IN THIS ISSUE
- Letter from the Editor
- Learning the Tricks to College Life
- Learning How to Learn: Academia’s Best Kept Secret
- Learners Who Inherit the Future
- Study Skills
“The future belongs to those who are capable of being retrained again and again.”
Our latest issue discusses one of the most valuable skills one can possess as a student and working professional: the ability to learn. Lifelong learning is vital for those who seek success throughout their working lives. Those who can successfully acquire and apply this part skill, part survival tactic are more likely to thrive in today’s dynamic and fast-paced world. Lifelong learners embrace the idea of learning as a mechanism for improvement as professionals and human beings.
The submissions from our team explore this topic from a variety of angles. Aside from providing readers with a conceptual understanding of the skill, we discuss the relevance of this ability in correlation with current workforce trends and its connection to Purpose-Centered Education. The issue features an interactive piece that explores the benefits of study skills as an effective learning strategy. Another section, dedicated to the student reader, provides insight on skills that, when mastered, can ease the challenges of college life. We’ve provided our readers with valuable insight that, in combination with a self-directed attitude and open-mind, can help anyone accomplish their most valued goals. Enjoy!
A college education is predicated on learning, but learning need not be confined to the classroom. Indeed, there are everyday skills that comprise the college lifestyle that we are not born with. But when mastered, these everyday skills are ones that can help you with your classroom learning.
1. Learning to become organized.
Assessing the situation. One of the biggest obstacles a college student must overcome is poor organization. I cannot tell you how many times I have been unable to work with a student because he/she is frantically searching through a 5-inch-thick pile of arbitrarily put-together papers that he/she keeps in his/her book bag for a single assignment sheet. This wastes not only time but energy, as the student becomes increasingly upset and angry with the situation—a difficult mood to overcome when trying to write, say, a critical essay.
And just as you might accumulate so many pieces of physical paper, you accumulate many digital pieces of paper. Think of how many Word documents you’ve started, worked on, and forgotten about. Suddenly, it’s a month later, and you need one of these pieces of paper. Trouble is, you can’t remember for your life where you saved the file. And the even bigger problem is that you have absolutely no idea under what name you saved it. It could be buried on your laptop, on one of your six flash drives (only two of which you can locate), or on the desktop of a random computer in the library.
Learning the trick. Organization is one of the easiest problems to solve, but most people never do so. Why? Because it’s not instantaneously easy. You can’t just shove all your papers into a single manila folder or save all your files in your computer’s “documents” folder; doing so will lead to the same sorts of problems that plagued you in the first place. Organization takes planning. Not excessive amounts of planning, but you certainly have to think things through.
If you have five classes, you should have one paper folder for each class. Inside each folder, you can use paper clips, or dividers within the folder, to organize by, say, class notes, assignments, and reading materials. Now imagine the exact same system of classification applied to the computer: folders within folders within folders. If you can put names to these folders, and you can always understand what type of paper or file you need to save in the folder, you will never spend excessive amounts of time on a futile search for your materials.
2. Learning the right mindset.
Assessing the situation. College classes can be exceedingly difficult, and that makes it easy to resent your decision to attend school. Everyone who has been through at least a single semester of college is able to identify with the dreaded feeling of realizing that you have a math test, a group presentation, and two papers due on Monday . . . and it’s already Friday . . . and you still haven’t finished your homework for the week, let alone thought about the assignments. It’s a terrible situation, because there is seemingly no way out. Writing a paper? It’s a long, arduous, tedious process in and of itself, one that might take weeks, depending on the topic and the research. And now you have to write two? And memorize five different formulas? And communicate with your group members, whose email addresses you’ve misplaced?! At this point, you might as well just give up completely. Forget about everything; hang out with your friends, see a movie, sleep in. You’ll never finish everything, so just do nothing. It’s the easiest way to approach the situation. But it’s also the worst way because it is, without question, the least productive.
Learning the trick. In the midst of a seemingly impossible situation, the last thing you want to do is become overly emotional, because doing so leads to rash assertions: I’ll never finish this paper; the test material is too hard. Once you get on a roll, the defeatist attitude becomes inexorable. Next thing you know, you’re convincing yourself that you’re the kind of person who gets something in their head and can’t get it out.
