Wednesday, August 19, 2015

The past is calling, it wants its disruption back!

Another story I had in my Pocket account (for what seems like forever) is this story from campus technology talking about how nano-degrees are disrupting higher education.  I don't know about you, but it seems to me that people just love the word disrupt, or the pairing disruptive innovation.  I have a feeling that in 10-15 years when we're past this fad we will look back at this time period with the same sense of nostalgia that we look upon movies made in the 80s (you know, all of the movies that have synth-music playing).

Regardless of where you call it a nanodegree, an x-series set of courses, or a certificate this concept isn't new, and the article points to this fact that this isn't new. Certificates have been around for quite some time, and both higher education institutions and professional associations offer a wide variety of certification options for learners.  The professional associations, such as ATD or SHRM for example,  in theory, should have their finger on the pulse of the industry and they should be providing that "innovation" that these nanodegrees possibly provide. Academia might be accused of being a bit out of touch with industry, but in the past decade we've seen a proliferation of degrees and certificates that aim close that gap ("Homeland Security Studies" anyone?).

One of the things that worries me is the following rationale:
"We boil things down to their essence," he said. "That's kind of what a nanodegree is. We're telling students, this is exactly what you need to know to be in that job. And we absolutely have to deliver that.
The quote, which comes from Udacity COO, is best paired with comments I've often seen from CEOs that say that college graduates don't know how to do basic things.  And here is where a conflicting duality becomes apparent (at least to me).  The more specific a degree program is†, the less widely applicable it is in the long run. You have a box and you're in it.  The broad a degree program is, the more versatile it is in the long run, however you still need to be on-boarded as an employee to know what the organizational norms are.  It seems, to me at least, that employers want to have their cake and eat it too!  They want employees who are ready to hit the ground running, to be hired with that organizational know-how already there, and when those employees don't know this information ahead of time they are branded as incompetents who don't know "basic" things. I'd like to see a comparison of how different companies define "basic".

It is obvious that the sweet spot is somewhere in the middle. You want your graduates, and your employees, to be able to start with some sort of head start, and know some aspects of your company in order to ease transition into a new environment, but you aren't hiring drones. You are hiring inquisitive (hopefully) critical individuals who can think outside of the box.  The box is there for now, but it isn't going to be there forever.  I think that branding certificates as nanodegrees and replicating the wheel won't help learners and it won't help industry.  My (off the cuff) solution is for companies to work closer with academia on placement. Instead of college being a borg maturation chamber for youth, why not blend learning with actual work? If a college degree takes 4 years to complete, why not tie in a part-time job at a firm while you're in school and have embedded college advisors and counselors in the first to help students acclimate to the work environment and to be able to apply what they are learning to what they do? 

Certificates are fine and dandy, but they won't solve your issue.  I can train you to setup and active directory for your organization, but without knowing your own organization's norms, your AD setup can ultimately fail.

Your thoughts?



NOTES:
† degree program here is any sort of formal program, be it a BA, MA, PhD, certificate, nanodegree, whatever.
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