Traditional higher education institutions are attended by millions of students.
The students work hard for a few years and exit with some kind of qualification.
For the most part, these institutions rely on traditional teaching methods: 80% straight lectures, 12% enhanced lectures (lectures plus something else like discussions or flipped classrooms etc.), and 8% with no lectures. Almost none of these institutions or their constituent parts base their teaching methods on anything other than tradition – or new anecdotal trends. There is no attempt by any teachers (except a small handful) to explore the scientific basis for learning and align their teaching practices with that. This is The Science of Learning. Studying how people learn and then using those principles as a foundation upon which to base teaching.
I have written about The Science of Learning over and over again. The question that I pose in this article is what will drive the learning of tomorrow, traditional higher educational institutions or commercial and business interests.
I believe it will be a business interest. Businesses continually decry the vacuous qualifications that graduates arrive with. Research clearly demonstrates that graduates remember almost none of what they are taught, and worse still; they gain few necessary skills for today’s (forget tomorrow’s) competitive workplace. The business world has all but resigned themselves to training any graduate they hire so that they can do the job they are hired to do.
While both the world of business and the institutions of higher education rely almost exclusively on traditional teaching methods, only one of the two has any reason to change from traditional methods currently used to a The Science of Learning based method – business. Businesses are in the business of making money. Training workers costs money and if there are more effective methods that can be used to help their workers learn, this will save the businesses money. Traditional higher education institutions have no reason to change their teaching models. They get paid to churn out graduates regardless of the quality of their product. Even a top-notch qualification simply signifies that the graduate is brilliant at conforming – giving the institution exactly what they consider the most important outcome; high test scores, and good grades.
There are those who have suggested a plea to funding bodies, like governments, to base their funding on more effective and efficient teaching methods, like The Science of Learning. But there are good reasons why teaching institutions and funding models remain mired in traditional methods of teaching. The experts to whom they look to for advice are all from the traditional world of education. They are educrats.
What is an educrat? An educrat is someone steeped in the traditions of education. They are almost always professional academic administrators – teachers who have become administrators who have moved up through the ranks of administrators until they are the educational educrats to whom anyone who looks for educational guidance. Educrats are traditional educators.
Educrats will always provide advise based on what they know and are familiar with. Educrats are familiar with traditional education. The system has worked for them. They have received degrees and accolades from traditional institutions. They have moved from salary band to salary band based on playing a very conservative game of not rocking the boat. Educrats are successful at what they do. Why would someone who is successful at what they do want to change the basis of what has made them successful? Foolhardy, educrats are not fools, and unwise, educrats are not unwise. Keep the institutions the same and keep the funding gravy train coming. After all, they have the corner on the market and they have been doing this for a very long time.
This is why businesses will take over the million-billion-trillion dollar sector. Once they begin to base their in-house training and teaching on The Science of Learning for efficiency gains, they will band together to fund an institution or two in order to train graduates using The Science of Learning principles right out of secondary school. The graduates will be creative, know how to really think, and come highly skilled – not for "a" job but for "any" job. The graduates will emerge with something other than a vacuous qualification.
Once businesses realize that real learning can happen and real learning works, then real competition will enter the system. The real competition won’t be over who has the slickest marketing materials, but who produces the best quality graduate. Business run institutions that focus on real learning will produce high quality, highly creative, thinking individuals who will be valuable to their businesses. As these high-quality graduates get higher paying jobs right out of the institutions, the slick marketing of the traditional institutions, run by and advised by educators, will collapse because the product won’t be able to compete. The sad thing is that everyone overseen by the educators will be standing there as bewildered and confused as the educators themselves.
How did this happen? Nobody saw this coming! How can we trust the education of our society to a “lowest bidder” mentality? The destruction of the hallowed traditions built up over millennia of practice is immoral and should be stopped by whatever means available.
It can be stopped now, but educators won’t let it. By the time they actually look at what is happening, it will be all but over.
For the sake of tomorrow’s generation and the survival of our society, bring on the business of learning.
We have to change and we have to change now, but tradition does not change.
Jesse is a world leader in the integration of the science of learning into formal teaching settings. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor at the University of Lethbridge and Director at The Academy for the Scholarship of Learning. Huge advocate of the science of learning, he provides people with ideas about how they can use it in their classrooms. Jesse holds a PhD in Psychology from the University of Wales, Bangor.