Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

13 December 2017

Higher Ed & Job Skills?

Clark @ 8:08 AM

I sat in on a twitter chat yesterday, #DLNChat, that is a higher ed tech focused group (run by EdSurge). The topic was the link between higher ed and job skills, and I was a wee bit cynical. While I think there are great possibilities, the current state of the art leaves a lot to be desired.

So, I currently don’t think higher ed does a good job of preparation for success in business. Higher ed focuses too much on knowledge, and uses assignments that don’t resemble the job activities.  Frankly, there aren’t too many essays in most jobs!

Worse, I don’t think higher ed does a good job of developing meta-cognitive and meta-learning skills. There is little attempt to bridge assignments across courses, so your presentations in psychology 101 and sociology 202 and business 303 aren’t steadily tracked and developed. Similarly with research projects, or strategy, or… And there’re precious little (read: none) typically found where you actually make decisions like you would need to.

And, sadly, the use of technology isn’t well stipulated either. You might use a presentation tool, a writing tool, or a spreadsheet, maybe even collaboratively, but it’s not typically tied to external resources and data.

Yes, I know there are exceptions, and it may be changing somewhat, but it still appears to be the case. Research, write a paper, take a test.

Yet the role of developing higher skills is possible and valuable.  We could be providing more meaningful assignments, integrating meta-learning layers, and developing both meaningful skills and meta-skills.

This doesn’t have to be done at the expense of the types of things professors believe are important, but just with a useful twist in the way the knowledge is applied. It might lead to a revision of the curriculum, at least somewhat, but I reckon it’d likely be for the better ;).

Our education system, both K12 and higher-ed, isn’t doing near what it could, and should. As Roger Schank says, only two things wrong: what we teach, and how we teach it.  We can do better. Will we?


  1. We can however there needs to be a tighter partnership between EDUs & ORGs focused on the skills business really wants in addition to the skills it says it wants. The latter often are the technical skills however the former are the skills, the competencies, left unsaid but the ones we all need to succeed in work and life. Your point about the essays is on point but EDUs could teach writing and comprehension but developing assessments that are more authentically aligned to work and life. Bringing context into the assignment might change it from a essay to a whitepaper or a proposal. I had a professor many years ago make us write memos and writing succinctly can demonstrate synthesis too! ORGs need to focus on the actual competencies they truly want and stop relying on old job descriptions and EDUs need to listen to people doing the actual work – but I think the competency-based design initiative is starting to move these groups closer together. Thanks for provoking thoughts Clark.

    Comment by William Ryan — 15 December 2017 @ 5:22 AM

  2. As someone pointed out on LinkedIn, uni education isn’t *just* about job preparation, and you make that point too, William. And I agree. But we do need to do better job of preparing people for the life after uni, jobs and, well, life. I too believe in concise design steps; I taught a semester of learning theory by having them respond in teams to RFPs about educational needs (they even named their consultancies!). And it’s part of my ‘activity-based learning’ approach. I like competencies too. Everyone should be able to get an ‘A’; curves are not the go.

    Comment by Clark — 15 December 2017 @ 9:19 AM

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