Newsletter #531 – Adult Education: The Old and the New

Graduation 1This month I attended three graduation ceremonies. I’ve never been much impressed with graduation celebrations. I never attended any of my own and have thought of these as “take-it-or-leave it” occasions when grown adults parade around in medieval dresses and goofy hats. This time, however I began to see the sense of closure and affirmation that graduations give to so many people, the feelings of accomplishments and reasons for thanksgiving. I came away from these gatherings with less cynicism and more appreciation for the rituals that mark healthy turning points in our lives.

But the graduation ceremonies were reminders of my recent reading about the new directions that education and training programs must take if they are to survive and thrive. The costs of traditional on-campus programs are soaring. This kind of education is becoming available only for the wealthy or for those willing to incur huge debt from student loans. Dire but probably accurate forecasts predict that many colleges and seminaries will be forced to close in the coming decade. In response to all this, low quality but less-expensive on-line universities have appeared to offer degrees that don’t qualify graduates to enter professions, pass licensing exams or transfer their credits to quality training programs. Increasingly, on-line courses are offered that are unaccredited, lack student interaction with one’s peers or professors, and often involve nothing more than passive viewing of pre-recorded tapes followed by multiple-choice tests.

Nevertheless there is good news. The better educational institutions and professional training programs are making changes to provide accredited, quality off-campus programs where learners interact with one another and have contact with their instructors. Skill-development courses are taught in local communities, often supplemented by internships or short-term, face-to-face, modular training. This lacks the growth possibilities that come from dorm-living and late-night discussions. But there may be few alternatives. Like the music and publishing industries before it, education may be facing a change-or-die situation. In order to survive and retain quality, degree granting institutions and even continuing education for professionals must change. But the future is bright for those who face reality and actively embrace the possibilities of new technologies and fresh ways to learn. Undoubtedly we’ll even find ways to retain significant graduation experiences.

What do you think? Please comment.

    • Galen Currah
    • May 24th, 2013

    Thanks for another forward-looking article. It makes me reflect on what is happening in more than a hundred rapidly-expanding Christian movements.
    There the educational model typically revolves round mentorship relations extending several levels or ‘generations.’ In movements where hundreds, even thousands, come into Christian faith every week, there must be an endless effort to form new churches, and every church must have leaders who soon become capable to mentor novice leaders.
    Whilst this process requires disciplined planning and monitoring, most of the cost remains within local support capacities. Numerous web site allude to this process. One that describes it well resides at http://www.PeopleOfYes.com

    • Pedro Gismondi
    • May 24th, 2013

    Hi Gary! i just experience what you mentioned… a sense of acomplishment. Last year I graduate from UPC here in Lima. I took business degree, in a special program for working adults. I started my businees stuides while young but left it to go to seminary.
    I see this here in Peru, universities are considering alternatives. They have regular programs but now are moving to online courses as well. In my program they already started to mix, some classes on campus, some classes online. It”s a tendecy while looking for alternatives.
    thanks for your interesting posts. God bless you!

    • Hi Pedro. Thanks for the update. I think this trend is happening all over the world. We cannot always keep doing things like we have done before. It is too expensive to keep traditional education alive, and it is difficult to attract technology-sophisticated younger people to campuses and professors that seem outdated.

  1. Gary, I agree with you whole-heartedly. I also believe that our current models of traditional adult education are very broken. These models appear to me to be designed more around that which best serves the educational institution rather than effectively and efficiently training adults. For instance, why does a bachelor’s degree require four to five years? Why must a student take irrelevant courses to fill credit requirements? Why is it that so many professors can’t teach? Why are those professors rewarded for publishing but not for their skills as a teacher and trainer? Why must a student master the educational bureaucracy and learn to play that game before they can begin to learn a marketable skill?

    I have participated in state university programs in which the professor was absent and the course was taught by a TA who did not know the subject matter. The program was a farce and waste of time. I have also participated in “non-accredited” programs from which I came away in far less time, at less cost with greater skills acquired. Some of the best training I’ve received has been non-traditional. (By the way, I hold two graduate degrees and am certified in adult training and development, so I hope I don’t come across as too much of an arm-chair critic!)

    Let’s get back to the principles of adult learning, strip educational institutions of their archaic bureaucracy, demand that professors know how to teach, and create streamlined, effective training and educational programs!

    • Rob, your response is so much on target. There is a great need for people like you who are specialists in adult education and development. Traditionally trained guys like me need people like you with your expertise. What should we be reading in this area?

  2. Hello, Gary! Thank you for speaking at Regent when I graduated. Yes, you are very accurate in that education, particularly graduate education, must change with the advent of new technology. I am so grateful for my academic experience. While some may bemoan that online educational programs lack certain qualities that more traditional program have, I choose to look instead of the things that online education brings that traditional learning cannot. For example, I can now interact with people all over the world in real time. I can still keep my job and not have to uproot my family. And in terms of multicultural perspectives in education, online programs in general, when organized well, can give a wider range of perspectives that cannot possibly be done in a traditional program. So shall we bemoan the limits of online education, or can we capitalize on the opportunities and benefits of online education? I choose the latter.

    • Hey John. I am so glad that we worked together at Regent and I have fond memories of my interactions with you. It was good seeing you at graduation with your new PhD. Please send me an update on your career and family dramatics/dynamics. FYI, when you read the latest newsletter, I am referring to my Regent graduation talk in my opening remarks.

