Thursday, June 7, 2012

Academics & Realities

Academics: Knowledge, skills and ability taught in a controlled learning environment.

Reality: Applying knowledge, skills and ability in the uncontrolled environment of life. 

I'm proud of my 9 children. They've been with me in the classroom, been patients for EMS practical exams, and been on the sidelines as I've taught for nearly 20 years. Shelley, the oldest, is a rising senior at UNC-Asheville. I visited her recently; she was hug (and cash) deprived.  We had an extended discussion about academics and "real life". I felt harsh as I tried to explain how her excellent high school education and three years at UNC-A hadn't really prepared her for the reality of spending her first summer off-campus.

We rely on the schools to teach our children reading, writing, math, science; yet as a parent we have to expand on that. Managing  money, finding a place to live, networking to find a job, how to stretch the last $20 in your pocket until your next payday.  We (hopefully) are responsible enough to fill in the blanks left by academics. Therein lies my topic for this month - how well do YOU bridge the gap between a controlled learning environment and the uncontrolled environment of life?

Some basic questions about the training we do in the workplace:
  1. Who is ultimately responsible for bringing students from the academic or training environment forward through real-world application?
  2. Does the curriculum you're using take real-world application into consideration? Were the "end-users" a part of the development process?
  3. Does the curriculum allow reasonable latitude for instructors to bridge the gaps?
  4. How do you allow instructional freedom yet retain instructional consistency?
  5. Is performance of the training program actually measured against the end result, not just with regard to the training but in regard to the whole person and their job responsibilties?
In many ways, we are talking about outcome-based education. I've been hammered over my hard-headedness in this area.  To me, an "objective" means simply that you have achieved something specific and measurable at a moment in time. Most instructional programs use that word liberally. My favorite example of this is from a Fire Instructor text:  "The instructor candidate can identify three characteristics of ethical behavior."  Duh. It ranks right up there with "the student will be able to identify an instructor credential."  Let me see, that would be the one that has INSTRUCTOR written on it, maybe?

"Outcome" means that they have ownership of the major concepts and can apply them going forward; they can be just as specific but are often more difficult to measure. Nobody said training people was easy!  In the example above, I have no doubt the goal - the outcome - was for the Fire Instructor to actually BE an ethical instructor. Whether you met that outcome for your program can certainly be measured initially during the educational process using scenario-based questions or evolutions; but even more importantly it must be measured over time, after completion of the program.

Someone told me that outcomes were too academic a concept.  The fact is, outcomes are simpler and when constructed correctly, they should more accurately mirror the real world than a simple objective.  In one class, a list of about 30 objectives was replaced with five outcomes. Objectives are the academic throwback; outcomes are reality-based.

In fact, if you really want to know my opinion:  it doesn't matter what you call the statements you use to guide your program, as long as they are TRULY geared toward ensuring someone attending your training is prepared to function in reality.

I really wish somewhere in 15 years of schooling and 21 years of my parenting, I had helped bridge the understanding of the basic equation:
                  Income + Financial Aid = Expenses
Or maybe I'm the one being schooled in reality:
                  Income (Daughter) + Income (Dad) + Financial Aid  =  Expenses

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