exams. A low incidence of health clinic visits and emotional problems are also indicators of success at this point.

Outcomes” that staff think are indicators of success include attending the university or a technical institute, starting a business, getting a job, raising a family in a responsible way, and maintaining contact with other graduates from their cohort. Also, taking a leadership position in the community and “giving back” to their communities in other ways are indicators of success.

Impact” success is apparent in graduates who complete a college education, who are running a successful business, who have an adequate income that is supporting a family, and who are giving back to their communities through teaching, service, and economic development projects.  

What the ASYV staff and I explored together is that, given their theory of change, success is measured at a number of points in the learner’s experience. If they waited, as so often happens in organizations, until after a program (i.e., learning intervention) has ended for learners, it’s too late for continuous improvement. 



Lifelong Employee Learning

The Evolllution, in a report titled, Lifelong Education and Labor Market Needs, presents findings thatsupport a key role for post-secondary institutions in educating workers for jobs that have gone unfilled while unemployment remains high, and in continually improving the position of workers within companies. The report’s conclusion states:

Many North Americans have trouble keeping pace with the changes occurring in today’s workplace. Despite the existence of 9.3 million unemployed Americans, the country experienced a shortage of 7 million skilled workers in 2010, a shortage that is expected to climb to 21 million by 2020. A lack of educational attainment sits at the root of the issue. So much so, that unless more North Americans strive to achieve a higher level of education, average income per capita is going to decline within the next decade.

Much of this unemployment is structural. Employers just don’t need as many employees today as they did a few years ago to do the same jobs. Technology and automation have made companies much more efficient. The only hope for workers is to continually upgrade their skills. Alvin Toffler, the futurist, has been quoted as saying, “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” Colleges and universities will remain one key resource for this learning, unlearning, and relearning.

However, let’s not put all colleges and universities into the same pot. They have different missions, MP900148484 structures, and cultures. For example, large universities are not adept at making quick and timely changes in their curricula to respond to changing needs in a company’s workforce. In my region of the U.S. there is a severe shortage of IT engineers. Companies do not need people with four-year computer science degrees nor do they necessarily need people with two-year, community college degrees. They need people who have had enough education to be able to do the job and solve problems for customers. Some employees might only need a class or two. For others, a two-week “bootcamp” might be all that is necessary. Universities tend not to look at education this way. They are oriented towards the academic year, academic terms, and academic requirements.  These programs are often designed around the intellectual interests of faculty, not around the needs of students and their employers. That’s fine, but this is not what employees need in order to be successful in their work places.

Community colleges, by virtue of their mandates, can be more responsive to the development of workers. Living up to their name, these institutions strive to meet the needs of employers and learners in the communities that they serve. They can add and subtract courses and programs from term to term, and sometimes in shorter time spans, as long as there is a demand from students and there are available instructors (full-time or part-time) to teach the courses.

Universities often have to go through a much longer process to change curricula, sometimes taking several years with required approvals from departments, central administration, and state-level committees. These institutions can be effective partners in employee learning and development, but employers and learners should not assume that every institution can be responsive. Their mission and culture will dictate whether or not they can meet the needs of employees.

For these partnerships between employers and post-secondary institutions to work, employers must demand more cooperation from colleges and universities. And employers must be prepared to encourage and support employees who want to take advantage of this kind of resource.  


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The Future of Work and Learning

I have been asked to speak to a group of 14 to 16 year olds about the importance of finishing high Graduation school and attending college. It’s one of my favorite topics. But as I thought about the talk I realized that I better say something about the future of work and why college has become more important than ever.  It’s fun but risky to speculate about the future of work and learning. The world is changing so fast. It’s hard to know what will happen next week, let alone 10 years from now.

As leaders, we should be thinking about the future, including whom we will be leading and what they will be doing in our organizations. We need to be prepared and we need to make sure our employees are prepared.  

