On reconceptualizing education: some thoughts

I had this stream of consciousness written down in a journal and thought I would bring it to light, in case anyone out there has a response to any of the questions that I pose. It starts with education post high school, and then flows into learning at work.

What if education after K-12 was framed around what issues keep a person up at night? And then education helped build a problem solving/critical thinking toolkit to work on those issues.

It’s no wonder businesses work in silos when everyone building businesses and growing them comes from an education system that silos by majors and minors.

There is some flexibility through cross-discipline team building and in education in centers, interdisciplinary studies and minors that might not “go with” given majors. (I had a friend once tell me her college education came down to art or physics, and I was horrified that it was an either/or instead of a both/and. WHY NOT BOTH, PEOPLE.) But these arrangements still just create combinations of separately taught things without pushing the learner to figure out how those things will relate to each other and work together to help uncover new solutions to old problems, or shed light on new problems that need innovation.

Who is working on this? Innovating in this vein of thinking?

Even in doctoral level work it was very hard to get support and be taken seriously when thinking outside the (K-12) box, at my institution.

Hmm… interesting turns of phrase: out of the box = common, standard, not special or customized. Outside the box = totally new, innovative, creative. We are not fans of boxes, are we? So why haven’t we ditched the box altogether?

So once education is “over” and people move on to their paid labor roles, the specialized silo-ed thinking follows. Much like colleges require quantitative data to admit students, businesses require quantitative data to hire. Unlike colleges, which have essays to try to uncover who one is and why they want to go to that school, businesses don’t really ask questions to get at who a person is as part of the company community (do you really think you’ll get anything meaningful when you ask “why do you want to work here?”).

It matters less in college for students because the groups formed to get work done come together and break apart on a class by class basis. Even a nightmare group project is over relatively fast. (It matters more on the employee side — faculty, staff, admin, etc. since they are there together all the time.)

At the same time, how many students think about the kind of person a school attracts and whether they want to learn with that group? A different friend once told me that’s how she chose her undergrad institution, and she is the only person I know to date who defined that criterion in her search.

Anyway, who a person is and how they learn/view the world matters just as much as their vocational abilities in a workplace community. (See Seth Godin’s “soft skills” article. I can’t stop referring to it.)

Using this holistic outlook as a framework, how do we get our heads and arms around building and developing the people who do learning and development (L&D) in workplaces, as well as those they affect?

In other words, who shapes L&D for L&D folks? And why do we have a narrow idea of who can do L&D as well as where it lives? Why is it only in Human Resources (HR)? (Except for 9%, according to LinkedIn, that situate it in other organizations in a business, either additionally or instead of in HR.)

Who determines L&D curriculum? On what grounds? How well does a background in curriculum and instruction (C&I) serve this role when we don’t check for or develop who they are or ask them to incorporate this into the work? Who I am plays a HUGE role in how I do my work. I call on all of my experiences to influence whatever I am doing presently. Does anyone else?

I read so many different things each day, and try to learn what I can from everyone I meet professionally as well as my friends (and I make a point to meet new people regularly).

Mind open, eyes open. Say yes more. Why not? Make space for possibility. Experiments can always roll back. These are mantras you’ll hear me whip out as needed to make a case, or encourage someone else to flex their networking muscles and discover the unknown unknowns that, once known, can change life in pretty exciting ways.

It seems clear that people development efforts, including L&D, should apply teaching and learning principles and theories to truly develop, but first:

  1. Why does L&D get so little support compared to other parts of a company?
  2. What is the value add to increase support? (Maybe reducing money wasted on high turnover, increased productivity — but how is productivity defined?)
  3. What does evaluation look like in this space? (THERE IS A WAY TO KNOW IF SOMETHING IS WORKING, FOLKS. Program evaluation.)

I know. How does it work to measure things that are abstract, or are deemed successful by what doesn’t happen? How do we assess and take in the whole person? How do we do this smartly when we need to grow/recruit at a mass scale? What is the value-add of caring about the person as a whole? There seem to be two branches to consider: the people that are already hired and the people we want to hire.

I’m interested in figuring out first what’s going on with the people that are already hired. We have a tension between needing to have everyone consume the same material so we can say they “learned” it, but each person will receive and process the information in question differently based on their role and who they are. What if standard “legal/compliance training” used the same video content (but done better — I have a lot of questions for people who make these videos) but was shaped into actionable lesson plans depending on the role the viewer had?

Maybe it’s simply a self-fulfilling prophecy in a bad way, that L&D is known for being shitty, and then it gets less support and funding, which means its capabilities are lessened, impact is lessened, less money, and so on.

The thing is real learning takes time. At the bottom of all of this is the biggest question I have — how do we get investors and decision makers to understand that this is a long-term investment, and that the payoff isn’t going to be tangible right away? We can’t even get people involved in K-12 education to appreciate this (hello rise of standardized tests), so I am not criticizing businesses. BUT WHAT IF THEY UNDERSTOOD AND WERE WILLING TO DO AN EXPERIMENT ON FAITH? What if some of the unfathomable amounts of money awarded to start ups was meant for planting seeds of qualitative improvement in human life at work? What is the fear there in meaningfully working on a culture of learning?