Tag Archives: curriculum development

Smart higher education: both face-to-face and online

The number of participants in higher education is growing rapidly worldwide. Apart from the growing number of adult participants, the variety of students in general is increasing. However, the organization of universities is hardly able to deal with this growing variety. Students can chose between campus or distance-teaching universities and between full-time or part-time studies. A thorough redesign must offer relief.

The value of personal contact between students and teachers

Whether students are enrolled in a campus or a distance-teaching university, they spend most of their time on independent study: At home, at work, on the train or in the library. The difference between the two types of universities is the way they support these activities. The majority of campus universities are deploying a combination of lectures and seminars. Distance-teaching universities offer a sequence of assignments, which students have to submit in order to receive feedback. When it comes to getting acquainted with knowledge or theoretical insights, both ways are effective. However supporting independent study online is definitely outperforming lectures and seminars with respect to efficiency and scalability[1].

Unknown-1The value-added of campus universities should rather be sought in teaching methods where the degree of interaction between students and teachers goes beyond incidental questioning and answering in lectures and seminars. Think of tutorials (meetings a few students with a tutor), projects (intensive meetings of students, occasionally attended by a teacher), working groups in problem-based learning (10-15 students, who meet with a tutor regularly) and some types of training. Activities like these outperform the capabilities of education online with respect to the support of aims like critical thinking and problem solving. Unfortunately, the domination of lectures and seminars prevents that campus universities take advantage of this potential value.

The value of self-paced learning

The majority of educational programs – campus-based or distance teaching – are starting once or twice a year and their length is fixed. For the rapidly growing group of students who combine study with a job, music or sport, a family and a social life, this system is untenable. Students differ with respect to the time they can spend on their study each week, to the distribution of the available time during the year, to the speed at which they learn and to the knowledge and skills they already possess.

Fortunately, a growing number of distance teaching institutions is able to deal with differences between students with respect to the time they need to complete their studies. These institutions offer unlimited opportunity to enrol as well[2]. In order to stimulate that students prioritize their study as much as possible, they offer active mentoring and count a fixed monthly fee under the motto learn as much as you can. Unfortunately, the majority of online programs fail to realize the benefits of flexibility.

Distance teaching and campus-based education both have potential advantages, whose benefits are not fully used. However, students will benefit best, if these advantages are made available for all of them.

images
The value of blending learning

Education online is perfectly well equipped for enabling educational aims like the acquisition of knowledge and the development of theoretical insights. With respect to this aim, campus-based universities can economize by substituting lectures and seminars by online teaching methods. As mentioned before, some types of face-to-face interaction between teachers and students are superior in the realization of educational aims like critical thinking and problem solving. All students – in campuses or online – will benefit from occasional participation in tutorials, projects, small group meetings or intense trainings like boot camps. For some students it will be feasible to be on campus daily, for others one day every week suits best or they prefer a few residential weeks a year. By offering a variety of blends of face-to-face meetings and activities online, university campuses could become nodes in educational networks and be able to host many more students than at present. The functional combination of independent study with both face-to-face and online support is representing the best of both worlds at lower costs.

The value of freedom what or where to learn

The body of scientific knowledge is doubling every nine years, disciplinary borders get blurred and best research is interdisciplinary. As a consequence, the disciplines that emerged in the 19th century have become obsolete. Nonetheless, they still dominate the educational landscape. It is time to exchange traditional subjects for broad fields of study that offer ample opportunity to chose introductory and advanced course and projects.

At the same time, students will increasingly obtain their degree by visiting several universities within their country or abroad. Thus, students take maximum advantage of the differences between institutions. In order to assess students, universities should describe their examination rules in terms of competencies to achieve instead of courses to follow.

A variety of blends of face-to-face and online activities to support students’ independent learning could become the new normal.

[1] Read my post: The lecture is the iconic symbol of wastage in higher education: http://wp.me/p3lna5-6M

[2] Self-paced learning is a common characteristic of the most innovative educational institutions in the USA. For instance, the College for America, which is a part of the Southern New Hampshire University (60,000 students) and the Western Governors University (70,000 students). See: Alana Dunagan College transformed. Five institutions leading the charge in innovation http://www.christenseninstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/College-transformed.pdf

 

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Higher education

Agility and the future of universities

Higher education is the subject of sustained criticism. 81% of US employers are referring at a skills gap[1] and 51% believe that graduates are underprepared for the labour market[2]. Young teachers in particular complain being overburdened and underpaid. Students are contesting growing performativity, alleged commodification and subsequent rigidity of the curriculum, lack employment and in the US towering debts.screenshot-5At first sight, students’ and employers’ interests are opposed. The recent Reimagining Education Conference at Wharton University revealed quite a different perspective[3]. According to Santiago Inigues, dean of IE Business School (Madrid), most employers mention specific skills (coding, accounting, marketing, language) but in the first place they prefer broad education (‘Bilding’), including critical thinking and problem solving skills, ability to communicate, to work in groups, to handle conflicts and language proficiency. Employers won’t believe it, but these competencies are exactly the intended earning outcome of liberal arts colleges.