A good place to start is with the tech industry because that industry will affect the nature of everyone’s work in the future. Chris Jablonski, in a ZDNet post titled, 5 trends driving the future of work, describes five major ways in which work is changing:

  1. More independent workers (one estimate is 20 million by 2013) – These are the independent consultants, contract workers, free lancers, free agents, and temps who cycle in and out of organizations in a constant flow. More people want to work with more flexibility and choice in what they do and more companies want to have more flexibility and choice in who they hire.  I think we will see the rise of a permanent-temp labor force.
  2. Working online – Workers will find jobs and do their work via email and Web sites and apps, possibly without ever setting foot inside their employers’ organizations. It’s outsourcing and it’s telecommuting and it’s working remotely; not as an exception, but rather as the principal mode of work.
  3. Co-working – For cost reasons or social reasons or convenience, workers are choosing to share work space with people from other occupations and organizations. Sometimes they start out in business incubators and then grow into a more cooperative arrangement. Co-working is more about community than entrepreneurism, although it is some of both.
  4. Lifelong learning – Workers need to be learning continually because of a world that is constantly changing.  Jobs are evolving and new jobs are being created in much shorter time frames than ever before. Whether one stays in the same job or moves to a new job, there will always be more to learn just to stay current. People will be working longer, much past the traditional retirement age, and doing that in new careers that require new knowledge and new skills.
  5. Businesses that solve new problems – For example (from a list prepared by the World Future Society), we might need chef-farmers who can bridge the gap between farm and restaurant, or clone ranchers who can raise cloned animals, or drone dispatchers who can manage remote-controlled vehicles, or space junk haulers who can clear the skies of unwanted debris. It's fascinating to think about the possibilities.

To Jablonski’s list, I would add five more trends:

  1. More small, entrepreneurial businesses – A desire for autonomy, control, and meaning, will drive many new workers (as well as baby-boomers) towards starting and growing their own businesses. New technologies and new consumer attitudes make these kinds of endeavors possible. However, there is a limit to this growth; not everyone is psychologically and financially equipped to take the risks associated with starting and managing a new business.
  2. Knowledge workers needed for nearly every job – From assembly line workers to auto mechanics to farmers to truck drivers, jobs will require increasing sophistication in the management of information. Because they have the tools, workers today, especially in developed nations, are retrieving, storing, sorting, and making sense of vast amounts of information as a normal part of their jobs.
  3. Changing jobs and careers frequently – Workers will no longer seek stability in their careers. It will become normal to move from job to job, “stop out” of the workforce from time to time, move in new directions and with different organizations, and form different kinds of work relationships with their primary employers. Change, not stability, will be the order of the day.
  4. Just-in-time learning – New technology is connecting more people globally and bringing more information to our fingertips (literally) whenever and wherever we need to know something. Workers will become mobile learners and learning will be on-demand rather than learning according to HR’s schedule.
  5. Solving complex and difficult global problems – Workers will be called on to solve, not just observe, the most intractable problems of our era: poverty; hunger; disease; global warming; energy conservation; violence; war and peace; and economic equality. We believe that we should be able to solve these problems and many young people are choosing to dedicate their careers to these issues.

Each of these 10 trends suggests that we need a workforce that is more informed, more able to integrate information from multiple disciplines, more able to interact effectively with diverse co-workers and business associates, and more skilled and knowledgeable about technology of all kinds. This is why I think a college education (two- or four-year degree) will be the “cost of admission” in the future, if it hasn’t become this already. To work for someone else or to work for yourself will require the breadth of knowledge, skills, and emotional intelligence that is developed in college.

What workforce trends do you see and how do you think a college education plays a role in the development of workers that will be needed in the future?


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What's Better: eLearning or Classroom?

We need to examine the proliferation of Web-based education before it gets out of hand (It may be Medium_2348649408
too late.). Online college courses are being promoted as the panacea for producing more college graduates and strengthening the workforce. The Obama administration has been touting the educational value of online courses since coming into office over three years ago, and many colleges, especially community colleges, have adopted that mantra.

Many companies are also convinced that “elearning” is the answer to their employee training and development needs. They are told elearning will be cheaper, faster, more convenient, and more effective than traditional, classroom training. Also, using elearning programs makes managers feel like they are staying on the cutting edge of technology. Nobody wants to be left behind.

Feeding this appetite for online programs is research that seems to support the notion that online is better than face-to-face, classroom instruction. A study by the U.S. Department of Education found a small advantage for online (blended) programs. However, they qualify that finding by writing:

Despite what appears to be strong support for blended learning applications, the studies in this meta-analysis do not demonstrate that online learning is superior as a medium. In many of the studies showing an advantage for blended learning, the online and classroom conditions differed in terms of time spent, curriculum and pedagogy. It was the combination of elements in the treatment conditions (which was likely to have included additional learning time and materials as well as additional opportunities for collaboration) that produced the observed learning advantages.