Okay. If you trace the thought process of the previous paragraph back to its root, you’ll see that the entire situation gets out of hand not because of reality but because of emotions. Now, I’m not a mental health professional, so rather than talk about controlling your emotions (though that’s a noble and worthy thing to do), I’m going to focus on an alternative philosophy regarding college life: the clinical, technical perspective.
The basic thrust of this idea is that any task in the world, whether it’s related to your career, you social life, or your student days, becomes drastically easier when you view it in segments and installments, as opposed to one massive, looming entity. Pretend you’re a mountaineer. Now imagine yourself standing at the base of Mount Everest, the tallest mountain in the world. When you gaze up at the peak, which, set against the majestic blue sky, seems so tall, it may seem like no person could reach the summit. And it is true that until the middle of the 20th century, everyone who had attempted to climb it had failed. But then two people did it, then more, and although various factors make it a vastly difficult peak to climb, reaching the top has been proven, over and over again, to be within the realm of human possibility. If someone else can do it, can you? Of course? But you’re staring up at it—it’s so high!—how is it possible?
3. Learning time management.
Assessing the situation. Now, pretend you’re in your impossible school situation. Think it’s different than your attempt to climb Mt. Everest (snow and ice vs. books and computers)? You’re right, it is different . . . but it contains the same underlying principles.
It’s Friday night. You need to focus, just for a few minutes, on your first paper. Turns out that, after re-reading the assignment sheet and brainstorming for ten minutes (just ten minutes!), you have an idea of what you want to say and a basic structure for how to say it. You get on the computer and, over the next two hours, type out a strong rough draft. In less than three hours, you’ve completed your first task.
Looking ahead, you now have Saturday and Sunday to write a paper, study for the math test, and revise this paper. Assuming you’ve paid attention in class and completed all the assignments and done most of the readings, you will have an easier time with this work—just like how your first paper turned out not to be so difficult. So you make a study schedule for the weekend, even working in some free time for yourself, and as you check your email before bed, you see that not everyone is as clumsy as you—in fact, your group members just wrote to say that most of the project is done; all that’s left are revisions.
Oh, of course, now you remember! You had actually done a fair amount of work on it in the past two weeks, had even completed your part; it’s just that when you realized you had four things to do, you lost all perspective and assumed the worst. Now things are looking up.
Learning the trick. What I’m advocating is a focus away from an emotional outlook (“this task just feels impossible”) and toward an industrial one (“this task requires me to do this”). Often, the reality of a situation is inversely proportional to how we perceive the situation. Yes, college can be very hard. It is designed that way, with lots of extensive, overlapping projects, and for a good reason—we don’t want slackers checking our tonsils, doing our taxes or teaching our children. If you can approach these tough situations from a clinical perspective, you can reduce their difficulty to a series of simple tasks. This is one of the first steps toward learning how to learn.
Educators aim to equip students with an array of skills and talents that essentially prepare students for the professional world. Yet arguably, the most important skill for success—the ability to learn—is not intrinsically taught in the class room. However, as alarming as that may be, there is hope for those who possess a self-directed attitude.
Learning how to learn is a byproduct of the self-directed student’s learning experience.
Over the course of my life, I’ve acquired the ability to “learn how to learn.” While there is no single moment I can attribute for the acquisition of this skill, I can credit a culmination of experiences, especially some beyond my undergraduate years.
One experience in particular serves as evidence that the ability to learn is both expected and tested upon entry into the professional world, and even more importantly that a self-directed attitude is elemental to acquiring that skill.
When I first arrived at the LEC toward the end of the spring 2011 semester, I was very eager to start working with students. The first few students I sat with had relatively simple issues concerning sentence structure, mechanics, and organization. Everything seemed to be going smoothly; that is until, I encountered the Constructive Action.
My supervisor briefly mentioned the document during my orientation, but the exact particulars were unclear. Initially it sounded like any other end-of-term paper.
My first official confrontation with the CA occurred during a session with an MBA student named Alexia*. Like most graduate students, she was concerned with the quality of her work and wanted it assessed by an expert pair of eyes. She was in her last purpose and under immense pressure. I was able to answer some of her questions, but far too often I found myself saying, “I need to get back to you on that.” It’s the best way to say that you have no clue.
