Traditionalist, unengaging tertiary education needs a revamp

2018-03-16 00:38

As registrations come to a close at South Africa’s tertiary education institutions, the latest group of school leavers fortunate enough to further their studies will now experience college or university education for the first time.

Most of these matriculants will have come through a state schooling system still very much traditionally orientated.

The unfortunate reality for these new tertiary students and their parents is that their expectation of what effective education delivery looks like is very much rooted in a mindset which sees a lecturer lecturing for an entire lesson as the optimal and accepted method of education delivery.

More unfortunate is the fact that many tertiary institutions are indeed still operating in this manner – lectures over an hour in length, unengaging academic professionals rambling for over an hour about what’s written in the notes already, with students drifting off at the back of the class.

Who can blame the student?

Those of us fortunate enough to have gone to college or university will no doubt recall those lectures where you walked out of the venue knowing that not too much information had been acquired in the previous hour, and very little real learning had occurred.

In contrast to this, a walk through an education technology expo nowadays will no doubt see you bombarded with messages and keynotes about “digital learning”, “eLearning” and the supposed death of the physical classroom.

Is this really a good idea?

In our rush for novelty and innovation it’s easy to disregard some simple truths. Businesses and industries revolve around people and relationships. This is particularly relevant in education.

A purely distance or online approach with little or no interaction with peers or academic professionals leaves the student at the risk of not adequately developing two of the most important traits in the modern working world – communication and critical thinking.

A cornerstone in becoming a successful young employee is the ability to communicate effectively.

The aptitude to develop relationships and connections, the ability to sell yourself and your ideas and the skill of functioning properly as part of a team are aspects which are crucial to a young person’s success in the workplace.

Very few people are naturally gifted at this, and without practising communication skills on and ongoing basis, the student may graduate with flying colours, only to discover that he or she struggles to adapt in the workplace.

The skill of communication is like a knife’s edge. If it isn’t sharpened continually, it blunts and becomes ineffective.

Both the traditional and the new age non-physical models of education are flawed, but this should not mean that education consumers need to choose one or the other.

We can still easily adapt the technology and ideas of new age education into a physical class space, while also understanding that the physical class space does not need to be the stale, traditionalist and unengaging environment that we’ve become familiar with.

We’ve become lulled into this mindset that course content must be talked through by a lecturer. Why is this? Would it not be better to have students read through the lesson content on their own first, before the class time, so that they are familiar with what they do and don’t understand?

Also, how does a lecturer talking for an hour in one-way communication enhance the student’s communication, problem solving, teamwork and holistic understanding of a topic?

This traditional way of delivering education content is essentially an incredibly inefficient use of the student’s classroom time.

We’re all aware of one of the basic principles of learning, because we’re reminded of it all the time: you only learn effectively when you’re actually doing the activity or skill. Nobody ever learned to ride a bike by reading a manual on how to do it.

Therefore, the most optimal use of classroom time is achieved when students, equipped with a basic understanding of content through self-study, are engaging hands on with course content, solving problems through groupwork, and workshopping case studies in order to find the solutions primarily on their own – rather than through the lecturer.

Knowledge retention is far superior when the students are discussing a topic, explaining a topic, presenting ideas, teaching it to others or engaging in interactive material on a topic.

The term “lecturer” should, in actual fact, be seen as an outdated term indicating an obsolete learning methodology.

In an optimised learning model, lecturers need to evolve into “knowledge facilitators”, essentially facilitating the learning and knowledge process as students discover ideas and solutions on their own.

Indeed, non-profit French university “42” has taken this one step further by having an entire education institution with no academic professionals at all.

The students work together to solve problems themselves.

In an ideal model, technology is still used before lessons for pre-lecture preparation and after lessons for research, projects and assignments.

Modern technology should still play a vital role inside the classroom as well, through interactive activities.

Graduates who are able to communicate at a high level, work well as part of a team, think critically and who are able to solve complex problems will be far more flexible and a considerably stronger asset to an employer than graduates who have come through a purely traditional or purely distance model of tertiary education.

An optimised blended approach combining eLearning with interactive classroom time is the ideal method to create such graduates.

Students evaluating tertiary academic institutions should be well aware that although qualification level and qualification type might be the same between two rival institutions, the mode of delivery of that particular programme can be vastly different in innovativeness and quality of outcome.

A thorough exploration of learning models should take place before any student decides on an education provider.

Jared Louw has spent 12 years in branding, advertising and marketing, seven of which have been directly involved in education marketing

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May 19 2019