Rethinking Education in the Age of Obsolescence: Content vs. Skills
June 5, 2019
by Clinton Amos, associate professor of marketing
As an undergraduate student in the late 90’s, I used Lotus 1-2-3 for spreadsheets, WordPerfect for creating documents, and Lotus Freelance for presentations. This is just a sample of tools I learned, many of which I fail to recall without something to jog my memory. Within just a couple of years after developing some level of proficiency with these platforms, they were near obsolescence. As I often see with my own students, at the time I was elated to be learning such tools and placed a high value on them. In hindsight, my enthusiasm was misplaced and I should have fixated more on improving my own learning capabilities, as this would have provided more resilient value. Instead, I could not see the big picture, tools have an expiration date and they will ultimately be revised or replaced as innovation and improvement are a dynamic never-ending process. As a lifelong student of human behavior, I now understand the perceptual value of learning tools since they feel very tangible in nature. There is a certain feeling of achievement and concreteness that accompanies mastering such tools that isn’t quite as evident when learning something more abstract, such as improving one’s capacity to learn. Yet, it is the more abstract that seems to provide the foundation for transferable skills which meet the needs of today’s dynamic workplace.
Undergraduate students today face an even more tumultuous environment, one of rapidly increasing change, but anecdotally they seem to suffer from a similar lack of perspective I experienced. While the notion that most of today’s students will take jobs that don’t exist yet has been challenged as a pervasive exaggeration, it doesn’t alleviate educators of the obligation to evolve education to meet the ever-changing world. Often discussions center on teaching the right content and tools. Though I don’t want to dismiss the importance of such discussions, I do want to propose and focus on an alternate perspective. More than ever before, shouldn’t educators place a greater focus on helping students become efficient and adaptable learners?
In the past, discussions on improving learning have focused on dividing students into discrete silos and tailoring approaches based upon various learning style theories, something I can easily relate to and appreciate as a marketer. Unfortunately, theories pervasive in education for such divisions include brain dominance (left-brain vs. right-brain thinking), and learning styles (e.g., visual vs. auditory learning), perspectives largely debunked as myths by science. Regrettably, such unsupported perspectives on learning continue to plague education at all levels while also serving as fodder for self-help books and workshops. Another example exists in what is typically labeled Edgar Dale’s Learning Cone, a theory often noted as purporting varying levels of knowledge retention based on distinct teaching methods. Unfortunately, research largely fails to support claims such as 90% retention when content is learned by doing, etc. and few ever question the validity. As I have experienced in my own career, what seems evident is that the marketplace demands capable lifelong learners. To help our students meet marketplace demands, educators need to examine the approaches and theories shaping education with more scrutiny, with the ultimate goal to create robust learning capabilities among our students that prepare them to be fast, effective, and teaching method agnostic learners. Likewise, shouldn’t a staple of any curriculum be helping students to learn how to learn? I think so. It is likely their careers depend on it.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clinton Amos joined the faculty of Weber State University in 2013 and currently serves as an associate professor of marketing at the Goddard School of Business & Economics. In addition to BA and MBA degrees, Amos holds a PhD in marketing from the University of North Texas. He teaches Consumer Behavior, Internet Marketing and Business Research in the Goddard School’s undergraduate program. In 2015, he was awarded the 2015 Alston Award for Excellence in Teaching by his Goddard School colleagues.
Amos’ research has been published in 25 academic journals since receiving his PhD in 2008. His dissertation won the 2008 American Academy of Advertising dissertation proposal competition. His research focuses on consumer behavior and has appeared in the Journal of Advertising, International Journal of Advertising, Journal of Consumer Affairs, Journal of Consumer Behaviour, Journal of Business Research, Journal of Business Ethics, and the European Journal of Marketing, among others.