Blending Industry & Education

Back in the Industrial Revolution, workers were hired into a shop, learned the technical skill sets needed on the job, and worked – all at the same time. Many scholars are calling the time we’re in the Information Age, and the need for skilled workers to do things like write and edit code is akin to the sudden need the Industrial Revolution had for skilled workers. Although we’ve gotten better about working conditions, child labor laws, and other such things, we haven’t seemed to figure out that maybe we’re back to the need of apprenticeship in our culture.
James E. Zull, a Professor of Biology, Biochemistry, and Cognitive Science at Cast Western Reserve University, points out that we have an unneeded wall between education and the workplace. He argues that in order to really teach the needed skills of the world, students need to be exposed to specialists while in the field:

[Students] need models…If this were so, schools would be viewed as ‘boundary-free.’ They would be less of a place and more a range of opportunities. The entire community should be available for discovering what experts actually do, what they care about, and how they work and learn. Apprenticeships and co-op activities might be the norm rather than the exception.  ~ From brain to mind; Using neuroscience to guide change in education. (2011). pp 43-44.

Not every skill can be learned on the job and there is definitely a place for college-based education, but there is a loud cry for people to execute work that doesn’t require a 4 year degree. For example, the number of software developers  needed in the field is expected to grow 22% between now and 2022, which is about 14% faster than the average job growth (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013), and more and more companies are hiring based on the programming experience over the weight of the degree. It’s why so many new avenues to learning code have cropped up. Just see Code Academy, Dev Boot camp, and Mobile Makers. People have figured out how to gain the training needed outside the price tag of a 4 year degree.

The information industry is hungry for workers, and I think apprenticeships are necessary in some of these fields. However, I think three things need to happen in order for us, as a society, to meet this demand:

  1. A separation between tactical skills and strategic competencies needs to be established in the educational structure. Many colleges and universities are struggling because they often teach theory and high-level strategy skill sets for an industry that may really need builders. If everyone’s a manager, who’s actually building the product?
  2. Additionally, we need to let go of the belief that a full-time 4 year degree education is the necessary step after high school. Why do the theory and managerial skills have to come directly after high school? Why can’t someone work in a field and then go back to gain the theory and managerial skills when s/he is ready to move into that role? The better approach would to get our young citizens working, and integrate education into the right times of their careers. If we preach life-long learners, we need to accept that education occurs at injected points throughout life, not lumped together into isolated years after high school.
  3. Students need to be willing to start as executors, and we need to celebrate those values. Many people dream of leadership roles, but that doesn’t mean everyone should start as a manager.  There is much to be celebrated as one who executes the work and builds the product; we as a society should celebrate those values again. Not everyone can or wants to be a leader, and that’s okay.

For industries that need workers and executors, a suggested path would be:

  • Student graduates high school and becomes an apprentice.
  • Apprentice simultaneously learns and works on the job. Direct, tactical skills to build or execute. Grows to become strong worker and moves up the ranks.
  • When worker is ready – or when company deems it – worker integrates theory and strategic competency education (usually via part-time degree program) to either increase skill set, get promotion, or is just generally ready/curious.

Regardless, the separation between education and industry needs to be re-evaluated – as there are many fields in which the 4 year full-time degree programs are not providing the industry with the needed workers. We need a new path to get students what they need and the industry the workers.


Social media: Blinders won’t help

The myth about social media in the classroom is that if you use it, kids will be Tweeting, Facebooking and Snapchatting while you’re trying to teach. We still have to focus on the task at hand. Don’t mistake social media for socializing. They’re different — just as kids talking as they work in groups or talking while hanging out are different.

– Viki Davis

We cannot put blinders on this issue. We HAVE to teach social media skills: it’s a key component to being a digital citizen.

Perhaps we fear teaching social media in the classroom because it’s a non-Newtonian medium: it’s a solid fluid, hard to create clearly parameters around it. However, that shouldn’t stop us from using it and teaching our students about it. If we don’t help collaborate with our students to learn about this medium together, they will be happy to define it without our input and then we will be the ones who are lost. I’d venture so far to say that we may already be in that position.

Regardless, here’s Viki Davis’ entire article.

Market’s Demands versus Public Perception


I don’t agree with everything Allie Grasgreen says, but a side-by-side of the graphs from her article Ready or Not about how the workplace puts weight behind different criteria than the public is interesting:

Key take-aways:

  • Business Leaders look for more knowledge and skills than the degree.
  • Americans are focusing on the degree more than the skills or knowledge.

We need to recalibrate: it’s a good challenge [accepted] to us in education to add value to the knowledge and skills of our students – as that’s what they’ll use in the field. If our grads cannot apply what they learn to be productive citizens, we are watering down our own image. Let’s help the perceptions align by providing good education, not just pomp and circumstance.

Strength-training creativity

Many scholars from Sir Ken Robinson to Albert Einstein have recognized the importance of creativity in our lives. However, our culture too often forgets to make practicing creativity and imagination part of our mental workout routine. We fill our time with academic focus on deliberate skill sets specific to our field or job.
Yet, if we listen to those who understand neurology, like Scott Barry Kaufman and others, we’ll see that creativity is one of the highest functions: allowing ourselves to deconstruct and reconstruct prior knowledge in a unique situations to develop innovative perspectives/solutions. Dr. John Kounios defines it “as the ability to restructure one’s understanding of a situation in a nonobvious way.” A clinical way to say that creativity allows us to see the world anew, full of new beauty and possibility. Regardless of the definition, the message is the same: practicing creativity and imagination is imperative to our cognitive health.

So, I encourage you to include a creative event or “goal” in your professional development plan. Encourage yourself to go to something like Creative Mornings. Or sign up for a photography course at your local community center. Stretch yourself out beyond the direct-measured professional development to become a better thinker and problem solver. Don’t let your creativity atrophy.

Balance between project-based and linear-based education

ARTICLE: Confessions of a Subversive Student
An interesting read about the need to balance linear, predetermined paths of curriculum with loosely structured situations wherein messy, exploration-based learning can occur. Reminds me of Seyour Papert’s interview, wherein he argues that academics must

“give up the idea of curriculum. Curriculum meaning you have to learn this on a given day. Replace it by a system where you learn this where you need it. So that means we’re going to put kids in a position where they’re going to use the knowledge that they’re getting. So what I try to do is to develop kinds of activities that are rich in scientific, mathematical, and other contents like managerial skills and project skills, and which mesh with interests that particular kids might have.”

Regardless of level, those messy and chaotic moments in project-based learning provide a real opportunity for learning that is different than linear-based. A balance is needed to be sure.