Unfortunately, liberal arts colleges have a brand trust issue. Participants of the conference agreed that many do not deliver what they promise. There is ample evidence that quite a number of its students lack any progress in problem solving and critical thinking skills during their undemanding study[4].

On the other hand, those who want to acquire specific skills like coding, marketing, accounting or foreign languages should avoid universities. A growing number of dedicated institutions like Fullbridge and General Assembly offer competency-based courses on line, blended or face-to-face. These courses are better and cheaper than the offer of any university whatsoever. According to Jaime Casap (Google) companies like his’ are monitoring job applicants’ competences and are not or only remotely interested in their subject, grade or university. Universities seem to have lost their way.

screenshot-4

What went wrong? According to Martin Luckmann and Christiana Prange universities are no longer what their name suggests: Universitas magistrorum et scolarium literally means community of teachers and students[5]. Instead, universities have become a credit-point producing industry, delivering grades of variable but mostly mediocre importance. The problem is not that teachers aren’t competent in their subject: They fail in supporting the development of students’generic academic competences or in plan language, as academic educators[6].

imagesLuckmann and Prange compare the current approach to learning in universities with the development of enterprise software. The implementation of massive all-embracing software in companies seldom results in satisfying solutions. The same applies to a curriculum that has to serve hundreds of students at once. In software development the agile approach is gaining ground, which in essence is based on interaction between developers and customers, taking customers’ needs and wants as starting point.

images-1In the same way, agile universities will put the interaction between students and teachers in the centre. Therefor they rely in a large degree on self-organization. A rich variety of teaching-learning interactions appear, mostly based on co-design. Students are getting acquainted with a broad range of disciplines and learn to search, apply and deepen relevant knowledge in projects, favourably in collaboration with parties outside the university.

The agile university has not to be more expensive than conventional universities. Getting acquainted with theoretical knowledge can be self-organized by deploying free available high quality open educational resources. Lecture halls are superfluous. Instead, universities will become networks of academic workplaces, varying from townhouses to sophisticated labs. The agile university has no fixed study length. Students will combine study with other work or invest in their own development.

unknown

Graduates of the agile university have been stimulated to adapt their study path to their emerging interest in an intensive exchange with fellow-students, teachers and people outside the university. Their acknowledgement with the agile method will enable them afterwards to be adaptive in a large range of situations where their professional or personal opinion is demanded.

Disclaimer

Any master plan that intends to reinvent a university or faculty as an agile workplace will fail. The development of agile learning places requires agility itself, carefully taking into consideration local personal and characteristics, opportunities and constraints. Eager proponents at best facilitate teachers and groups who want to change teaching and learning practices. Their example will be followed, criticized and improved and agile workplaces will emerge. The result might be excellent, albeit in an unpredictable way.

[1] Survey American Society for Testing and Development (2012)

[2] McKinsey (2012)

[3] My account of this conference is based on a World Economic Forum publication: Education vs work skills: what do employers really want? http://weforum.org/agenda/2016/02/education-vs-work-skills-what-do-employers-really-want/

[4] Read about the lack of progress in critical and analytical thinking skills in my post ‘Why universities underachieve’: http://wp.me/p3lna5-4n

[5] Luckmann and Prange wrote a though provoking contribution in Global Focus, the magazine of the EFMD: Agile Universities http://globalfocusmagazine.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Issue_2_2016_agileuniversities.pdf

[6] The obvious exception are universities with an elaborated system of tutoring like Cambridge and Oxford

Leave a comment

Filed under Higher education

Universities neglect the role of experience in learning

Dit kunnen jonge studenten waarschijnlijk beter

Here young students probably perform better

I have been working for a long time with initial fulltime students and with full-employed adult students as well. A bigger difference cannot be fancied. For young students encountering each other at the campus and participating in student’s life is mandatory and time-consuming. Most elder students enter university for work-related reasons, varying from curiosity to the need to compensate missing knowledge or to be graded higher. But they want to be spared of the bustle of campus life.

