Editor's Note (The View From Here)

Changing Times

Education is a continuous process, a process that must change as we do. For students to learn, they need to process information in a way that relates to them. Looking back, we can see that education has changed to match the times. G.K. Chesterton said, “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.” For us to better understand the present and forecast the future, it’s helpful to understand the social factors that shaped the systems of the past.

Agriculture — Prior to the First World War, farmers composed the largest single group in the U.S. For the most part, education was informal, taking place anytime, anywhere. The facilities where learning took place included the home, the church and the one-room schoolhouse. More advanced skills were learned through apprenticeships. The learning environment was multi-age and multidisciplinary, with formal education being reserved for the elite.

Industry — As the population shifted from rural to urban, education became institutional. The transition from agriculture to industry was seen as a period of hope and opportunity. Social institutions grew and the factory model for schools was born. School buildings mirrored the factory — central corridors, symmetrical classroom wings, eggcrate design. Education reflected the values of the time — conformity, compliance, centralization, standardization. The goal of education was to “finish” school in preparation of entering the workforce.

Knowledge — The Industrial Age, born with the steam engine, died with the silicon chip. Most factory workers did not possess the qualifications to thrive in this new information-driven age. Education and lifelong learning are at the core of the “knowledge age.” Rather than to “finish” school, the goal of learning became to acquire access to more knowledge well past the age of formal schooling. Today an “educated” person will be someone who has learned how to learn, and continues learning throughout his or her lifetime.

Technology is an enabler of change, allowing education to become customized, personalized, specialized and portable. Access to the Internet, distance-learning opportunities and BYOD allow learning to happen anytime, anywhere. Global competition, jobs and the economy have also been drivers for change, spurring programs in STEM/STEAM, technical/career and adult education. But the real driver for change is the new generation of students. They have been comfortable with technology since an early age, interact on social media, prefer hands-on learning, are entrepreneurial and are the ones changing how change is made.

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of College Planning & Management.

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Has interest in sustainability initiatives—from alternative energy and water conservation to “green” landscaping, recycling, fossil-fuel divestment, local sourcing, and more—waned on your campus?


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