The concepts behind the education system is strongly rooted in the idea stated by Socrates – “Education is the kindling of a flame, not the filling of a vessel.”. The main point is to provide the foundational knowledge and the skills to apply that knowledge to real world living and working. While the subject matter of what is condsidered “foundational knowledge” is adjusted over the decades, the infrastructure of the education format has not changed.
Historically, education has been a single learned person identifying sources of information (books, hands on experiences such as homework and labs, and access to listening to other experts) to a group of people who are the “listeners” to absorb this curated knowledge. The idea of the books, homework and labs is to personalize the learning process and make the knowledge real rather than abstract.
This follows a concept eloquently summarized by Issac Asimov – “Self-education is, I firmly believe, the only kind of education there is.”. The knowledge does not stay with you as an assemblage of unconnected facts, it sticks with you because you figured out how to use that knowledge in some part of your life. This has been the core structure of the schools to present facilities and environment for people to safely gain this experience with some guideance in case people get stuck or need an explaination for an unexpected result, so they get back to the expected answer.
A drawback on this structure is the teachers are demotivated, in many subjects, to find new information and methods of presentation or ways to engage the students. Initially in their careers they rightly focus on optimization of their teaching skills, usually over the first 3-5 years. The challenge comes as they progress in their careers, in many cases, 10-20 years in as teachers they are teachning the students the same way they did in year 5, and with the same information.
However the world does not standstill, and the technology and experiences in the world move forward. More importantly, the life experience where this foundational knowledge needs to be applied has changed, so the “representative life experience” that is presented in the classroom, is no longer realistic.
It is in this situation that the teachers need to adopt an axiom from Henry Ford – “Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young.”. To teach information for new life situations, the teachers need to have experienced and embraced some of those life experiences and adjust their classroom environment and experience accordingly. They need to learn and re-optimize on a regular basis, not just once a career.
Unfortunately, many workers in the business and services world have fallen into this same routine. They completed their education – including post-secondary education – entered the workforce, and then settled in and optimized their life within the first 5 years. The rest of their career they use this optimization to work on similar problems with a growing number of solutions seen by experience. In a 1950’s “job for life” world, with a 20yr pace of change, this was not an issue.
But that is not our world anymore. Unlike changes in history that were more gradual events taking years or decades of innovation and shifts in societal culture to take place, the new world changed literally overnight. The world was open and you go anywhere and do anything, then there was a pandemic and 24 hours later the world switched to shelter in place, and everything is closed.
The years of optimization and life experience simulation provided by past education did not apply to this. For the first time, however, it also nullified the practical life experience of the teachers to show how to apply the foundational knowledge to the new world. Another first, is the students, being more engaged in societal changes and technology changes, actually have a higher application knowledge of the technology required for the new world than the teachers.
So what do we do? We have teachers and workers with foundational knowledge but no life experience or technology transfer knowledge, and students with technology knowledge and adaptability to new life experiences, but no foundational knowledge. The solution is one that has been used by business for a long time – it is the use of the true definition of collaboration. Collaboration is the working with other people or groups, who have been at times adversarial, to move to a common and beneficial goal for both groups.
In this case, having to change careers because your employer closed or the pandemic shuttered your industry, or having to develop new skills and application knowledge as a teacher should not be seen as scary or demeaning. In the perception from the Henry Ford statement – it is an opportunity to relive a portion of youth – a time of active and engaged learning.
In the case of the students, the pandemic has not broken the centuries old “linear time schedule” of the group assembed physical classroom. Just as Linear TV has encounterd a demise in the world of streaming, OTT and VOD – the “huddled masses waiting to hear a story” mentality of the large lecture hall class room has met a quick and merciful death. In its place is distance learning.
While it is intially being used as a replacement for the lecture and story telling, what is not part of the flow is the curated oversight of the application of the story to real life. What is needed is a hybrid model – that brings the ability to have distance learning on the presentation of the story available on a demand basis with a hands-on curated life experience of practical knowledge to apply the information both of which can meet the physical limitation constraints of the pandemic. As we are in the middle of the first couple waves of the pandemic, we have not settled down on what these constraints are as yet, so the new education model is in flux.
The only way to get there is to throw out looking for someone to blame, drop of the fear that there is change – the world cannot go back from here – take a deep breath and have the teachers, full time students from K- PhD, and the people whose employment was affected by the pandemic focus on a common goal of how to learn together so we can all not only survive the chaos, but come out better at the end.
At Corporate Certificate School, we have adopted a hybrid approach of lecture, active labs with phased time on the professional equipment and practical internship/apprenticeship to bring education to people of all backgrounds to a 10 week standalone education block model. This provides industry acknowledged certification, foundational knowledge and a portfolio of actual application results all in a tuition free model – because you can’t learn if you are worried about having money to eat and have roof over your head. While not perfect as a starting point model – it is a starting point and we will be adjusting and optimizing monthly until the pandemic response provides a stable set of “new normal” rules and we can address the target without it moving.