Imagine This: Doing-By-Learning

Thanks to Mark Brannan on Flickr for making this image available.

Traditionally, higher education has been in place to prepare us to do. And it still seems to be in place for that purpose. First you learn; then you can do. First this; then that. And if you do that first, you will either regret not doing this first and come back to it, or you will continue to do that, but not be happy or find meaning in your life.

Higher ed seems to operate from this idea; its entire structure is focused on it:

  • Learn first; then do. This here piece of paper that says you learned makes you qualified to do, so go forth and do! (Oh – and you can stop learning now. That part is over, unless you want to keep learning, in which case you can go to grad school.)

Thankfully, engaging adult learners in higher education seems to have helped us think a little bit differently:

  • Ah – you went and did first. That’s cool! You’ve done all this stuff; now reflect on it and learn what it means (and by the way you can get credit for that through Prior Learning Assessment while you’re at it), and then learn some more. You think differently about it – about you – now? Great! Icing on the diploma cake! But now that you’ve done all that, and learned more, and now that you have our paper in hand that certifies your learning, you can go do, again. Because our piece of paper here says that you’re qualified to do more, or do different, in a better job for higher pay and a better life. (Oh – and if you want to keep learning, go to grad school. Doing is not for learning.)

I want to turn this upside down, make it do cartwheels, get all dizzy and mixed up. I have no doubt about the power of learning-to-do, or in learning-by-doing. But I have a hunch that there could be more power — more energy, more possibility, more long-term outcomes — in doing-by-learning.

Doing-by-learning is a phrase that I apparently blurted out in a recent meeting, according to a colleague, and I asked her, “Did I say that?” and she said I did, and then I thought, “Of course I did. That’s what I believe.” And since she pointed out to me that I said that, I’ve been thinking about what I meant.

Here’s what I think I meant:

  • Doing-by-learning means that deep, meaningful, significant learning is our partner — it’s not an outcome, but it is; it’s not a prerequisite, but it is. In doing-by-learning, learning doesn’t come after we do, and isn’t in place in order to do. We do/learn, learn/do: together, hand-in-hand.
  • Doing-by-learning means we engage in reflective practice all. the. time.
  • Doing-by-learning means we get to approach our work, our lives, with inquiry and curiosity and freedom to f*8k up. It means we can experiment, try, fail, try again differently.

WAIT! FAIL? (Gulp!) (You mean failure might be learning too? No way!)

  • Doing-by-learning means we can innovate! It means we can change our lives, our circumstances, our ideas.
  • It means we can change our minds.

WAIT! Change our minds? Doesn’t that make us a “flip-flopper?” Huh? You mean it makes us learners? How ’bout that?

  • It means that when we have a problem to solve, we can frame questions through which we can approach that problem. How should we work together in this situation? What do we need to know to move forward through the problem? What are the options? How will we know it worked? What if it doesn’t work? What will we try next? What new problems might we create in solving this one? Wait – are these even problems???
  • Doing-by-learning means there isn’t likely one correct answer to find, one set of “best practices,” or one right process.

Yah yah yah – maybe this idea isn’t new or original (it isn’t). But imagine this: What might higher education look like if we claimed it as an institution that facilitated doing-by-learning instead of learning to do, or doing and then learning, or even (in the case of internships and other experiential programs) learning-by-doing? That’s what I am going to imagine. I’ll keep you posted with what I come up with.


Paying It Off

Thanks to iDanSimpson on Flickr for making this image available.

Yes indeed, your college education is an investment, and a really good one. But when you rack up student loans and other forms of debt, you need to get to work implementing strategies for paying them off.  (An aside: I do not believe that going to graduate school so you can defer your payments is a great strategy; there ought to be many other reasons to go to graduate school before that one!)

Many thanks to my friend Harriet over at The Encouragement Lounge for posting this article from The Chronicle of Higher Education that contains great strategies for dealing with student loan (and other) debt:

In Debt to Your Degree

The most important strategy, in my opinion? The first:  Take Responsibility.

To Know Your Path, Or To Find Your Path?

Recently, the New York Times’ blog Room for Debate published opinions on this question: “What is a Master’s Degree Worth?” Four experts weighed in on this topic, each with his or her own spin on the return on investment of a graduate degree. A few days later, the editors posted a summary of even more opinions on this question written by readers who shared their stories and ideas in the comments of the original post.

(Ah Glorious Technology!)

In this economy, it makes a lot of sense to ask this question; to seek a sense of the costs and the benefits; to consider job markets, labor trends, and projected industry needs; to consider what you, with a degree, as a commodity, will be worth to a current or potential employer; and to weigh the benefits and challenges of furthering your education. It probably makes sense to do so in any economy.  I vociferously preach this kind of analysis to students who take my Preparing for Graduate School course. I believe in the exercise.

Feel Smarter?

Yet the thought of doing this analysis also makes my stomach knot up and what is left of my non-gray hair turn gray. I’ve been giving a lot of thought about why my skin crawls every time I suggest doing this analysis to a student, and here’s my hesitation with it, based solely on my own experience:

Had I tried to do this calculation when I finished my Bachelor’s degree, I surely would not have ended up doing what I do now, which I really love.  LOVE! L.O.V.E.!!!

For me, it was only by doing my Master’s (and associated activities that came along with it, such as being a graduate teaching and research assistant, working with neat people who became mentors, and discovering what mattered to me) that I came to have clarification of what I wanted to do with my Master’s. At no time did I question earning potential or job market needs; I simply wanted to continue my learning, and from that passion came clarification, and from that clarification came employment possibilities.

For me, it was that simple. And, alas, it was that complex.

What will it be for you?

On Grad School – Show Me The Money

I teach a course called Preparing for Graduate School, but I only teach it twice a year, and it might be helpful for some of you to have the latest resources I find on this topic, even if you aren’t in my class. To this end, I will continue to post resources here, on this blog, under the category of “Preparing for Grad School.” Please check back or subscribe to this blog using RSS (see more about this below) for more info for undergraduate adult learners who are thinking about grad school as a next step.

Here’s a new one that just came my way, a podcast that addresses this topic: “Whether you’re thinking about graduate school–or are already on your way–this podcast helps answer many questions about the financial aid process.” It’s geared to the professional adult student (yeah – you!), so it might be worth a listen.

Graduate School Financial Aid for Professionals

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