The role of experience

Besides differences in motivational background, differences in experience play a significant role. Adult students excel in practical experience and tacit knowledge. Smart use of this knowledge allows a significant faster progression through the program. Unfortunately, this seldom happens because most teachers usually are not acquainted with this kind of knowledge.

Onderwijs - Knowles Adult LearnerAccording to pragmatist philosophers both reason and experience are involved in becoming acquainted with the world. Educators like John Dewey and Eduard Lindeman have studied the impact of this vision on education. The best-known contemporary theorists of adult learning, Malcolm Knowles (1990) has build on the shoulders of these giants.

Elaborating on students’ experience is subordinated to learning of concepts and theories. This practice is rooted in the rationalist mainstream in western thinking about knowledge and education, As a consequence the seminal work of Knowles is relatively unknown, hence a brief explanation of his thoughts.

Knowles’ theory of adult learning can be summarized in six learning principles:

  1. Adult learners are internally motivated and self-directed in the first place. The most occurring motivations are job-satisfaction and self-esteem and occasionally, the acquisition of better income.
  2. Adult learners will use their own experiences and prior knowledge as frames of reference while acquiring new knowledge. Their experience is the most important source of knowledge but they highly appreciate new knowledge that brings additional insight in and structure of their experience. They expect a personalized approach in order to cope with their own experience and learning needs.
  3. Adult learners are goal-oriented: Their eagerness to learn correlates with the satisfaction of their self-defined learning needs.
  4. Adult learners are relevancy-oriented: Learning is functionally related to cope effectively with real-life situations in the present or near future. In case of lectures, they expect a prior account of their relevance.
  5. Adult learning is practical: Adults prefer a task-centred or problem-centred approach in learning, directly related to better performance of their own tasks.
  6. Adult learners want to be respected and trusted. They appreciate if teachers tune their teaching with their situation and they hate being put-down and not taken serious.

A dedicated curriculum for adult students will improve the efficacy of their learning taking into account these characteristics. However, in most universities students are mixed or curricula for fulltime and parttime students are copies. How will a curriculum for adult learners look like?

The attainment of higher education objectives by adult learners

  1. Knowledge and application
Dit is zelden een goede opstelling voor onderwijs aan volwassenen

This arrangement seldom supports adults’ learning

Taken into account Knowles’ learning principles, learning of scientific concepts and theories occurs in the context of application. As a consequence, the attainment of the first and second Dublin descriptors (knowledge and its application) is an integrated process, starting with meaningful cases reflecting students’ experience. Subsequently, scientific concepts are introduced as conceptual tools for structuring and deepening experience. This does dot imply that each student’s experience always must be made explicit. Curriculum developers can suffice with interviewing a sample of prospective leaners and collect a set of relevant experiences. A variety of didactic models can be deployed, like problem-based learning, case studies and group discussions. Short lectures will do to introduce concepts and theory. Teaching can take place in classrooms or at distance.

  1. Critical thinking

The development of critical thinking skills (third Dublin descriptor) requires a different approach: Here a learning sequence starts with a real life problem that has to be analysed, evaluated, or solved. In the beginning students do not have any clue, which theoretical concepts might be helpful. Adult working students will recognize the problem because of their tacit knowledge.

Projects offer the best opportunity for students to go through this process.  Adult students might be allowed to elaborate problems that they have encountered in their own practice. For them, the conceptualization of the problem with scientific concepts is new and exiting. The supervision of projects is challenging as knowledge of one or more disciplines, methodological expertise and in-depth knowledge of the working environment are required. The combination of these abilities in one person is rare in an academic environment.

Developing business education capabilities in learning networks

Met mijn (volwassen) studenten op bezoek in een operatiekamer

Visiting a hospital with my adult students

Ability to bridge the gap between theoretical, practical and tacit knowledge is a major requirement for viable business education. No single university or other organization has the capabilities that are needed to achieve this goal. Collaborative learning networks have to come in place and universities might be able to contribute significantly. The development of a learning network with participants from different angles (companies, not-for profit organizations, consultants, government and universities) is a necessary step to develop and supervise dedicated academic education and for doing research and initiating innovation as well.

Knowles, M.S. (1990). The adult learner. A neglected species. Houston TX: Gulf Publishing.

Leave a comment

Filed under Higher education