“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” Antoine de Saint-Exupery
Our education system isn’t broken, but it is primitive. We employ a model that was invented thousands of years before the printing press. At its simplest, the model is one of content delivery: the expert teaches the student about a topic. While what began as lectures and discussion has expanded to include newer technology like books and software, “getting an education” isn’t terribly different now than it was in ancient Greece. It’s a powerful model that has served us well, but our technology, our economy and our society have passed it by. Education must evolve. We’re currently in the midst of that evolution, from the Traditional model to the Emerging model.
Traditional education is based on the assumption that its purpose is to teach content. Many of the great policy battles and discussions about education are about what that content should be. Should there be a common core, and if so, what are its elements? How do we get more students into Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) disciplines? How can we create the best content curriculums to prepare students for the new economy? The problem with this content focus is that everyone today has immediate access to all of the world’s content via the phone in their pocket. The scholar who can recite Shakespeare and cite the laws of thermodynamics is only slightly faster in “accessing” that content than a sixth-grader with an iPhone. Furthermore, as connectivity and technological change accelerate, today’s relevant content is quickly made obsolete. And yet we force a standardized set of information on students who endure, often unmotivated, through the experience.
In the traditional model, learning is delivered to the student by the expert professor. Thus, traditional pedagogy seeks to understand the most effective medium and approach for knowledge delivery. Technology has expanded the options from lecture and discussion to include books and newspapers to video and software. Following delivery, the expert evaluates the effectiveness of the students’ knowledge acquisition with an exam, paper or some other means. A transcript, then, is a list of all the acquired knowledge, with a metric of effectiveness. Employers must use this record of the student’s ability to absorb information to predict how they will perform on the job. Is past knowledge acquisition an effective predictor of future creativity and resilience?Case-based and audition interviews imply that it’s not.
Emerging education recognizes the importance of great content. However, it views grappling with content as a means, rather than its end. Next generation education will exist not to enable its students to learn, but to learn how to learn; its students will learn to walk the path of character development and maturation deliberately, rather than subconsciously as traditional graduates do.
A graduate of emerging education would, of course, gain a handle on important fields of content. However, she would self-select personally relevant content necessary for the expression of her unique purpose. She would be acutely aware that personal development isn’t something delivered to you by school, it’s something you must pursue with each breath. This graduate would be proactive, embracing her responsibility in shaping her life and circumstances. She would keep her eyes wide open during times of challenge and failure and emerge from them not with a damaged ego, but with a strengthened character. She would view the unfamiliar as a teacher rather than a threat.
Employers mistakenly think they want graduates who are better prepared with the necessary skills for today’s economy. What they really want are graduates who are in tune with their own passions and who seek employment as a means of uniting their personal mission with that of an organization. These graduates will know their strengths and seek to use them in service of their team and will enthusiastically learn whatever is necessary to that end. The proactive, growth-minded, self-aware employee with no formal education in your industry will only be at a disadvantage compared to the traditional employee with professional training for a matter of weeks or months. The student of the emerging model will be exponentially more motivated and more effective in the long term. The evolved graduate seeks to be an engaged employee by partnering with an organization to fulfill a purpose, rather than demand the organization engages him.
In this next stage, “educators” need not be content experts, but rather great leaders who understand how to marshal the inner forces of the scholar. They will help students to discover their longing “for the endless immensity of the sea” and help them to develop mindsets that empower them to teach themselves shipbuilding, navigation, leadership and expedition logistics, rather than indiscriminately deliver the content that’s now been more effectively delivered in a youtube video or an app. Instead of writing a paper on ship architecture, students will build the ship and sail into uncharted waters.
Take the example of a business education. In the traditional model, students learn about the particular challenges businesses face: strategy, marketing, finance, accounting, etc. Students are then evaluated on their acquisition of the knowledge by their expert teachers and counseled to pursue the highest paying job their record of content acquisition allows.
The emerging approach helps students to find a burning passion, a venture that must exist or an opportunity for intrapreneurship missing from the market. It reveals their unique gifts and facilitates the development of an approach to teamwork that leverages, rather than fears, the power of diversity of strength and perspective. It exposes students to the attitudes and mindsets required to create something entirely new, such as proactivity and the growth mindset. And life itself serves as a test of the students’ development. The students design the curriculum necessary for their quest and the stirrings of their soul motivate their acquisition of that knowledge. The likes of Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg create, not as a result of content-based curriculum, but with deeply felt passion and mindsets that enable them to continuously grow to meet their challenges. A next stage business program recognizes that the educator provides only the right questions for a student to teach herself and some support along the way. The students of these programs graduate not holding a diploma, but at the helm of an emerging organization or with a portfolio of consulting experience.
The next stage of education embraces and builds on the traditional model. It simply adds a stage of complexity, going from learning to meta-learning, from demonstration of knowledge acquisition to the use of that knowledge in the service of a creation. Instead of teaching the “what” (content), emerging education coaches students to uncover the “how” (values) and the “why” (purpose). Armed with the mindset and approach of a creator, the students handle the “what” on their own. Emerging educators don’t deliver learning to the students, they coach the students to develop the mental fitness, perspective and technique that make learning a way of life rather than an occasion.
There is no content you can learn that will enable the flexibility needed to adapt to a world of increasing change. But, by developing an awareness of interconnectivity, a student will see pattern rather than chaos. By identifying a purpose, filtering for personal relevance is automatic. With a set of deeply held values, decision making is made simple. If we can enable students to know who they are, how to learn and to imagine their potential, the student will be a much better teacher of content than any expert and the education will continue as long as the heart beats, rather than only take place in the classroom, at the scheduled hour.