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.

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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/

Ghosting Jobs and Colleges

ghostsIt is still three weeks until Halloween, but this is a ghost story that appears all year. I wrote about professional ghosting last year. It started as a term about the dating world. Then it moved into the office world and finally into the world of higher education.

The labor market is tight and some job seekers are disappearing like ghosts from the hiring process. Indeed.com surveyed employers and found 83% had experienced applicants disappearing without letting the employer know why. Ghosting has dramatically increased in the last two years. The median age of ghosts is 34, so it's not just kids just out of college.

Ghosts disappear from a scheduled job interviewss and stop replying to recruiters or hiring managers. But the scary groups (about 19%) disappear after initially committing to a verbal offer but never signed the paperwork, and 22% accepted the offer and did not show up to work on their first day.

Why? 40% of those surveyed did it because they received a better job offer.  Poor communication with the hiring party was another major reason why candidates disappeared. About a quarter of the ghosts said they just were not comfortable telling the employer they changed their minds. 

How does this compare to ghosting students? Like the tight job market, applying to college is easier these days and schools are eager. Eighty percent of today’s college freshmen applied to at least three colleges and one-third applied to seven or more colleges, getting accepted and taking a pass isn't unusual.

Jeff Selingo reported that beyond prospective students ghosting a college, "Would-be students and their Gen X parents are no-shows or altogether skipping campus tours and open houses in the pre-application phase."

Student athletes are also ghosting colleges after acceptance when a better deal shows up. 

Some of the reasons are the same. A better offer, which can mean a better school or more financial aid. Poor communication with admissions or better communications from another school is also a reason. And, like those job ghosts, some are not comfortable telling the college that they changed their minds. 

For higher ed, the scary group is those that go through the entire admissions process including tuition and then don't show up for the start of the semester.

There are also just fewer possible students available. An admissions counselor writes
"This is my summer of 2019 takeaway: Higher education has fully entered a new structural reality. You’d be naïve to believe that most colleges will be able to ride out this unexpected wave as we have previous swells. Those who saw modest high-school graduation dips by 2020 as surmountable must now absorb the statistical reality: Things are only going to get worse."

Another version of ghosting is the practice of sneaking into college classes without officially enrolling. In my college days, auditing a class you weren't enrolled in was an accepted practice, usually with permission from an instructor. Steve Jobs is one of those famous ghosts before the term was used who dopped out of Reed College and then started dropping in on interesting lectures. Is it stealing an education or admirable ambition?

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