As the internet is democratising the distribution of information, we need to rethink what it means to deliver a quality learning experience. The idea that collecting badges through online courses and getting a download of content is the same as a face-to-face experience reveals that there’s a significant misunderstanding of the purpose of learning.
The world is getting more competitive; qualifications aren’t enough
A 2016 report by Foundation for Young Australians, The New Work Mindset, showed that technical skills aren’t going to be enough to survive in the workforce of the future. With automation and digital disruption transforming industry after industry, collecting more subject-based skills is short-term thinking. We need to teach ourselves how to think, not what to think, so we can adapt to these changes.
Traditional thinking had us undertake tertiary education to enhance our career prospects. Go to university, get a degree, and secure a graduate job. Whether you were straight out of high school or looking for a career change, the right qualifications were enough to impress an employer. That’s simply not happening anymore.
The job landscape is far more competitive and employers are looking for amazing candidates – they need more than a piece of paper. They want to see that you’ve integrated your learning in some meaningful way that will add value to their organisation. Not just another person that can prove they read the degree’s course materials.
Learning isn’t about books and words; it’s about people
Whenever I speak with graduates of interpersonal programs like an MBA, they all say the academic learning was great, but it was the connections that changed them as a person. It was liberating to finally find a tribe of people who are just as curious and driven as they are and feel like they could be their full self.
An online course is a convenient way to obtain information, but there’s no getting around the fact that it leaves out the most rewarding part of learning – meaningful connections and feedback. You simply won’t get the same level of connection online as you will in real life.
Learning with other people allows you to debate concepts you learnt in class, talk about your ideas out loud, get instant feedback, and encounter people with different perspectives and frames of reference. These face-to-face conversations in the classroom, over lunch, or walking down the hallway help reinforce what you’ve learned and stretches the way you think. Learning alone limits the extent and speed at which this happens.
People want transformative experiences
As General Manager of Wade Institute of Entrepreneurship, I’ve spoken to hundreds of people debating whether they should study entrepreneurship or do it alone online. I give them an answer that usually surprises them – you can find most of the theory behind building a business, online. Steve Blanks’ Lean Canvas is free on Udacity, and you can watch YouTube videos of entrepreneurs tell their stories of lessons learned.
But just like you can learn a language with a YouTube tutorial, it doesn’t compare to dedicating a year living in the country of the language you want to learn, and having an experienced local teach you the foundations of the language – both are pathways to learning, but they’ll yield very different results.
Ultimately, the right path depends on your goals. The students studying entrepreneurship at my campus, have reinforced to me that true success is a marathon, and the journey is just as important as the result. They’re part of a tribe of people who know building a business is extremely hard, and they can go further together than alone.
No delivery of content, whether it’s online or in a classroom, will give you the roadmap to success. But there’s a difference between reading ‘Business for Dummies’ and actually learning what it means to navigate the minefield of building a business with people who want you to succeed. Learning can be a transfer of content, but it can also be an opportunity to transform yourself.
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