In preparing for my talk this month on "The Disconnected," I came across the organization Encore.org that has a Higher Education Initiative which is looking at the impact of an aging population on higher education. Those that I am calling "The Disconnected" are not disconnected in a detached or disengaged sense, but are instead disconnecting from traditional modes and sources of information and learning.
I also found a podcast that is called Unretirement and one episode talked with a woman, Sandra, who felt the need to get out of the house and start doing something to help deal with her unhappiness. She signed up for a quilt making class. It lit up a passion in her. At age 58, she’s gone back to "school" to move into a new career and is getting certified to become a professional quilting instructor. That may not sound like a typical "major" or even a viable unretirement career choice, but...
“Quilting in America market is worth $3.76 billion annually” according to a trade survey trying to get at the size of the quilting economy. Sandra is not going to her local college to learn. She is not interested in credits or a degree. Quiltworx is the company from which she is getting her certification. The podcast covered why she decided to get this certification and how her family helped her figure whether the certificate was worth the cost. She has a business plan, and expects her certificate will pay off in 18 months.
The "Baby Boomers" are just one age segment of those I am finding to be part of "The Disconnected." The largest age group is much younger and includes the traditional potential students for undergraduate and graduate programs. And even younger people are being born into and growing up in a society where the disconnects will be so common that they will probably not be seen as disconnects.
Here is one example of that disconnect. I came of age in the 1960s and viewed television as a wireless (via antenna) service that was free if you owned a set and supported by advertising. If you grew up in the 1980s, you saw television as a service that came to your home via a cable service that you paid for (even paying for the formerly free networks that had advertising support) and could add additional premium services if you wanted them. You learned to supplement and control that content (starting to call it video rather than TV) using a VCR and videotapes and later DVDs and then a DVR. A child of today is likely to be using multiple networks via multiple devices and may be growing up in a household that has already cut the cord to those 1980s services and devices and hard media formats.
So, grandparents and their grandchildren may find some connectiveness in being disconnected in their media consumption and even in how they both are learning and preparing for a working life.
Here are some resources about how older adults are connecting to learning and unretirement using both traditional schools and alternatives.
Improving Education and Training for Older Workers a survey from the AARP Public Policy Institute.
Certificates: Gateway to Gainful Employment and College Degrees from Center on Education and the Workforce at Georgetown University
How many students graduate outside the normal age?” an international study by the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development
The Plus 50 Initiative at community colleges for learners age 50+ and a Lumina Foundation report on Plus 50
A state by state rundown of education opportunities for seniors
Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career
The 40-Year-Old Graduates
4 Ways Older Students Can Avoid Student Debt
How to Make the Most of Longer Lives
Craft Artists, Income, and the U.S. Economy
I did a Q&A for my keynote at the Rutgers Online Learning Conference (January 11 and 12, 2016, New Brunswick, New Jersey - On Twitter: #RUOnlineCon - Conference website: RUonlineCon.rutgers.edu )
My talk - "The Disconnected" grew out of the many references I have been seeing to the re-emergence of autodidacts — people “who learn on their own”— and other societal trends that point to a new group of learners that I feel will be reshaping higher education. Trends like the sharing economy, the maker movement, the do-it-yourself movement, open source coding, “cord cutting” and a “rent rather than buy” mindset could all affect higher education significantly in the future.
The “disconnected” comprise about 25 percent of Americans, according to Forrester Research, which estimates that number will double in the next 10 years.
Q: Who are “the disconnected”?
Me: Some of the disconnected are people who want to learn things, but do not necessarily want schools to provide that education in traditional ways.
They are a widening group that is not as age-bound as we might imagine. They are not just Millennials. These are people who are connecting differently to the world, society and education. My talk at Rutgers will identify this group by their behavior and will consider how higher education may deal with this disconnected or differently-connected student.
Q: What’s one takeaway for higher educators?
Me: If you accept the fact that there is such a group, as an educator you have to ask: 'Would "the disconnected" still want to come to a school to receive a traditional degree - or will they want another path and another product?'
But it's not like you can say: ‘Here's the evidence that students are not going to come to the university.’ And I'm not convinced that they won’t. For purposes of discussion, though, if these students, or potential students, are not going to be interested in going for the degrees that we offer, do we just lose them to other things—or do we try to pursue them in other ways?
Q: Are universities preparing for this?
Me: I can already see indications that universities are doing some things to attract those people, including alternative, competency-based, and three-year degrees, and even more certificate programs.
Back in 2012, I taught a fairly early MOOC (massive open online course). The big outcry then was: 'That's it. That's the end. Who's going to go to a university if they can get all these courses online for free?' I was never convinced that that was going to happen. I didn't think MOOCs were going to destroy the university. There will always be some students who want to go to a Rutgers or Princeton for four years and live on campus and have those experience. But I think there are going to be fewer of those people.
I think that colleges are going to have to offer the traditional and they're going to have to offer nontraditional alternatives. And I'm not sure that's something they want to do. From the business point of view, that's going to hurt the core business.
It is really hard for universities to implement alternatives. Online education has often been seen as that alternative, and that may continue to be a part of the solution, but they may even need to do new things with their online programs.
The conference will have four other keynote speakers, and 35 presentations and roundtable speakers, and is designed for any higher education faculty and staff interested in gaining perspectives and honing skills with best practices and innovative technologies in education.