Before that point, I thought I knew everything there was to know about academic writing. But here was a document that was completely foreign to me and that I knew I needed to learn more about. It’s erroneous to assume that there isn’t room for growth in one’s skill sets, even after being in a field or industry for a long time. Unconsciously, I had taken the first step in learning how to learn; keeping an open mind. Be open-minded and accept challenges even if it contests your most founded beliefs.
I now had a learning goal that I was seeking to accomplish.
Everyone has a particular learning style, and knowing one’s style is essential in accomplishing any learning goal. For me, traditional instruction has always been an effective learning strategy, and so I thought that sitting in on a CA class would be a good way for me to learn the CA. My supervisor advised me to sit in on Professor Damian’s Purpose III CA course, which focused on promoting empowerment through teaching and communication.
Now I had to take the next step: action. Wanting to do something and actually doing it are two very different things. A positive attitude alone will not help you reach your goal; action is required. The very next week I sat in Professor Damian’s class. Because practice and application helps solidify newly learned concepts, I took the next and most logical step; I wrote a CA of my own. Completing a CA turned out to be most effective learning strategy. I realized that the CA is more than just a document; it’s a record of action and implementation toward the accomplishment of a goal.
After accomplishing my goal, my sessions with students were far more productive and fruitful and I no longer dreaded student questions about the CA. The experience even helped me become a better a teacher. I remembered what it was like to be a student, struggling to learn something new.
*Names have been changed.
“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.”
—Eric Hoffer, Reflections on the Human Condition
If we look at our current cultural and financial landscape, marked by global financial instability, repeated recessions, spread of information and an explosion of personal and global networks, we can see that the rate and depth of change is like none seen before in human history. Given so much uncertainty in the midst of a learning revolution, how can we plot our course of life-long learning? What to pursue?! For today’s college student, life-long learning is less an idyllic pursuit of being a well-rounded or interesting individual, and much more of a developmental skill crucial for social empowerment and employment in an increasingly unpredictable workforce environment.
The term “life-long learning” is both self-evident (of course we learn throughout life) and layered in meaning and application. The concept is infused with meaning depending on the cultural times, as it is certainly not a modern coinage. With any significant cultural, industrial or technological shift, there are newly-zealous proponents of life-long learning—all with very reasonable perspectives and agendas. I will survey a few recent perspectives related to workforce trends here and link them to the unique Purpose-Centered Education model at Metropolitan College of New York (MCNY).
Shifting Workforce Landscape
For both working professionals and college students alike, some sobering trends are emerging. As Robert Safian (2012) at Fast Company recently noted,
the vast bulk of our institutions—educational, corporate, political—are not built for flux. Few traditional career tactics train us for an era where the most important skill is the ability to acquire new skills.
Institutions aside, humans are highly adaptable and made for flux. And luckily for students of MCNY, their institution was founded in direct response to higher learning institutions’ inability to adapt quickly to the times (Cohen, 1977). While the MCNY student may be at certain advantages, no emerging or established professional will likely be immune to the far-reaching shifts now requiring very specific learning skills.
The UNESCO Institute for Education (2001) estimates that “60% of trades and jobs to be performed in the next two decades or so are not yet known.” Perhaps “sobering” was too light a term, as the gravity of their findings means that the working skills you had five years ago may not serve you well any longer. Not only are trade forecasts shifting, but years on a job is as well. Kamenets (2012) reports that “the median number of years a U.S. worker has been in his or her current job is just 4.4, down sharply since the 1970’s.” Indeed, this shifting landscape necessitates a conceptual shift; no longer do metaphors such as progressing upward along a hierarchical “career ladder” make the same sense as they did even a decade ago. Even the idea of “success” has to be re-framed, as diversity of job types actually becomes desirable to employers, revealing that a worker may have a prized set of adaptive learning skills (Fidler, 2012).
It is certainly impractical to assume that we all must always be in higher education/training programs perpetually. Indeed, more than ever before, learning to learn (the ability to acquire new skills) is the most relevant and sustainable educational and professional pursuit.
