Imagine a world in which you can do all of the following from your living room as well as at college.
- calculate your current profile of knowledge, skills, behaviors and abilities;
- describe the goal(s) you have for your personal or professional growth;
- determine the gap between what you presently “know” and what knowledge you need to gain to meet your goal; and
- chart your learning path forward to meet that goal, either with a college, an informal learning group, an employer, or on your own.
These are the benefits of “free-range learning in a digital world”. They are driven by the new rules and the new ecosystem that is evolving to support you and your learning throughout life. And Portfolium, with it's Student Success Network, is one of the visionary companies leading the way in this emerging revolution.
My recently published book, Free-Range Learning in the Digital Age: The Emerging Revolution in College, Career, and Education (SelectBooks, NYC, June, 2018) speaks to these dramatic changes through the words of adult learners, workers, innovative college presidents, and entrepreneurs. These men and women are not debating about the status quo, they are describing the future through the lens of this emerging revolution.
Phrases such as “adult-friendly colleges” and “knowledge discrimination”, the “parchment ceiling” and “a GPS for learning and work”, underpin the stories of learners, educators, entrepreneurs and employers, all searching for new ways to bridge the growing learning/job-readiness divide.
Make no mistake, bridging this divide is critical to the social, civic, and economic future of our country. Ever-increasing tuition costs, driven by outdated economic and academic models, put the financial value of a college degree in question. And, as questions about the ROI on higher education as it is currently structured grow, thoughtful observers such as Jeffrey Selingo (See his recent article, “It’s Time to End College Majors As We Know Them” in The Chronicle of Higher Education) are joining me in offering a variety of solutions to the problem.
At the heart of this revolution lie two realities: one very old and the other brand new.
First, the old. As long as there has been folklore in America, we have known that life herself is a magnificent teacher. Think of the phrases, like “Live and Learn”, “The School of Hard Knocks”, and “Older, but Wiser”. Even the Horatio Alger story is based on the reputed direct link between working hard and being successful.
But even when Dr. Allen Tough proved that the average adult spends about 12 hours a week learning purposefully (The Adult’s Learning Projects, OISE, Toronto, 1966), most colleges and employers, as well as adult learners, continued to ignore that learning and its value to individuals and employers. This “learning discrimination” placed a determinative value on where and when you learned something, not how well you knew and could apply the knowledge. So, colleges “won” and personal learning “lost”. As a result, “personal” or experiential learning, despite it constituting well more than 50% of the learning we do, has been largely ignored by colleges and employers when placing people.
The “new” reality is the technological capacity that is changing the face of the world, including the world of higher education and employment. Clearly, learning how to curate and validate learning wherever and however it happened is one of the core solutions coming to the higher education-job readiness discussion. Job requirements can be searched and dissected, matching the knowledge, behavior, skills, and abilities needed for a specific career path with those held by an individual or taught by a college. And “adult-friendly” colleges are aligning learners’ personal and experiential learning with their degree requirements, thus awarding advanced standing for that learning. Furthermore, they are aligning their degree requirements with work requirements, including behaviors and cross-cutting intellectual skills such as critical thinking and teamwork.
These two realities – the power of personal learning and the technological development to harness its value – are redefining pathways to the degree and to the job market. In some cases, they are eliminating the need for the degree, blowing through the “parchment ceiling” that has stymied and frustrated so many adults for so long.
Portfolium’s Student Success Network is an excellent example of what I call a “GPS for learning and work”. Designed for existing and future college students, I believe that the Portfolium Student Success Network will also eventually serve unaffiliated learners who are simply trying to create a learning/career path that meets their needs.
Using these curation, validation, and search services, learners’ knowledge can be described and applied directly to job and other real-life requirements. And knowledge gained on-the-job, in the community, or in other venues such as the armed services can be applied for academic and economic value, deepening the learner’s personal understanding of their learning as well as the value of that learning academically and economically.
The emerging ”GPS for Learning and Work” will, ultimately, give learners of all ages the ability to understand and pursue their life and career journey the way they can currently understand their holiday trip to grandma’s. And all this can be done from the dining room table, if that’s what suits you. Or, of course, you can go to the college of your choice or ask your employer for the keys to the car. That’s what “free-range learning in the digital age” is all about.
This guest blog post was contributed by Dr. Peter Smith, Professor of Innovative Practices in Higher Education at the University of Maryland University College and author of "Free-Range Learning in the Digital Age: The Emerging Revolution in College, Career, & Education."