Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Getting Qualified for Work (Part 2): Beginning Your Sense-Making Journey

The first and most difficult question for a person who has decided to investigate new career and learning options is “where do I begin?” And the simple answer is that there is no single path to success in terms of a sequence of events.

The critical element to understand is that the decisions you make are part of your unique learning cycle. Every time we, as educators, arbitrarily assign an answer, we are robbing you, the learner, of the opportunity to understand more fully “why” you are doing what you are doing. This is not an argument for a lack of structure in higher education. It is an argument that educators should act as coaches and guides.

There are four steps in any learning cycle:

  • Assess: Take stock of where you are in terms of your current state of knowledge and the objective you want to obtain. Stock-taking gives a sense of focus and purpose to your learning effort.
  • Plan: Create a pathway that works for you, based on your assessment.
  • Implement: Live your plan, preferably with the advice and support of an informal or formal mentor, coach, or guide, using data to clarify progress and results.
  • Evaluate: Create and validate evidence that you have achieved your objective.

This cycle works for small, discrete learning goals as well as for larger-scale goals that could, ultimately, include a degree. The steps provide a structure for the often confusing and ambiguous journey that learning can become, while also allowing enough flexibility for you to approach them in your preferred sequence. When utilized effectively, this structure can become your “anchor to windward;” a stabilizing assurance that you are on track.

Open College at Kaplan University (OC@KU) believes that progressing through this cycle should be a social activity, not generally to be undertaken alone in a solitary space. This is why it has “designed in” interactions with faculty, advisors, and other learners as part of the offerings. At OC@KU, one of the first elements of your stock-taking is coming to understand the workplace and academic value of what you already know and are able to do. This can be done through an evaluation of any transcripts you have, assessment of your prior experiential learning, and the recognition of other validated assessments, such as course assessments and ACE recommendations.

If you are considering assessment of prior experiential learning to help you earn your degree, OC@KU’s Prior Learning Calculator can help you quickly determine if you have sufficient work/life experience to benefit from LRC100: Documenting Your Experiences for College Credit. LRC100 is an online, self-paced course that guides you through the process of developing an electronic prior learning portfolio for evaluation by trained portfolio assessors.

The Prior Learning Calculator and LRC100 are just two tools from OC@KU that give you focus and a refined sense of purpose as you progress through the learning cycle. In my next entry I will discuss how OC@KU can help you plan your pathway and reach your goals.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Getting Qualified for Work (Part I)

Just as the Wizard was exposed in the final scenes of the Wizard of Oz, colleges’ claims to “prepare you for the career of your choice” have proven to be equally dubious in the last few years.

Much of what passes for career counseling involves testing for particular behavioral traits and recommending training or academic programs based on the available certificates and degrees. All of this is tied to a perception of the local job market. Sometimes this works very well. However, most of the time it produces poor results at the critical juncture where the learner becomes an employee and has to be successful in the workplace. In far too many cases, learners who are “ready to graduate” simply are not “ready to work.”

At OC@KU we decided to change these dynamics by asking and answering a few key questions:
  1. What would happen if, unless required by law or occupational regulation, the certificate or degree program was not viewed as the “price of entry” into a particular field?
  2. What would happen if we could identify the specific requirements of a job; match a learner’s knowledge, skills, behaviors and abilities to those requirements; identify the learning and training needs; and then recommend similarly-evaluated learning experiences that would fill the learning gap and prepare the future employee for work?
  3. What would happen if we could monitor the learning and progress towards work readiness using evidence-based assessments?
  4. And what would happen if, once workplace readiness is assured and demonstrated, we could assess that same learning for academic recognition, as appropriate, if and when employees and employers desired?
The underlying assumption of our answers to these questions is that we have entered a “new world” in post-secondary learning: One in which content is the variable to be adjusted to the actual needs of the learner. One in which the degree and the certificate become options in many cases. And one in which learning done anywhere for any reason can be converted into academic value through dynamic assessments. This new world redefines the workplace, the home, and the union hall not only as places where important learning can occur, but also as important sources of knowledge and learning.

In the “old world,” college was the “sense-maker” for learners and employers, organizing information into curriculum with sequencing that led to the appropriate diploma. Conversely in this new world of abundant information, big data, semantic engine analysis, and artificial intelligence, we can assist students in “making sense” of their learning needs and personalize the learning needed or desired to the actual needs of employers, thus saving students time and money in the process.

In the following several blogs, I will describe these different “sense-making” products and services for learners and employers.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Learning and Earning: Vision of a Toolbox for the 21st Century

As I look across the emerging playing field for post-secondary and lifelong learning, the gap I see between traditional institutional structures and practices and the capacity to serve people differently and better has never been greater. When mobile devices, the internet, and big data intersect, our ability to coach, advise, support, and assess learners becomes an anytime, anyplace activity, limited only by self-imposed boundaries.

Old dichotomies cease to exist. For example, the claim that education was either “job-related” or “intellectual” (academic) no longer holds. We know that the intellectual and behavioral traits that have historically been associated with liberal arts degrees such as critical thinking, problem-solving, teamwork, and leadership also lie at the heart of what we now call “job holding” skills.  And we know that advanced applications of knowledge can be learned in an environment (like the workplace) that encourages reflection, critical thinking, and writing while acquiring the necessary “knowledge.” Moreover our ability to connect learning with earning, strongly and specifically has never been greater. Now when a person goes to work or gets promoted he/she is ready to succeed on Day One.

There has been a lot of writing and thinking about the unbundling of higher education in the last five years, including my own book Harnessing America’s Wasted Talent: A New Ecology of Learning. But the unbundling itself is really a symptom of something far more complex and profound. Learning and its validation have the potential to become free-form exercises, adaptable to whatever the needs of the learner or the employer are. Like a piece of clay or a set of Legos, resources can be molded to the needs of the learner and evidence of learning generated as the proof of what was learned.

This does NOT mean that all learning is going to be random and self-directed. Not in the least. In fact, there is plenty of evidence that most learners need and benefit from structure and clear expectations as well as personal support. What it DOES mean is that most forms of experience can be mined for their learning value. It also means that the construction of learning experiences and their assessment can be done far more precisely, linking directly with social, civic, personal, or employment requirements. This tells learners and employers alike what capacity they bring to work and to the community in terms of skills, behaviors, and intellectual equipment.

This is not meant to imply that certificates and degrees are outdated or irrelevant. It does mean, however, that their value has, in many cases, changed from a necessary cost of doing business to an elective option valued and chosen by the learner and/or requirements demanded by employers or consumers. It also means that all these forms of learning will be available and affordable throughout the learner’s lifecycle.

With all this in mind, what are some examples of the new practices and applications that can be developed in the environment created by the intersection of big data, mobile devices, and the internet? I’m curious to know what others think.