Given the national decline of job tenure and impossibility of predicting future trade prospects, the Institute for the Future (an independent nonprofit research group based in California), has developed a set of “proficiencies and abilities across different jobs and work settings” that are fueled by various disruptive shifts they call “drivers” The six drivers shaping this new landscape are:
1. Extreme Longevity: increasing global lifespans change the nature of careers and learning
2. Computational world: massive increase in sensors and processing power make the world a programmable system
3. Superstructed organizations: social technologies drive new forms of production and value creation
4. Rise of smart machines and systems: workplace robotics nudge human workers out of rote, repetitive tasks
5. New media ecology: new communication tools require new media literacies beyond text
6. Globally-connected world: increased global interconnectivity puts diversity and adaptability at the center of organizational operations
They next defined key work skills that will be required in the next 10 years:
|Sense-making||ability to determine the deeper meaning or significance of what is being expressed|
|Social intelligence||ability to connect to others in a deep and direct way, to sense and stimulate reactions and desired interactions|
|Novel & adaptive thinking||proficiency at thinking and coming up with solutions and responses beyond that which is rote or rule-based|
|Cross-cultural competency||ability to operate in different cultural settings|
|Computational thinking||ability to translate vast amounts of data into abstract concepts and to understand data-based reasoning|
|New-media literacy||ability to critically assess and develop content that uses new media forms, and to leverage these media for persuasive communication|
|Transdisciplinarity||literacy in and ability to understand concepts across multiple disciplines|
|Design mindset||ability to represent and develop tasks and work processes for desired outcomes|
|Cognitive load management||ability to discriminate and filter information for importance, and to understand how to maximize cognitive functioning using a variety of tools and techniques|
|Virtual collaboration||ability to work productively, drive engagement, and demonstrate presence as a member of a virtual team|
Looking at Living Problems
While, at first glance, this formulation of skill sets may seem especially well-suited for the business world, it is certainly applicable to other sectors. (It is noteworthy that two of the skill sets hinge on competencies in new/virtual media.) Broader and more nuanced formulations have emerged from other perspectives that can inform the above model. UNESCO’s “Revisiting Lifelong Learning” (2001) sets out a very useful “constellation of characteristics of the lifelong learner.” There is a beautiful synchronicity between these precepts and the defining vision of MCNY’s founder, Audrey Cohen, of “teach[ing] students to look at living problems in the real world in a comprehensive way”(p.6).
Let’s consider the overlap between UNESCO’s designations and MCNY’s Purpose-Centered Education model’s Constructive Action.
1. The learner as an active and creative explorer of the world
“His/her interaction with the environment is informed by his/her hypotheses, perceptions, aspirations, values, attitudes, cognitive styles, etc. The learner can also anticipate future developments, test hypotheses and create. Learning is an interplay between the learner and his/her learning environments” (Medel-Añonuevo, Ohsako, Mauch, p9).
The MCNY Constructive Action(CA) is “a set of learning activities and a learning product designed to improve a social environment or social relations, or to foster human development or well-being. As activities, the CA is conducted within a specified social environment, allowing for supervision and feedback. As product, the CA is either a document or portfolio that includes a review of pertinent literature, a rationale for the CA, formulation of goals/objectives, selection and justification of targeted actions, a statement of findings justified by evidence, and an interpretation of findings in terms of review literature and next steps”(Grallo, 2012).
MCNY calls on all students to be active and creative explorers of the world through the CA, a “living case study” (Cohen, 1978, p. 4). The Constructive Action as a set of ‘learning activities’ undergirds many of the skills UNESCO noted, especially the Plan of Action section, where students create a short-term goal and related objectives and devise strategies for meeting the goal and evaluating their actions within their specified social learning environment in a semester period.
2. The learner as a reflexive agent
“Learning facilitates a process which enables the learner to reflect on his/her life and environment. The learner’s reflexivity cannot be sufficiently guaranteed by external learning resources or teachers and mentors alone. Lifelong learning needs to aim at building this competency through the eyes of the learner. […]Another way to promote learner reflexivity is to encourage his/her own active engagement in problems. The learner needs to self-question and critically analyze learning processes and results. Learner comprehension and self-management of learning processes and results are two important bases for the development of self-reflexivity.” (Medel-Añonuevo, Ohsako, Mauch, p. 9).
The Constructive Action is built on the very premise of engagement with real-life problems (Cohen, 1997, p.8). Students use reflection through distinct CA sections for self-assessment, assess a community or work situation and reflectively analyze the strategies implemented to affect a change.
3. The learner as a self-actualizing agent
“Self-actualization(or fulfilling one’s potential as an individual), curiosity, and exploration are lifelong drivers of human action” (Medel-Añonuevo, Ohsako, Mauch, p.10).
