Learning pods are increasing in popularity for school students keen to pace through their online learning during the stop-and-go life that the pandemic induces. But, are adults in college or the workforce missing out on these ‘communities of practice’?
These communities bring a tribe of learners to tackle the content collectively, to share the learning process. It’s a network of people helping each other learn because they have a shared domain of interest. They’re about dynamic, three-dimensional learning and can include mentors or facilitators, too. Communities of practice aren’t a new concept, but they’ve proven a great way to make knowledge stick.
The missing link: digital transformation
Many colleges across the country shifting to entirely virtual delivery without lowering tuition fees – for who knows how long? The question some ask is how effective these non-face-to-face ‘communities of practice’ might be. Just transferring lectures and tutorials from in-person to remote, maybe adding online fora, does not build a community of learners. That’s not a digital transformation of e-learning. Online learning can gut the experience of learning on campus. It’s one prompt to ask whether college is worth the investment at this time.
There’s a more prominent notion here: The traditional classroom-centered college model is likely facing permanent disruption.
I’m noticing this as my teenage daughter considers if college is a worthwhile option for her. Indeed, the impact of COVID-19 has challenged the idea of ‘business as usual’. Along with – I suspect – many other students and parents, we’re taking a closer look at the costs and benefits of higher education.
Even before the pandemic, the economic realities of paying for college were stark. Enormous rates of student debt combined with less-than-ideal employment outcomes for graduates have been concerned for a while, and those concerns are only growing as the economy trembles. A recent survey found 93% of college and graduate students were uncertain about how they’ll continue to pay for their education.
What’s the ROI on a college degree?
So, what is the value of a bachelor’s degree in today’s job market? How prepared are graduates for employment so they can start earning stable wages and unshackle themselves of debt?
Employers often report that applied experience and demonstrable skills are what they need in candidates. A study by Gallup-Lumina found 34% of employers said they didn’t feel colleges were graduating students with the necessary competencies for hire. About seven in 10 employers said they’d hire based on applied skills and experience over whether or not the candidate held a degree. Even entrepreneur Elon Musk is questioning the value of degrees.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, 5% of college graduates under the age of 25 were unemployed, and 10% were underemployed. In just the past 10 weeks, more than 40 million unemployment claims have been filed—the equivalent of a quarter of the US population.
Between 1989 and 2016, the average annual cost of college more than doubled. This is growing at a rate eight times faster than wages in the same period. It’s no wonder, then, the number of students graduating with more than $50,000 in debt has also grown epically. That’s 8.5 times since 1992.
Is a four-year college degree still the gold standard for measuring job and career preparedness? I think it’s time to embrace other proven pathways to career success. Ones where robust learning pods and communities of practice are built-in and continue to be as powerful as ever.
So, if you or someone you know in the US is on a path to college, my recommendation is simple: do your due diligence. Get all the information you can and explore alternatives before you sign that promissory note on loan. And make sure there will be a learning pod or community of practice to help you learn so you can apply your knowledge.
Spend time exploring
Sure, the economy is in jitters, but future careers don’t have to be. There are a multitude of career pathways that don’t need an expensive bachelor’s degree. These pathways are more affordable, even free. Start looking at career and technical colleges. Importantly, you’ll learn with others – their communities of practice are baked in – because of the practical components.
An associate’s degree or trade-specific certification is exponentially cheaper than a bachelor’s degree and can see you working and earning. And in many cases, out-earning bachelor’s degree-holding peers in just two years. It can also serve as a springboard to a four-year degree later down the line. Better yet, a growing number of states are making their community colleges tuition-free.
Learn about jobs in one of the five industries people will always need education, health, shelter, energy, entertainment, and food. You can get your foot in the door on many of these jobs through two-year programs, apprenticeships, and other on-the-job learning opportunities. To broaden your scope, look at the industries that serve these big five industries listed above: for example, transportation serves the food industry, and telecommunications serves entertainment.
Consider modern apprenticeships.
Apprenticeships are career pathways that see you earn while you learn. One of the best aspects is people won’t be noosed to massive college debt. You’re not left to your own devices to learn (and I mean that electronically, too). You’ll at least have a mentor or supervisor, and often will be among a group of apprentices tackling the same content.
Workers that complete apprenticeship programs earn $300,000 more throughout their careers than high school graduates.
Apprenticeships are a proven way to set you on a clear path to employment and long-term career success—in practically any industry.
Start building skills, tuition-free
There is nothing stopping you from getting career and employment skills right away, starting today. Online courses allow anyone to reboot, boost, or enhance their skill set—cheaply, quickly, anytime, anywhere. Online learning makes it convenient and cost-effective to learn something practical and new from home. Many colleges and universities offer massive open online courses (MOOCs) that are available to everyone, everywhere on the planet.
Find out what skills you’ll need for your chosen career path, including technical skills, people skills, and personal attributes. Get feedback from your friends and family to identify gaps in your knowledge and experience. What do you need to work on? Is there an online course you can do to bridge the gap?
But, be mindful many of us enroll for such courses, free or paid, and never rock up much online. The knowledge is out there, ready for you to make it your own, but without your tribe of learners, you may well be struggling to stick with it.
Above all, keep learning, no matter what stage of life or career, and bring your own tribe or lobby your education provider to help you set up one. Think of it as insurance to nudge you into the success zone.