The problem is that whether online programs are better than face-to-face depends on the purpose of the course, learning goals of the program, skills of the instructor, and expectations of learners, among other things. I published an article about this nearly 10 years ago in Educational Technology. At that time, I wrote (in ilalics):

  1. E-learning will not revolutionize training; it is only one instructional method among many, each better at achieving some instructional objectives than others. (I was wrong; e-learning is revolutionizing training. However, the change has been in the accessibility of information, not in the impact of instruction.)
  2. Putting a course on the Web or on a CD-ROM does not ensure performance improvement.(Learning and change depend more on expectations of learners and organizational culture than on the mode of delivery.)
  3. Employees learn in many different ways. (For some, online instruction fits their style of learning, but for others it is not always the best mode.)
  4. E-learning is not a low cost alternative, especially if it is not aligned with the organization's strategic goals. (If the content is not aligned, it will be a waste of time and energy. No matter how cheap it is per learner, it will be too expensive.)
  5. Having a vast selection of courses is meaningless. (It’s wonderful, for personal edification, to have access to thousands of courses from Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and other prestigious colleges. But if these courses aren’t related to what learners need to know on the job and can’t be applied immediately, then more is not better.)
  6. Work and learning are the same. (The tendency of managers is to think that by having instruction online, employees can use non-work time for learning. But this separation between work and learning is a false dichotomy. Especially in this day and age, employees have to be continually learning; it must be part of their job.)

In the past 10 years, the technology of online instruction has evolved considerably. Interactivity has advanced. Audio and video have continued to improve. Practical mobile tools for just-in-time applications of elearning are now available (e.g., smart phones and tablets). However, the danger is that organizational leaders and technologists will assume that any learning that is computer enabled is better than direct human contact. For some learning, this could be true. For other learning, it is not. We need to align method of content delivery with intended learning outcomes.

photo credit: Mr_Stein via photopin cc



Complete to Compete: Community College Student Success (Part Two)

This post continues my comments and observations from attending the 2011 Annual Convention of the American Association of Community Colleges.

Critics of Student Success Agenda

The completion agenda is not without its critics. Several college presidents reminded me that the Graduation stigma of community college as being grades 13 and 14 still exists in some quarters. Also, some transfer students who are focused on community college being a vehicle to a Bachelor’s Degree, don’t see the value of earning an Associate’s Degree before transferring. And many employers don’t recognize the value of certain community college certificates. All of these factors are barriers to motivating students to do what is necessary to receive a credential of completion.

One presenter asked, “Why isn’t jobbing-out an acceptable outcome?” Another presenter made us aware that although average completion data might be improving across the country, segments of the population, such as low-income minorities, are completing at a much lower rate. For example, Pima College (Arizona) spends $22 million each year providing developmental courses and has only a 4% success rate.

Other observations from presentors:

  • Faculty (full-time and part-time)are at the “fulcrum” for change. They must be part of the solution.
  • The message we are sending to High School students is that they don’t have to do anything and they will still be able to go to college. Is this the message we want to be sending?
  • We are also sending the message that community colleges are the economic engines of the community and that we will train everyone at very low cost. Can we continue to keep doing this?
  • Pell grants are not performance based. In effect, Pell is a reward for not graduating.

Job Supply Side of Success

Several presenters encouraged us to think about community college education from the job supply side of the equation. Roberts T. Jones had this to say about the job market:

  • Percent of workforce eligible people is declining
  • Today’s jobs require more skill and more knowledge
  • 85% of new jobs require a post-secondary education
  • One third of the workforce doesn’t have a post-secondary education
  • Jobs for many of the unemployed are gone forever
  • Employees need the ability to learn new jobs quickly
  • People in the current workforce are not prepared for new jobs
  • Need to align workforce training with college credit and workplace demands
  • Need a performance-based and performance-driven system

Folks from ACT are promoting a national system of assessing (of course) and credentialing workers, especially mid-level employees. In Breaking New Ground: Building a National Credentialing System, they argue for identifying a core set of skills and then measuring where all workers are on each of those skills. I have my doubts about the value of such a system, although I can see why ACT would want it.

Peggy Taylor, VP of Global Talent Acquisition, Hilton Worldwide, made an important observation about community colleges partnering with companies. She gave the example of Hilton needing to hire 50 accountants in the next 30 days. She wants to go to community colleges for help but they need to recognize that she, too, is trying to do more with less; they shouldn’t expect her to spend a lot in this collaboration.


