Leveling Up Your Learning

Steve Hargadon wrote at the start of this academic year about what he is calling the "Game of School" which is at least partially about the idea that many of us did not see ourselves when we left high school or college as "good learners."

He created what he calls his 4 levels of learning. He's not the first to describe levels of learning. Bloom's Taxonomy may be the most common one but a search will turn up six-level models and five levels and other models. The number isn't so important and certainly, there isn't one answer. What is important is to look at how a model approaches learning.

Hargadon has a four-level model.

levels of learning
Hargadon's 4 levels of learning

The model starts with schooling is where most of us begin our learning. Of course, you learned a lot of things at home and in the world in those pre-school days too, but school is our entry to formal learning.

Hargadon's portray of school is grim: "Schools teach conformance and obedience, getting work done--doing what, when, and how you are told to. Schools are a system of rules, schedules, bells, attendance ratings, and constant testing."

If someones asks you what your education has been, you are most likely to name some schools. Hargadon differentiates this kind of "education" in school from his third level which he calls education.

This schooling level is an industrial model that allows the stratification of the students - some will lead and others will follow. This 19th-century public schooling is a governance strategy and education policy in the United States is largely directed by politicians. Hargadon says that we should note that "a school of fish all turn and swim in a synchronized fashion.. if you get schooled on the basketball court, that means that someone has taught you a lesson, usually in a shaming way."

Level two is training which is learning specific to a career or vocational training. This learning is often self-motivated as a way to move between social and financial classes. 

You might guess that level 3, education, might be higher education but in this model that would still be schooling. Rather, this level probably doesn't occur in a school setting but when there are one-to-one relationships and mentors that help a learner move to a higher level and to see something differently than before.

Though this model seems to move in a linear fashion from school (K-20) to training (on the job) to education (work mentors), I would argue that his "education" can occur at any age/stage of life. I would certainly hope that you received some of this level of education when you were in school or in training, though it's not the way those ways of learning are typically structured.

Self-directed learning is level 4 and certainly the goal of the 3 other levels. The goal of a teacher is to get students to a level where they no longer require a teacher and can manage their own learning goals and processes. Intentionally or not, we are all lifelong learners. 

This is an interesting model for discussion, but I would say it is already in place. It's an observation of how learning seems to occur ideally. Obviously, things are not ideal at all levels now (in his criticism, "schooling" is the weakest level) but working at all the levels would be a worthwhile path.

Can You Order Lifelong Learning from Amazon.com?

graduatesJeff Selingo is saying that something to watch this year concerning continuous learning/universal learning/60-year curriculum/lifelong learning (I'm not sure what the term du jour is) is not coming from universities but from Amazon. 

This idea that we are always learning is hardly a new idea. But the idea that schools (at all levels) should supply that learning to non-traditional students who have left the school or maybe never attended the school is fairly new. Distance-learning began in the U.S. in the late 1800s. "Distance" meant that the learning was not in a classroom.

It went from the correspondence-course model to the broadcast airwaves to the combination of snail-mailed CDs and DVDs and finally online.

Selingo says that Amazon plans to spend more than $700 million to train 100,000 employees for higher-skilled jobs over the next six years. What's missing? Any college or university to design or deliver that training.

I also think that this idea is not brand new. Companies have been designing their own training for many decades. When I started at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in 2000, my department was helping design and provide training courses to companies. But as the decade progressed, I noticed more companies were designing the training and we were simply the delivery method. And now, it's more likely that the company might design and deliver.

What might be different in the case of Amazon is that if it follows their past path in cloud computing this will have a different result. For the cloud, they built their own platform internally (Amazon Web Services - AWS), worked out the bugs and then licensed it to scale. Might they eventually do the same thing with their higher-skilled training?

The rate of change in the skills and training needed now is far beyond the rather slow course-creation process of higher education. Selingo says that the legacy undergraduate and graduate degree programs at traditional universities and even the certificates that came into vogue in the 21st century don't make it.

Why is that? Because they take too long, cover more than is needed, and cost too much. I helped develop corporate training and certificates, but the university always had an eye on trying to lure those learners back to the university for a degree. That's not a valid approach anymore.

"Amazon University" doesn't exist yet, but many lifelong learners are already turning to YouTube, Khan Academy, MOOCs, LinkedIn Learning, General Assembly and other sources for continuous learning opportunities.

Selingo concludes that colleges and universities need to shift their thinking from serving students to the needs of learners.

MORE

From The Warehouse To IT: Amazon Offering 100,000 Workers Tech Training (NPR)

The idea that college education is over after four years, or even eight or 12 is so — yesterday - but 60 Years of Higher Ed — Really?

Getting Beyond Your Comfort Zone

A friend of mine recently retired and she told me that she wants to move "out of her comfort zone" and try new things. My first thought was that this was a good idea, but the more I thought about her plan, the less "good" it seemed.