      • Ha ha! Thanks for your response, Gary. I am doing… well, I think. I am actually on vacation, taking my 7 children to see my 8th. Yes, CIndy and I are adopting a little boy named Victor who at present is in a NICU in Utah. Today, I am heading there to see him again and finally be reunited with our whole family in one place. These past 6 weeks I have been functioning in many ways as a single working father of 7 while CIndy is out in Utah caring for Victor. She was back a few times to attend a high school graduation where my son was a student speaker. She came back to see my daughter Mariana acting as the lead role in “Thoroughly Modern Millie.”

        All that to say, I am slowly getting by dissertation edited. To be honest, these past two weeks were pretty slow in terms of finishing everything. It will happen soon enough.

        Oh, BTW, here is a link to my graduation speech at Regent. Amazing honor of being asked to speak at graduation:

        God bless you, Gary!

      • He John King,

        It was great following up your post with that long, early-morning phone call yesterday.
        And thanks for sending a copy of your talk to the Regent graduates. Congratulations on your selection as the SPC Regent PhD graduate of the year. I was glad that I could see how you gave a great talk under somewhat adverse circumstances.

    • Thanks John. I already typed a response to this note but I don’t know where it went. It was good seeing you at the Regent graduation. Congratulations on your new PhD. We will keep in touch especially as you move forward in lots of ways including introducing distance learning programs elsewhere, based on the superior (I am biased) distance learning programs that Regent has developed (and gotten fully accredited).

    • June Toth
    • May 24th, 2013

    Dr. Collins, thank you for speaking so eloquently at the commissioning service of Regent University’s School of Psychology and Counseling, where I was proudly donning my own “medieval [dress] and goofy [hat]” – I must agree that the whole attire seems a bit absurd, and I have wondered on more than one occassion about the characters that came up with such garb. I will say that it was worth the awkward imposition of regalia to see the proud and teary-eyed faces of my family as I returned from the stage after being hooded.

    In regard to online education, I have completed the vast majority of my undergrad and graduate programs through online courses at Regent. I feel I have been well-prepared for the field of counseling; in fact, of all six interns at my recent internship site (5 on-campus Argosy students and my sole representation of online matriculation), I was the only one offered a residency to stay at this secular agency. Mind you, my internship only came after a strenuous interview where the owner of this multi-site agency looked at my resume and cynically asked, “So you want to PRAY with your clients?” I have since been told that this same agency owner indicated that he has changed his disapproval of online programs after observing the quality of Regent’s training.

    From my observation, it seems that the delivery (online vs. on-campus) of education is not nearly as important as the underlying character and quality of the institution and its instructors. Through the high standards and experienced mentorship of Regent, I have experienced unprecedented intellectual, emotional, spiritual, and relational growth. As opposed to the competitive, and often vindictive and substandard quality of interns encountered from other institutions, I have the benefit of moving forward with the lifelong support and prayers of a clinically-sound and genuinely loving cohort of Regent.

    • June, Thanks for your post. I make no apologies for my comments about medieval dresses and goofy hats. They came at a time when these were less goofy.
      And thanks for the comments about your on-line education. I think the bottom line in all of this whether or not the students are competent. Clearly you are.

    • Gillian Vriend
    • May 25th, 2013

    Bring it on!! As a counsellor,prayer minister and educator living in Malaysia,(and soon Thailand) I welcome opportunities for professional development and growth which are high quality and do -able. It’s often very difficult access anything outside of the capital cities here, and even then that is pretty limited.

    • Thanks Gillian. The distance learning revolution in education makes quality education to flow from one country to another. And this is not just the quality distance learning (some of it is not quality) that comes from the US.

  3. As an on-line course designer, developer, and professor in an accredited graduate leadership program over the last ten years, I have watched the changes in higher education with interest. Many of my students are in isolated areas as Gillian describes above. It’s exciting, intellectually and spiritual stretching, and deeply satisfying to see the growth and development take place in adult students as we interact from differing cultures, perspectives, and experiences in locations all over the world.

    As always, the key ingredient in effective education is the time and attention the teacher and students are willing to invest. My courses are not down-loadable correspondence courses or tapes of other events. They are challenging exercises and powerful questions designed to elicit thoughtful discussion tailored to the medium and the characteristics of adult learners. I often get comments from my students that my fully on -line courses are some of the most challenging — and most empowering — of all those in a program where most other courses are delivered face-to-face on site in short term modules with distance follow-up. It’s very time-consuming for me! Writing is much slower than talking. And the investment is worth it!

    Gary, I wrote to you 10 years ago this July when I was designing my course on “Coaching and Counseling Skills for Leaders.” You said at the time you liked my company name: The Equipping Company. I’m glad to say the attitude embodied in that name continues to fuel successful teaching in an expanding virtual ‘university.’

    • Judi, I love your post. Of course we need people like you. Some of the biggest on-line programs are the one-way, no-interaction, passive programs like you describe. The best are clearly like the equipping programs that you describe (the research shows this). I agree that when these programs are good, they are time consuming, very interactive, and difficult for faculty like us to teach. But I am glad I do this and have limited interest in programs that are all on campus and not moving forward. Sadly I think the evidence is building that many of these programs — some very good at present — could die if they remain static. Alternatively they may be only for the wealthy.

  4. Our national and worldwide educational system has long needed an overhaul…this TED talk is one perspective I’ve found very promising and inspiring in terms of what thinking out-of-the-box and embracing technology could do for both children and adults. Enjoy!

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