Guest post: Finding the capacity to educate in community college

Tue, Feb 18,2014 @ 11:31 AM
by Kathryn Will |

This post was written by Dr. Layne J. Harpine, an expert in workforce development andDr. Layne J. Harpine customized training. Dr. Harpine has served as a business consultant, Fortune 100 corporate trainer and has been in higher education for the last 14 years as an instructor and administrator in the field of workforce development.

Finding the Capacity to Effectively Educate in Today’s Community College

The cry for reform of our current community college educational system is easy to support. Community colleges are commonly viewed as an advanced high school or as an alternative for students unable to attend a four year college or university.

Many of today’s higher education models are built around the idea of one size fits all. As adult education student populations continue to grow, colleges cannot continue to advance by doing more of the same.

It is undeniable that there are diverse higher educational needs for the up and coming student population, and today’s students are beginning to demand it.  With an outdated educational model, the needs and expectations of the students do not match the current operational approach to education.

Moving from the Traditional Way to Educate

The operating structure of the common classroom has changed less than any other Western institution in the last 300 years. On the surface, this classic academic model has worked well over the years, but it goes against everything educators now know and understand about learning.

The ongoing problem with our higher education system is embedded in the academic traditions prevalent in those classrooms holding onto tradition and entrenched in decades of methodology. Colleges take a remedial approach to “fix” the new learner, fitting them into classrooms of tradition instead of building learning programs around unique strengths and different styles of learning.

It does not matter where the adult learners come from, what their backgrounds may be, or what prior experiences they bring, the current educational approach generally sticks to one basic model. Students are expected to soak in what is being taught, somehow prove they have learned it, and then move on to a higher level to continue the process.

It is past time to consider moving away from the age old traditional model of one size fits all.  The learning gaps between certain adult learner groups continue to widen.  Currently, educational institutions are beginning to turn more towards online and hybrid offerings, MOOCS, and service learning for example, moving away from the comfort of the traditional academic model opening doors for a different way to educate students.

Turning on the Opportunities to Educate

Learning is personal and needs active involvement of the participant. The current, outdated model for education has outlived its effectiveness and is now limited in meeting the needs of today’s technologically savvy students. “Turning on” the opportunity for education has an entirely new meaning.

Community colleges are continuously given the task of doing more, for larger groups of adult learners, with considerably less resources. With open door enrollment policies, community colleges must be creative in finding ways to serve these students, in a variety of program areas, for all the unique needs of the nontraditional student.

Community Based Learning is a Successful Academic Model

Today’s instructional approach should be responsive to the learning, experiences, and unique characteristics of the adult learner. Instead of a particular building on a campus being the center of learning, it should be replaced with the community that surrounds it. 

The interactive learning environment then becomes the learning center by connecting formal learning directly to the lives of the learner. The campus cannot be the only definition of college learning and the classroom is not the only place learning can take place. Hospitals, businesses, and studios are examples of active locations of learning.

The new educational model should be driven by educational quality, assurance of application, and desired outcomes. Community based learning becomes the model for learning ignited by a collaborative partnership with educational and community leaders.

Community Colleges Can Lead the Charge on Change

Today’s community colleges may be in the best position to implement this change in approach, leading all higher education institutions in the charge. They have the capacity, the community connections, and willingness in some cases to change more easily for the sake of student success. 

Today’s diverse student population has the capacity to learn, but colleges must find the capacity to effectively educate. 

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