RUOnlineCon is presented by the Rutgers University Division of Continuing Studies in partnership with University Professional and Continuing Education Association (UPCEA) and New Jersey Research & Education Network (NJEDge).
I've been thinking lately about a group of people I call "The Disconnected." They include some sub-groups, such as the "cord-cutters." Cord cutting, in a telecommunications context, is the practice of stopping your cable or satellite television service or getting rid of a landline phone. When it comes to cable and satellite services and phone carriers, cord cutters drop them in favor of less expensive options (individual channels like HBO Go, packages like Hulu or TV and video on the Net) and just owning a cell phone or using VoIP (voice over IP).
The main goal of cord cutting seems to be saving money. But there is also a lot dissatisfaction with what is offered on traditional TV services.
This is a broader trend in technology us, but because I am also interested in education, I am wondering if there is some overlap here.
The disconnected aren't only disconnected from TV and phone lines. They are a group that rents and leases and don’t want to own. They don’t want to own a car or shelves of CDs or physical books and magazines. They are building a sharing economy.
They comprise about 25% of Americans, and according to Forrester Research that number will double in the next ten years.
I bet you are thinking that these are the Millennials. Yes, Millennials are certainly a good number of "The Disconnected," but the age group is widening up and down.
The disconnected encompass the potential students in our undergraduate and graduate programs. The younger age group is being labeled the "cord nevers" because they have never been connected to these traditional forms of media consumption and services and have no plan to ever be connected to them. Forrester Research reports that "By 2025, 50% of all TV viewers under age 32 will not pay for TV as we understand it today."
Will cord-nevers and cord cutters also have a different attitude towards college? I think so.
MOOCs, alternative degrees, self-determined learning and other movements are already ways of cutting cords to traditional education.
More to come on this, as I prepare this topic for a keynote at the Rutgers Online Learning Conference in January 2016. #RUOnlineCon
"Autodidact" has its roots in the Ancient Greek words autós, or "self" and didaktikos, meaning "teaching." Dacticism defines an artistic philosophy of education and autodidacticism (also autodidactism) is used to mean self-education.
Learning that is self-directed about a subject in which you have little to no formal education is hardly a new trend. Before we had any formal educational systems, everyone learned on their own. From the primitive person knocking rocks together to create a tool, to a much more privileged autodidact like Leonardo da Vinci, to the home-schooled and largely self-taught inventors like Thomas Edison, we learned on our own and through the informal teaching and example of others.
Before schooling, there were less-formal ways of being taught through craft guilds, apprenticeships, tutors and mentors. The Industrial Revolution and the accompanying creation of schools changed that.
My title,"The Return of the Autodidacts," may not be completely accurate since they never left. Schooling has made learning less self-directed, but everyone has always learned on their own to some degree. It does seem that in this young 21st century, there has been a noticeable increase in learning outside of schools. The Do-It-Yourself (DIY) and Maker movements, free and open online courses (MOOC) and even schools based on Self-Directed Learning (SDL), all indicate a desire to learn that is disconnected from organized classrooms and credits, certifications and degrees.
I have been writing about School 2.0 (AKA Education or University 2.0) for about six years and a lot of that touches on the idea of the individual taking the initiative and the responsibility for the learning that occurs. I heard a lot about "student-centered learning" at the end of the last century. Much of that came from the rise of online learning where the instructor has less ability to be the center of the learning.
Allowing a "student" to select, manage, and assess their own learning activities, on their own schedule opens up learning - and creates problems, especially if you are in the business of traditional education.
Lately, I hear the term "Self Directed Learning" (SDL) used more often and I see it attached to traditional schools. Some of the methods used by autodidacts have been co-opted by schools. Although it is still more likely that you would find a makerspace in a community setting or within a library, you are also seeing them as part of a school from grades K through college.
Self-directed learning also plays a role in movements such as home-schooling, experiential education, open schooling and life-long learning.
Proponents will note that the benefits extend beyond learning knowledge and skills and into a learning mindfulness for setting personal goals, planning and taking action to meet those goals with evidence of having learned. Self-improvement, personal and character development are central themes of SDL discussions. SDL involves initiating personal challenge activities and developing the personal qualities to pursue them successfully.
Do-It-Yourself (DIY) is the method of building, modifying, or repairing something without the aid of experts or professionals.
The motivations to go DIY are many. You might not have the money or the traditional tools and resources to buy or even make something. Perhaps the item just isn't available to you, or even to anyone. You may be disappointed in the quality of existing products. You may want a personally customized version of something. Maybe it is a sense of pride in creating something on your own, whether it is for your own use or for display or sale.
The term "do-it-yourself" has been associated with consumers since at least the early 20th century when it was usually connected to home improvement and maintenance (such as an automobile) activities. By the mid-century, it was in more common usage due to the emergence of a trend of people undertaking home improvement and various other small craft and construction projects as both a creative-recreational and cost-saving activity.
The maker movement grew from the DIY movement and led to communal spaces (makerspaces) that allowed access to workspace, tools and materials that many individuals could not afford. At one time that may have meant power tools, but today it includes laser cutters, 3D printers and computer-aided design tools. These spaces also can offer informal training and mentoring from other members. It brings the old models of craft guilds, apprenticeships, tutoring and mentoring back. Perhaps, it truly is a time of the return of the autodidact.