Community College League of California has done a lot of work on issues of access and success. They published 2020 Vision, which has many suggestions on how to improve access and success in community colleges. The contributors to this report encourage inviting legislators to meetings to discuss how to increase student success in the face of budget cuts. They also talk about “stackable certificates” that mark progress and accumulate to a degree. And they talk about requiring students to take courses that are essential to progress and completion. One person said, “Students don’t do optional.”

One of the treats of the conference was hearing from Geoffrey Canada, founder of Harlem Children’s Zone. He said that when he tells people that he spends $5,000 per child in addition to school aid money, they say, “But Geoffrey, you can’t bring that to scale,” and then he says in response, “We brought $37,500 per prisoner to scale; why can’t we spend $5,000 now to prevent spending $37,500 later?” For many students, college success depends on investing more in them before they get to college.



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Complete to Compete: Community College Student Success (Part One)

I’ve written previously about reasons why organization leaders, whether business, nonprofit, or
government, should be concerned about college completion. The talent that these 21rst century organizations need in order to thrive and succeed will come from college graduates who earn a certificate, license, or degree that signifies their readiness to work in a profession.

Full disclosure: I have a special interest in community college completion because I am on the Board of Graduation Trustees of Washtenaw Community College in Ann Arbor, Michigan and that institution, like all other colleges, is coming under scrutiny regarding the retention and graduation of their students. To learn more about these issues, I recently attended the annual meeting of the American Association of Community Colleges where concern for increasing student completion rates dominated conference sessions and the exhibit hall.  

I hope the following comments and observations from the conference will stimulate discussion among college trustees, administrators, faculty, staff, and students.

Student Success Surveys

The opening session honored Byron and Kay McClenney for their work in the Community College Leadership Program at the University of Texas. Kay McClenney directs the Center for Community College Student Engagement which does an annual Survey of Entering Student Engagement. This survey is interesting to me not so much because of the data but rather because of the survey items and what they say about a definition of student engagement.

In a session on The College Completion Agenda, presenters offered these key points:

  • Access doesn’t necessarily mean success; many other factors determine success.
  • We have to re-imagine what it means to be an educated person today and what should be the new “architecture” of education.
  • Community colleges have to partner with high schools if they want to make sure that students come to them ready to do college-level learning.
  • Parents need to be involved in achieving success; this is especially true in Hispanic families.
  • A big challenge is scaling –up; being able to address needs of all students.
  • Another big challenge is increasing the number of completers while, at the same time, improving quality.
  • Boards of Trustees need to decide how they want to support their college’s student success agenda.

Since 2004, approximately 350 community colleges have participated in the National Community College Benchmark Project. This project collects data from participating institutions on a set of performance indicators that is made up of measures of student outcomes, institutional effectiveness, and community and workforce development.

Similar to the Benchmark Project, the Voluntary Framework of Accountability is AACC’s effort to identify a common set of measures of student success. So far, they have identified metrics in three areas: 1) Student Progress and Outcomes; 2) Workforce, Economic, and Community Development; and 3) Student Learning Outcomes.

Student Success Indicators

The Michigan Community College Association has considered these Benchmark indicators in its proposal to the State of Michigan (in response to a request from the Governor) for how the State can judge the performance of community colleges. MCCA proposed five indicators:

  1. Developmental Student Success in First College Level Course: Percent of students that were successful in the immediate prerequisite in developmental Math or English prior to the college-­‐level course in Math or English, then enrolled in and successfully completed the first college-­‐level course in Math or English.
  2. Fall to Next Term Persistence Rate: Percent of students that were enrolled in the first, fall term and are still enrolled in the next full academic term.
  3. College-­‐Level Course Completion: Percent of students that successfully complete college-­‐level courses.
  4. Successful Completion or Transfer: Percent of students successfully completing a degree, certificate, or licensure; or transferring to a baccalaureate-­‐granting institution after six years.
  5. Student Performance at Transfer Institutions: Cumulative first year Grade Point Average (GPA) for all transfer students at a state university.

The Study of How Community Colleges Organize for Student Success , a project of Achieving the Dream, is asking these questions:

  • What organizational structures and policies can be shown to improve student persistence, transfer and completion?
  • How do community colleges organize to support student success? What structures and policies do community colleges currently use?

Based on President Obama’s challenge to graduate five million more community college students by 2020, Harper College in Illinois has set a campus goal of 10,604. They calculated that this number is their share of the five million. That goal is known throughout the institution and administrators, faculty, staff, and students are asking themselves, “What do we have to do to reach 10,604?” It has become a way of focusing campus attention on student success.

More to come about community college student success in my next post.

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