After years of teaching and a few vacations in Italy, she decided she wants to live there for a year. She sold her house and her car, got rid of a lot of stuff, put the essentials into storage, and took off for Florence, Italy.

I realized that I had more fear about her trip than she had. It was too far out of my comfort zone.

The graphic below popped up on Pinterest and got me thinking about that confining comfort zone.

We all have a comfort zone in our jobs, in school and in life. As a teacher, I think I often intentionally tried to push students out of their comfort zone. Why? Looking at the graphic, I would say that I agree that the path to new learning and growth means pushing through your comfort zone.

There is an unsurprising plethora of sites with recommendations on how to break through your comfort zone. How many apply to education?

  • Acknowledge what it is that is holding you back. Literally write down your fears. Then rationalize each fear by flipping it over (a cognitive behavioral therapy technique) and deciding what the worst-case scenario would bring to you. 
  • Many sites advise starting small. Set yourself small targets to that desired destination.
  • If your first steps outside your comfort zone don't go as planned don't be quick to reverse course and run back into the zone.
  • Changing your routine can help. Work in a new place. Try a new approach. means going to the same places, which can stifle inspiration and spontaneity. New thought patterns encourage us to break away.
  • Connect with people who are already in the learning or growth that you aspire to achieve. Mentorship.
  • As the graphic suggests, getting out of your comfort zone may require acquiring new skills. Education is often not only a necessary element but may be a fear for some people. Older workers may not be comfortable going "back to school." The cost of education can be restrictive, but there are so many free MOOCs and other online learning options that can help with both fears.
  • Create challenges for yourself and celebrate victories with actual tangible rewards.

What Happened to Vocational Educational?

A friend who is not involved in education recently asked me, "Whatever happened to vocational educational?" He was thinking about when he was a kid in school back in the 1960s and there came a point before high school where he was presented with a choice. That choice was to go on to high school and prepare for college or go to a vocational school and prepare for a job. That choice is not so evident today in America.

Vocational education in the United States varies from state to state, but vocational schools (AKA trade schools) are both seen as an alternative high school experience and as post-secondary schools. In both cases, they teach the skills necessary to help students acquire jobs in specific industries. Both types of schools still exist.

The breadth of offerings has certainly increased since my friend's options almost 60 years ago, but some industries still are options, such as cooking, business courses, drafting, construction, auto repair, and some healthcare careers.

If we are talking about the postsecondary vocational training, much of that training is now provided by proprietary (privately-owned) career schools.

About 30 percent of all credentials in career training is provided by two-year community colleges.

We should also consider military technical training or government-operated adult education centers as part of this area.

I taught at the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) and quickly discovered that many people unfamiliar with that university interpreted the name (especially the "institute" part) to mean we were a vocational school. (The Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT, doesn't seem to have this issue.)

The biggest difference between vocational schools and traditional colleges is the amount of time students need to complete their education. Most vocational schools offer programs that students can complete in about one or two years. Students attending traditional colleges often take four to five years to complete their education. Traditional colleges also require students to complete a liberal arts education. Students must enroll in a broad range of courses that are not necessarily related to their area of study. Vocational schools require students to enroll only in classes that pertain to their particular trades.

Manhattan trade school for girls

Manhattan trade school for girls, 1916

In the U.S., vocational education really moved forward in the early 1900s with an effort to introduce German-style industrial education. Educators were looking at the apprenticeship and continuation school models in Germany and were determining how they could be applied in an American context.

The industrial education system evolved more rapidly after World War I into what we call vocational education. On the timeline, the Smith-Hughes Act in 1917 was meant to reduce reliance on foreign trade schools, improve domestic wage-earning capacity, reduce unemployment, and protect national security.

The George-Barden Act after WWII expanded federal support of vocational education to support vocations beyond the 4 most common subject areas (agriculture, trade, home economics, and industrial subjects).

The National Defense Education Act of 1958 was focused on improving education in science, mathematics, foreign languages and other areas with a particular focus on topics related to national defense.

In the next decade, the Vocational Education Act (1963) was designed to give support for work-study programs and research. The Vocational Education Amendments (1968) was a modification that created the National Advisory Council on Vocational Education.

In 1984, the Vocational Education Act was renamed the Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act and amended six years later created the Tech-Prep Program to coordinate educational activities into a coherent sequence of courses.

Throughout the second half of the 20th century, vocation ed and "trade schools" acquired a stigma of being below the quality of college and just slightly better than high school. In fact, many vocational programs were in high schools and had become standalone vocational high schools during that time period. 

This stigma even carried over to the 2-year colleges who were not aided by the use of the term "Junior College" that was once used before community and county colleges became the preferred terms.

Still, the "Stigma of Choosing Trade School Over College" persists, as that title from an article in The Atlantic notes. 
"When college is held up as the one true path to success, parents—especially highly educated ones—might worry when their children opt for vocational school instead." 


Vocational education in other countries https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vocational_education#By_country   

https://www.opencolleges.edu.au/informed/other/vocational-education-training/