Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Who Will Harness the Power of Personal Learning?

Who Will Harness the Power of Personal Learning?  
I recently reconnected with a hero of mine; someone whose star I have navigated by for 40 years: Dr. Allen Tough.
As a young community college president in Vermont, I was searching for an organizing principle for adult learning, other than the classroom and the curriculum. It was 1972, so there was no internet and no web.
Then I read Tough’s book, The Adult’s Learning Projects and it gave me that organizing structure. A professor at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, Tough was interested in why adults learned, how they learned, and how much time they spent doing so, outside of college. So he and his graduate students started asking the adults themselves. The result was the creation of a unit of measurement, the adult’s learning project, that quantified and described the scope of learning that adults were pursuing on their own, personal learning. And what they found was staggering. The average adult engaged in 8 – 10 projects a year lasting a total of more than 700 hours. That is more than 15 hours a week. When they went to other continents and tested by economic levels, the results were largely the same.
In subsequent years, Tough and his graduate students catalogued an astonishing array of “self-directed learning” efforts that were initiated, sustained, and completed by the person most affected, the learner himself.
There is much, much more to this from a substantive point of view. But my “aha” moment, back in 1972 was this. If there is a natural sequence, pattern, and inclination in all adults to learn, why not build a more formal learning program around  1)what the adult already knows, and 2) their learning pattern.  My colleagues and I at the Community College of Vermont quickly observed a pattern that looked roughly like this.
  1. Assess: where am I?
  2. Plan: Where do I want to go?
  3. Implement: Engage in the learning I have planned.
  4. Evaluate: Determine when “enough is enough”.
  5. Which leads back to “assess”.
A college that harnesses the natural inclination to learn that adults carry with them and recognizes what learners already know when they arrive will succeed in personalizing and customizing curricula in ways that have never been achieved before. With the web and the internet, personal learning projects have received a turbo-charged boost. Who will harness this power?
For more information about Allen Tough, Email him: allentough@sympatico.ca  or visit his Website: www.allentough.com.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Another Sign that The Times, They Are A'Changin (with apologies to Bob Dylan)

I flew into San Francisco last night to attend the Western Interstate Committee for Higher Education (WICHE) annual meeting. I am part of the meeting, speaking at their luncheon on my book, "Harnessing America's Wasted Talent", today, which explains my presence. But the remarkable thing is that WICHE, led by their President, David Longanecker, is focusing the bulk of the meeting on what they have termed the "Other" institutions: innovative, online, proprietary, and alternative to the norm of American Higher Education. So the 70 + WICHE Commissioners, staff, and others are spending their time learning about institutions and programs that are organized to benefit from the rapidly changing and expanding "New Ecology of Learning" driven by web 2.0, extraordinary evolving IT capacity, new media and social networking.

Present are many players in this new space, representing all sectors: public and private non-profit, and proprietary colleges as well as multiple organizations which out-source critical academic functions. I am currently listening to a presentation by representatives of Western Governors University, American Public University, and Rio Salado Community College. They exemplify the reality that change and the new ecology is not owned by any one sector or model. Indeed, the new ecology and these institutions of the 21st century are characterized, not by sector, but by common characteristics, like a commitment to learning outcomes at the course level.

This afternoon, there will be a panel discussion including representatives from Blackboard, Pearson, and Straighterline, each a company with a strong out-sourcing and innovation components. And later today, we will visit the Nexus Policy Research Center,  a research analytics group for non-traditional learners initially sponsored by the Apollo Group.

And tomorrow, WICHE will launch a discussion about how to grapple with streamlining state regulations among their member states. I believe that the best recent publication that captures the importance of the different elements of this policy discussion is "Beyond Good and Evil", by Michael Horn. It can be found on the American Enterprise Institute website. .Horn's other seminal article, "Disrupting College", is available on the Center for American Progress web site.

What does it all mean? I believe that WICHE's bold program signifies the move of these models and modalities for teaching and learning from the back rooms of american higher education's policy discussion to center stage. We need them out in the light because there is no way to reach the ambitious goals set by President Obama and echoed by the Gates and Lumina Foundations using the traditional system only. And with them in the bright sunshine, We will be free to engage in the only conversation that matters: the quality of the teaching, the results of the learning, and the attainments of the learners themselves. For multiple risk-factor learners, the goal should not be sector-specific but consistent, reliable, and valid learning results across the board. In other words, quality.

Peter Smith
Senior Vice President,
Academic Strategies & Development

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

WWW.KNEXT.COM "Leveraging your past to shape your future."

On a personal note, this is an exciting week for me. Almost 40 years ago, I was talking on Main St in Montpeleier, Vermont with a friend, Tom Evslin, about how to assess learning on the computer. He was, and is, a brilliant thinker in new applications for thecomputer, then the net and what is now the world wide web. My question was, why can't we simplfy the cumbersome computer protocols that existed in the mid-70's and do alot more assessing of personal and experiential learning via the computer? Tom said,  "We don't know how to do that, Peter. But someday we will."

With the advent of the world wide web and, more recently, social networking, his prediction has come true.  We do know how to do it. And this week we launched KNEXT a web-based learning support and assentment service that is available to anyone who wants to use it.

My purpose is to change the marketplace for adult learners, as learners and as consumers of higher education. We do the former by putting them in touch with what they already know (leveraging your past to create your future) and the latter by encouraging them to look for the postsecondary institutions and programs that will serve their needs and recognize the learning they have already achieved.

This is part of the great "mash-up" that I wrote about last week. The ability to convert personal learning into college credit at great scale has far-reaching implications for the future of access, success, and opportunity through post-secondary teaching and learning. What a week!