Uncertainty in modern times runs far deeper than Covid-19. It stems from the fact that our world is changing at increasing speed. New technologies emerge every year. Some of them, like the internet, social media, and smartphones, interact in ways that bring new layers of complexity to our lives.
This creates opportunities for people to advance their careers, but not everyone has the preparation or position to take those steps. Meanwhile, change also pushes many jobs towards obsolescence. For both educators and the learning population as a whole, the big question is: how do we equip students to deal with change and uncertainty?
Shifting towards serious learning
The field of education recognizes that students learn differently based on their age and maturity. Thus, teachers take a pedagogical approach to instruction when dealing with children. For adults, the more appropriate methods would involve andragogy, which is based on adult learning principles.
Adults are known to have a greater focus on outcomes in their learning. They are intentional, as opposed to merely curious. They study to solve problems.
It could be their determination to use their skills to contribute to a community, or perhaps a quest for career advancement. As long as an adult can relate a subject to their perceived needs, they are motivated to learn.
It makes sense, therefore, to slowly guide young students along a similar path. Over the years, instructors move away from pedagogy and take an approach geared more toward the serious and focused nature of andragogy.
The neglect of diverse interests
However, students are often discouraged from cultivating a greater breadth of knowledge. This can be intentional, such as when a parent or teacher urges a child to concentrate only on ‘what matters.’
And what usually matters is the sort of knowledge that will come out on an academic assessment. Doing well on such tests leads to better grades, a college degree, and better employment, at least in theory. Spending time on other learning pursuits is seen as frivolous or wasteful.
Discouragement can also be inadvertent or indirect. This happens when students are left to their own devices to pursue a greater variety of interests. Not all students will have the initiative to request private piano lessons to stimulate their creativity. Some might not have a reliable internet connection or their own computers, which would allow them to take online courses.
Problems arise when there is an imbalance between direct, outcome-based learning and the overall diversity of extra-curricular experiences. We are unable to foresee the outcomes of education with any degree of reliability or accuracy. We can’t say where today’s graduates will end up, any more than we could have anticipated Gen Xers or millennials working for Google or Facebook.
In his book Range, David Epstein argues that most modern world careers require a combination of depth and breadth of knowledge. If we fail to encourage students to pursue various interests while they are young, we leave them at a disadvantage.
Instead of pursuing focused vocational learning as adults, they will find it necessary to pivot constantly because they don’t have a broad, complementary skill set. As new jobs emerge, they will have to learn new skills from scratch to keep pace. They can’t make the connections that could enrich a primary skill and keep it relevant.
Making adjustments to learning
Any change to the educational system will take time because you’re dealing with massive inertia. The good news, though, is that addressing these issues can begin with individual adjustments.
Teachers need to cultivate their own breadth of learning. The pandemic has exposed teachers’ need to keep on learning, as those who remain grounded in traditional methods struggle to shift to the online medium effectively. It’s not enough to be an expert in your subject matter. You need to pursue a variety of interests and experiment with different techniques in education.
Students also need to be given greater opportunities and encouragement for learning in a wider range of subjects. As much as we monitor and assess academic development, we also need to evaluate other development aspects.
How do you develop and gauge creativity? What activities can encourage collaboration, empathy, and effective communication? These aspects are typically fostered within the arts and humanities, which tend to be relegated to lesser importance in school. Helping students connect the dots and avoid compartmentalizing knowledge will be the key to avoiding tunnel vision in learning.