In each successive Constructive Action, students practice self-actualization by assessing a need or opportunity in their work or community, creatively imagining possible avenues of addressing the need, and making a plan to enact specific strategies that build on their developing personal and professional skills. As they strive to meet any need or opportunity, they must employ their best professional skills and values, always fueling an ever-deeper personal understanding of themselves and the world.
4. The learner as an integrator of learning
“The challenge for the lifelong learner is the so-called integration of thinking, feeling and action. Another aspect of integration involves managing learning opportunities, taking advantage of all the different learning settings, whether in-school or out-of-school, formal or informal, and across a wide range of learning content”(Medel-Añonuevo, Ohsako, Mauch, p.10-11).
The founder of MCNY, Audrey Cohen (1997), speaks directly to this marker of lifelong learning (26 years before the UNESCO report), noting that hers “is the one model that does not separate the mind from the body, thought from action, or the client from the professional, and that bases advancement and status on performance” (p.26). As integrators of learning, MCNY students are empowered to be agents of social change. To be empowered, “one must be informed, able to negotiate with or through the many systems which affect one’s life and capable of using these systems on one’s own behalf. One must take control of one’s own life. If there is to be social justice, citizens must act as integrating agents for their own needs” (Cohen, 1978, p. 2).
Here we see an impressive link between characteristics of life-long learners and an institutional model that actively demands that students produce new relevant skills while assessing and reflecting on self, others, systems, skill sets and values. MCNY and faculty seem to be well-poised to not only “weather” the learning revolution, but to excel and be leaders in defining what is educative and employable.
While most of the Institute for the Future’s work skills can neatly function within UNESCO’s four characteristics, the latter is especially rich in its consideration of the holistic learner. As a precursor to the more recent work, a 1996 UNESCO report acknowledged that
not only must [the concept of lifelong learning] adapt to changes in the nature of work, but it must also constitute a continuous process of forming whole beings—their knowledge and aptitudes, as well as the critical faculty and ability to act. It should enable people to develop awareness of themselves and their environment and encourage them to play their social role and work in the community (p.3).
While the breakneck speed of global change directly impacts the local and international workforce and the relevance of our training, it also opens up an unbelievable array of opportunities, resources and connectivity, not for the worker, but for the human. For, where “social intelligence” makes for meaningful workplace interaction, so, too, does it release nations from the grip of dictators. Where “novel and adaptive thinking” can win clients in major advertising firms, so, too, does it make for better communities when used by city councils and community boards. “Transdisciplinarity” and “cognitive load management” make for dynamic supervisors and leaders as well as helping to keep a conversation alive and meaningful at the dinner table with three teenagers. Through the practice and thoughtful application of these learning skills, our lives can be enriched and empowered on many levels.
To MCNY students and others pursuing higher education, I urge you to look beyond that which is rote or rule-based, notions that are deceptively “predictable”, and satisfaction with specialization. Instead, actively nurture all that makes you adaptive, inquisitive, humbled, driven, and absolutely fascinated by your very own questions and pursuits.
Cohen, A. (1997) The Third Alternative, New York: Audrey Cohen College.
Fidler, D. (Jan 24, 2012) The Re-working of “Work”. Retrieved from http://www.iftf.org/reworkingwork
Hoffer, E.(1973). Reflections on the Human Condition. Harper & Row.
Grallo, R. (2012). Personal communication.
Institute for the Future for Apollo Research Institute (2011) Future Work Skills 2020. Retrieved from http://apolloresearchinstitute.com/sites/default/files/future_work_skills_2020_full_research_r eport_final_1.pdf
Kamenetz, A. (January 12, 2012). The Four-Year Career. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/1802731/four-year-career
Medel-Añonuevo, C., Ohsako, T., Mauch, W. (2001). Revisiting Lifelong Learning for the 21st Century. UNESCO Institute for Education. Retrieved from http://www.unesco.org/education/uie/pdf/revisitingLLL.pdf
Safian, R. (January 9, 2012). This Is Generation Flux: Meet The Pioneers Of The New (And Chaotic) Frontier Of Business. Retrieved from http://www.fastcompany.com/1802732/generation- flux-meet-pioneers-new-and-chaotic-frontier-businessShare