President Obama's recent proposals to make a college education accessible to more people offers a great many ideas. One of those ideas involves ways to expand or use Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs).
MOOCs provide lots of information to a broad audience, but they fall woefully short in ensuring that students are still learning the essentials. Educators must impart knowledge and teach a set of skills students need to succeed in the real world.
The college process that has been successful for 100 years is not just about acquiring an education, but about ensuring that our students develop the skills to enter the workforce.
This was a major point of discussion at a recent American Council on Education conference in Washington, D.C. We need to take heed of the employer who tells our graduates a degree in French Literature may not help in getting a job. A recent survey by the Chronicle of Higher Education and American Public Media's Marketplace said half of all employers surveyed said they had trouble finding qualified recent graduates to fill existing jobs.
Our students need both a good liberal arts education and the foundation to develop core competencies in liberal arts graduates. Moreover, we as educators need a way to measure core competencies in the liberal arts field.
Just providing knowledge and facts is fine, but that's not what education is all about.
As I see it, there are six pillars of a true, well-rounded education that prepares students for the workforce - or even for graduate school to pursue a higher degree. Not all of these things can be accomplished in the isolation of a MOOC, where there is a lack of interaction among students and teachers.
Critical thinking: Students must not only learn ideas, they must learn how to evaluate the ideas of others. Reading and evaluating must be developed as a skill for students to move on in their chosen careers.
Cross-cultural shared literacy: To do business in a global market, you need a common understanding of certain things; history, cultural differences. You cannot compete in the world marketplace unless there is a mutual knowledge of history and culture.
Group dynamic achievement: It is very important that students learn to work with others. It is becoming more and more important to produce group projects not only in class, but in the workforce.
Intellectual socialization: This is taking group dynamic achievement a step farther. Students must be taught and encouraged to discuss their ideas in group settings. That back-and-forth may not be possible in MOOCS. Students who learn just by watching a lecture are not going to develop group ideas.
Freedom and democracy: Freedom and democracy is the essence of our society. This involves reading and discussion and it happens primarily in academic settings. It's extremely important to have that academic exposure. Indeed, the Chronicle-Marketplace survey found that while many employers bemoan students' preparedness, they place a higher value on a college education, especially in fields where a degree had not been necessary.
Pre-professional competence: In medical education, core competencies must be met for doctors to ensure they can provide quality services. There should be specific, well-developed core competencies for a liberal arts education. For example, biology majors must show readiness to go on to obtain a PhD, or to work for a pharmaceutical company.
As educators, we must realize the ways of learning are rapidly changing and, rather than cling to the old ways of doing things, we must adapt. It should be noted that American Council on Education survey found that just 27% of all students in higher education are enrolled in traditional learning programs. Online education is becoming a way of life, as it should be - to an extent.
However, learning does not happen in isolation. It happens when students and teachers engage with each other and take the concept of learning to a higher level. True innovation in education is making sure our students succeed in the classroom - and more importantly, in the workforce and the world at large after they graduate. To do so we need not only be sure students acquire an adequate number of credits or "knowledge" but also the skills to become the leaders of the future. It requires more than listening to online lectures.
True innovation in education is making sure our students succeed in the classroom - and more importantly, in the workforce and the world at large after they graduate.