By Dr Colin Jones, QUT Busienss School
I feel sorry for today’s students and educators. At every step of the process they are both told to be more innovative, more entrepreneurial, to prepare for this new world that no one actually can yet describe. We are beset with paralysis, be it students unable to visualize realistic role models or educators unsure of what is required of them. We are told that we have outgrown an education system designed for the industrial revolution. That the world no longer cares what you know, just what you can do with what you know. Increasingly institutions look beyond their best assets in search of golden ideas elsewhere, hoping to import programs and best practice. Guess what? They are kidding themselves.
Context is king; and nothing outplays context. We can think of context occurring on three distinct levels, the context of the individual, the context of the institution and the context of the community. Bringing in ideas and treating them royally whilst ignoring context will always lead to joker reigning supreme. Yes, we need to do things differently, but in our educators’ minds and students’ imaginations we must trust. There is a shift to individualized learning through which the students’ hearts are enrolled prior to making determinations of what the students need to learn. We call this heutagogical learning, or self-determined learning, the aim of such an approach being to create students capable of self-negotiated action.
Content in not king; learning to do is top dog. So there is a need to shift from what we learn to how we learn. David Price captures the challenges educators of the current generation of learners face in his brilliant book, Open: How We’ll Work, Live and Learn in the Future. The advent of technology has ensured our students have already started engaging with the world at a pace of their choosing. We must respect their innate curiosities if we are to engage and support them on the journeys they choose.
In 2006 I developed an approach to educating students to be more entrepreneurial for a world that neither party could fully envisage. Drawing upon learning practices that support transformational learning, I introduced the idea of the Reasonable Adventurer, a student capable of creating their own opportunities for satisfaction. Originally developed at Princeton University in the 1960s, this developmental approach enables students to visualize themselves as a of person capable of challenging knowledge, making strong friendships, making value judgments, tolerating ambiguity, appreciating their local surrounds and using humor to their advantage.
The journey is the student. We have collectively lost site of the journey’s destination. It is not a place or an occupation. It is a way of thinking and coping with whatever life might throw up. Students love the idea of the Reasonable Adventurer; they see how the attributes related to its development fit in to their learning activities and how they are assessed. They enjoy reflecting upon their progress towards becoming a Reasonable Adventurer, developing deep metacognition skills along the way. Other educators develop similar pathways towards personal development, also relying upon transformational learning techniques. There is no one right approach, because context is king.
The challenge of tomorrow is not deciding which approach is best, but rather, ensuring that whichever approach we use facilitates individualized student learning. Further, that educators are supported to support individualized student learning. That institutions connect their students’ learning to the local community to enable students to do things related to their curiosity. That we respect the rights of students to be smarter than their educators from time to time. If we can do this we can give rise to the number one ingredient missing in the call to make students more innovative, more entrepreneurial, that being self-confidence.
The most important determinant, or predictor, of entrepreneurial behaviour is self-confidence. Maintaining classroom contexts where student performance is compared from best to worst, where students listen more than talk, where educators know a year in advance what next year’s cohort needs to know, is crazy. Its dangerous, its outdated and our best educators are ready and willing to change it. For example, the brilliant work of Jodie Parsons and Yvonne Reilly at Sunshine College in Victoria is turning the mathematics world on its head with their effective differentiation approach. You can make a difference by supporting innovative educators like Jodie and Yvonne in the local schools you interact with.
More importantly, we need governments to see what is actually making a difference, rather than defaulting to adopting programs without genuinely considering the context-program mismatches they will most likely continue to make. The role of government is critical. In Finland, government sets the national curriculum and then lets regions adapt it to the local situations. Local regions then let each school adapt it to their local context. Educators listen to and work very closely with children on their individual development. We do not need governments that import programs from countries like Finland; we need governments that develop the culture that exists around the educational programs in such countries. We need government to support innovative and inspirational educators in Australia who are already world leaders. Only then can we stop feeling sorry for today’s students and educators.
Dr Colin Jones is Senior Lecturer of Entrepreneurship at the Queensland University of Technology. He regularly is invited to contribute to thinking on education at the United Nations, The World Entrepreneurship Forum and many universities around the world. His weekly podcast show, The Reasonable Adventurer, is full of ideas on how to create Reasonable Adventurers.