Since this is my first LinkedIn post, I’ll start with a short introduction that explains my background and interest in both online and face-to-face education. I’m the co-founder of lynda.com, an online education company founded in 1995. Before that I taught digital design at numerous universities and wrote computer graphics books. And before that, like all of us, I was a student, struggling to master the skills that would help me succeed out here in the real world. So I come to this subject having worn many hats: as an educator, an employer and a learner.
Right now we’re in the midst of the most fundamental change I’ve witnessed in education: the unprecedented rise of online learning. It used to be that the only real way to get an education was face-to-face. Today, few would deny the power of online education — better access, affordability, personalization and efficiency.
I’ve spent most of the past two decades championing it, for the all the things it offers that weren’t available when I was a student. After all, not everyone has the opportunity to finish high school, go to college, trade school, or take continuing-ed classes. I hear stories everyday from grateful stay-at-home parents who have to sneak in studying time at odd hours, busy professionals who can’t take time off to go back to school, and harried students who use online materials to enhance their in-person education.
All those things are great, but as with most new movements, there’s been unintended fallout. Today in-person education has become a popular punching bag. While there’s no getting around the fact that costs are too high, loans are too punitive, jobs are too scarce and a diploma is no guarantee of financial reward – something profound is being lost in the bargain when we dismiss face-to-face learning as obsolete.
As an employer, I can tell you that despite an abundance of applicants with cutting edge skill sets, it’s really hard to find great people who also possess the social and communication skills needed to work effectively. The truth is while it’s easier to learn facts and find information through online education systems, mastering critical thinking, collaboration, presentation and empathy is another matter. These are skills that require human connection, interaction and practice, and are best acquired in person, not online.
I’d forgotten just how profoundly transformative that experience can be, until last week, when I was invited to visit a critique session in Petrula Vrontikis’ branding class at Art Center College of Design, in Pasadena, California, where I began my teaching career. Students were showcasing their work, an assignment that included combining two companies’ brands, creating a web site for the resulting fictitious brand, and presenting their concepts and design visions.
It was a hard assignment, one that would have been challenging to even a seasoned designer. I marveled at the courage it took for the students to show work that wasn’t finished, and expose their vulnerability in the middle of the creative process.
I was impressed by how deftly Petrula gave honest feedback without being demeaning or squashing her students' spirits. At first I was surprised that they took her feedback without being defensive.
That’s when I realized that they’d already been well schooled in the ability to be open, so rather than being fazed by failure, they were able to embrace it as a way to learn, to improve. And even more impressive, they were just as open to receiving feedback from each other, which was given with kindness, respect and good humor.
These students were getting invaluable lessons that would benefit them in every facet of their lives: personal, professional, and yes, even their online social media selves. What’s more, they were lessons they could never get from online learning: How to take criticism. How to listen to other people’s ideas. How to present their ideas. How to project confidence even if they felt insecure. How to walk others through their creative process. How to be afraid, but participate anyway.
I was struck by how directly the classroom critique applied to the real-world skills needed in the workplace. I thought about our own company, where we highly value collaboration, and group discussions are a daily occurrence. The most vocal people tend to rise to the top while the quiet ones , sadly, can be passed over.
I left that classroom hoping that more teachers like Petrula and schools like Art Center will get the credit and support they deserve for teaching the art of how to take and give constructive criticism. On the other hand, in-person college education is becoming more and more rarified, so how can people who don’t have access still get to practice these important skills?
Why not join a group where you exchange ideas, debate and discuss? A book club. Toastmasters. A Lean In circle. Take an art or writing class. Start your own group on a topic you find compelling. Use LinkedIn or other social media to find participants!
What delicious irony: one of the best uses of social media is to form groups that meet face-to-face. And here’s another irony: the best way to put the cutting-edge skills offered in online education to work for you, is to get out into the real world and master the age-old analog art of social interaction. Since the only way to excel at that skill is to practice, here’s to getting off your butt, away from your screen and into the fray!
Originally Posted on: Linked In By: Lynda Weinman
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