My first 2013 reflection point is that my interests have changed. When I look back at certain blog posts over the past 5 years, I realize my evolution. When I started blogging, I was highly interested in out-of-the-box education in K-12. In some way, I think I was drawn to the area because I was fascinated by needle-in-the-haystack experiences that some students were having in the midst of all of the controversy. I faced a lot of challenges throughout my education career and I could sympathize that it wasn’t that I hated learning, it was that I was being evaluated by a system that only accepted one definition of assessment. While my interests today aren’t dramatically different, I would say that they are more refined. I am still interested in innovative ways that people are learning, just that now I am extremely interested in adult learning and higher education.
How fitting that I am now formally studying the various ways that people learn and grow through informal and DIY learning and that I am reflecting on my own informal learning evolution. Much like my issue with the ‘K-12 funnel’, I also think that higher education has a long way to go to accommodate lifelong learners. This isn’t a challenge as much as its an untapped opportunity. In an era where higher ed is desperately trying to find new revenue streams, catering to the many phases of the adult life is an ideal answer.
People’s interests evolve. Mine did. Based on everything I’ve learned over the past few years, the person I want to become now is very different from the person I wanted to become 5 years ago. It’s an innate trait in humans to want to grow and learn more. Society, as a whole, however, has not evolved. People are stifled into careers and positions. These used to be great ways to build expertise in a particular area, but people have perhaps evolved. Just as we have to re-imagine what defines a career and a position, we also have re-imagine higher ed’s role in our new society. Humans are curious. They continue to want to learn more and become more, as a result. There is no doubt that this change is possibly driven by the advancements found in this new “Knowledge Era”. I re-imagine that employment will one day hire for talent, that evolves the definitions of people’s positions. And I re-imagine education to encompass the whole person as a lifelong learner to help them meet their new goals.
One experience that influences my perspective is my own. While my job title has remained the same over the past 4 years, my position has evolved in great ways. I have been a large part of this. I need new challenges and I need to evolve. I absorb more information in a day than most people one hundred years ago absorbed in an entire year. I am a product of this new “Knowledge Era”.
I was the first in my entire family to earn a Bachelor’s, and then a Master’s, and now my Ph.D. I have always been ambitious, but some days I feel as if there is so much brainstorming going on inside of my head that my head feels like it is going to explode. I routinely wake up at night with ‘epiphanies’ and new complex problems. I just turned 31, and according to experts, I may be experiencing what they describe as my “peak productive age” (Simonton, 1988, p. 253). Some of the ideas I have had have sparked and contributed to conversations at my institution. I feel as if I am contributing to its future and I my ongoing challenge is trying to figure out its future. What happens when people like me hit this point in their lives and they don’t have the opportunity that I do?
It is clear that employers must evolve their age-old practice of hiring for a particular position. I have seen a lack of problem-solving opportunities crush potentially creative people. These individuals usually decide to move on with their careers, which can leave a company lacking in company knowledge and succession options. However, there is good news for employers in this more creative era. Allowing individuals to work across silos and collaborate on solving complex problems that plague multiple areas can mean a leaner staff number. Believing, trusting, and investing in key, creative, and competent people is an entirely different approach for most employers, but it can increase loyalty by increasing what Teresa Amabile and Steve Kramer coined as “inner work lives”. Isn’t that what all employers want–loyal, creative individuals who make up a leaner staff?
If employment procedures evolve, higher education will certainly have to adapt. It will have to cater to individuals across an entire lifetime, not just a few, short years. Online education as well as on-campus education will have to come to terms with sharing this market in order to meet the demand. In the end, we may find a unique structure emerge, and a more connected university. As I exit 2013, and enter 2014 this is where my head is at.
Amabile, T., & Kramer, S. (2011). The progress principle: Using small wins to ignite joy, engagement, and creativity at work. Boston, Mass: Harvard Business Review Press.
Simonton, D. K. (January 01, 1988). Age and outstanding achievement: what do we know after a century of research?. Psychological Bulletin, 104, 2, 251-67.