EPISODIC LEARNING: MIAMI-JACOBS AND DISTANCE EDUCATION
Its 2000. At the edge of the new millenium, a student sits in a classroom, taking a test that asks for the three factors leading up to the Civil War. The student, who stayed up late the night before doing his aviation "flight simulation" on the Internet, is not at all prepared for the test.
That same day, Ms. Sanchez, a manufacturer, wonders how she will possibly be able to fulfill the latest contract for widgets. There just dont seem to be enough people to hire, and the ones that are hired seem to lack the skills necessary to get the job done.
That night, Mr. Jones sighs after attending his daughters high school "parents night." It doesnt seem to him that life in the classroom is any different today than it was when he was in school. No wonder his daughter lacks real interest in academics.
All these individuals have something in common: they are disenchanted with an educational system that is not reacting fast enough to the needs of todays students, the demands of the marketplace, and the evolution of technology as it impacts almost everything we do.
The problem stems from the way we look at education. Traditionally, the function of education has been to provide students with a "liberal arts" background in math, history, literature, language, and science in order to produce a "well rounded" adult. This approach to education provided the foundation for commerce, government, and society as a whole: only "well rounded" people could run businesses, make laws and set standards, educate others, and manage the republic.
The attitude towards education is changing. The old "liberal arts" approach is giving way to a new demand for knowledge and skills that have utility in the present time. Technology has changed our lives. It has changed the way we live, the way we think, and especially the way we work.
In the "olden days" of just twenty years ago, Ted, working as a retail clerk, had to be "well rounded." He had to meet and greet customers. His job required counting inventory and stocking shelves. He had to know how to ring a cash register, make change, and keep track of regular and sale prices. If customers wanted merchandise to be sent, he had to know the procedures for shipping charges, packaging and sending items. He had to keep track of which styles were selling well and which ones were not, so that he could let the buyer know what to reorder.
In todays world, technology has changed the way retailers do business. One person no longer does a multitude of tasks: instead that clerks job is "chunked" into many jobs, each one requiring specific technical skills: The customer calls a number or enters a website to place a catalog order. A worker at a PC receives the order. When inventory gets low, the computer signals a worker in the order center miles away to reorder the item. All orders are transmitted via computer to a warehouse in still a third location, where workers pull the merchandise and pack items for shipping. If a customer has a complaint, a "customer service representative" handles the complaint at yet another computer terminal. What was done by one individual in the past is now "chunked" into a multitude of jobs, done by workers linked by technology.
Since jobs today are nothing like jobs twenty years ago, there is a requirement for a new type of learning. Todays students demand education that has utility in the present time. Jobs require technical skills. Since technology changes rapidly, what students want to learn changes rapidly as well. Instead of the academic "degree" that builds a curriculum over a period of semesters to a final "body of knowledge," students want to learn concepts and skills that apply to what they need to know in order to do a job, get a promotion, or gain a credential. Employers demand constant upgrading of specific skills and are willing to provide training in those skills only.
HOW DOES THIS RELATE TO DISTANCE EDUCATION?
Educators in this New World have to respond to change and learn to see into the future. In the world of technology, training will be viewed as a means to an end rather than the end itself. Students will become consumers who buy "learning episodes" on an "as needed" basis. For instance:
The high school student who is interested in art and wants to learn how to create an online portfolio to submit to a museum in France
The college graduate who wants to learn how to do a PowerPoint presentation highlighting his skills to show to an employer
The manager who feels that all her employees should gain technical writing skills
The company which installs new software and wants to train employees how to use it quickly
The learning episode is the mandate; and today, distance education is the mode. In a world of technology, students are becoming increasingly unwilling to travel to experience a learning episode, when they can log on to a computer to link with experts from all over the globe. Traditional education is no longer cost effective for students who desire a single learning episode. Many people hold down multiple jobs, which makes attending a specific class at a specific time impossible. Thus, distance education makes sense as the transmission medium for episodic learning.
In order for a person to become a successful episodic learner online, certain skills are prerequisites:
The ability to use self assessment to determine learning objectives
The ability to work autonomously
The ability manage time successfully
The ability to think logically and critically
The ability to organize information and ideas
The ability to write clearly and effectively
The ability to assimilate information independently of a teacher
The ability to feel comfortable in the "cyber classroom"
With this end in mind, we have designed all of our distance education courses at Miami-Jacobs to enable our graduates to become competent episodic learners. Coursework is designed so that students can improve the above skills while mastering content such as Technical Writing, Customer Service, Project Management, and Portfolio Development. All our students experience a distance education course beginning with their first quarter at the College, and most students have at least one additional distance experience before they graduate. Our commitment to episodic learning is not always evident to our students, many of whom are more comfortable in the traditional education model: sitting in a classroom taking notes.
Students who have successfully completed a distance education experience report, however:
They love the convenience.
They enjoy having control of their learning process.
They gain new skills in writing and thinking that they did not previously possess.
HOW DOES DISTANCE EDUCATION HAPPEN?
In many educational environments, much time and money is spent training instructors in the "nuts and bolts" of distance education: teachers have to learn HTML, how to create websites, how to build threaded discussion areas, and how to design and manage the online classroom. This is costly to many institutions as well as intimidating to educators who are not technical by nature. It is time consuming as well; bringing a staff of instructors up to speed in distance education technology can take years. Even with distance education software, training instructors can become an overwhelming task.
At Miami-Jacobs, we decided early on that our instructors should become proficient in designing the cyber experience as content experts rather than context experts. We looked for a company that could provide us with the technical expertise and support to build our cyber classrooms for us, administer them for us, and leave the education to the experts. We chose Embanet Corporation.
At Miami-Jacobs, all online courses are designed by instructors and built by Embanet Corporation. Instructors interact with Embanet staffers to create an environment in each cyber class for discussion, activities, team projects, and "lectures." Each student has a personal email box for confidential communication with instructors. Online portfolios are created for each student to place examples of work that can be used as indicators of achievement and skill in a job interview. Students receive technical support twenty-four hours a day from the Embanet support team. By letting "distance architects" design our distance environment for us, Miami-Jacobs has been able to focus on what is most important: training students to be successful episodic learners.
Will episodic learning ever replace the traditional educational model? We dont think so. However, as students become more and more empowered to choose only the educational experience that they desire, the demand for cyber education will increase. We at Miami-Jacobs are training our students for the future now.