Here is a question or two for you. To what extent would you agree with the following statements:
A: Humans are social and emotional beings
B: Education has a responsibility to help us develop the social and emotional aspects of who we are
How many of us are still figuring out how to be ourselves? To drop the mask, to be ok with things, to identify the things we want to change about ourselves and understand where they came from? How many of us wished we had had more support in learning to be more compassionate to ourselves, more empathetic with others, more able to regulate our self talk or emotional states, and more skilled in navigating the triggers of difficult discussions?
Parents do the best they can, of course, but there is no way of really measuring, supporting or ensuring consistency of approach in the way they support the social and emotional development of their children. That will require a greater level of societal awareness and so it has to start, like all things, from education. The approach which addresses this gap is generally called Social Emotional Learning (SEL).
Remember when scientists started talking about dark matter? It was, and is, fascinating. That there is a force in the universe we can only discern from what it does, by its presence, but not by direct observation, feels kind of like the emotional component of learning. Learning is emotional, from how and why we pay attention, to how we construct memory, to how we see ourselves as learners, is all an emotional construct. Neuroscience and psychology have been increasingly clamouring for us to really internalize that, and we are starting to see that emotion is the driving force behind so much in our learning environments.
Emotion comes into the social aspect of learning too in a big way. Maslow nailed it when he talked about "belonging" as a fundamental human need. We are complex social beings, and when we feel rejected by our peers, that can have a major impact. Not only on learning, but on the way we express that rejection in more extreme terms. Hatred, bullying and violence all have, according to a growing body of research, a causal connection to rejection and the fear of being excluded.
Not developing the skills to understand and regulate our emotions, or to empathise and collaborate with others, is closely linked to how we do in later life, from graduation and employment prospects, financial stability, physical and mental wellbeing among others. So yes, pretty important.
We have focused for so long on attainment, grades, memorization, control and the rest of the Victorian Schoolhouse industrial education model, that we forgot for a time the simple humanity of learning. Thankfully, we are really taking steps to recognise the importance of emotion and social adaption in learning.
Well, you can't, or at least, not really. There is a big change underway as we start to mainstream things like sustainability and SEL in learning, and deeper more complex competences, such as anticipatory thinking or complex problem-solving. This new stuff does not work in lectures and PowerPoint presentations. Learners of all ages need to be in control, so it is relevant to them, created by them, owned by them.
We are born with an innate capacity for social connection, and we need that to really develop higher-order cognitive skills such as we will surely need in the volatile world ahead of us. Getting this social connection does not happen when interactions are only with the teacher, or sculpted into a lesson plan where we follow a pre-determined pathway.
Learning occurs with social interaction. We learn how others think and see the world, what we might offer them and they us, and that there are so many ways to approach problems or respond to situations. We see ourselves changing in response and understand the plasticity of our states, moving away from fixed mindsets to growth mindsets. Education simply has to embed these opportunities, train its educators to support the learners in their reflective understanding, and build SEL around them as they go.
Discussions, immersive and adaptive technology, peer to peer learning, community activities, individual reflection and journaling; there are so many ways to create space for SEL.
SEL has three dimensions:
Cognitive: e.g. planning and organising, persevering, focusing and setting goals
Social and interpersonal: e.g. resolving conflicts, respecting others, self-advocating and demonstrating agency
Emotional: e.g. recognising, understanding and managing our emotions, empathy for others, dealing with stress and frustration
As an adult reading this, what do you think? If you have ever said "I wish we had learned this in school" did it involve the kind of things on this list? Is there anything here you are still developing yourself? Of course, we are, and we are always a work in progress, but imagine having a head start in this as a young person. Imagine the impact on your life.
Being able to recognise and manage negative self talk, and flip that to more positive and grounding input. Being able to accept and acknowledge others perspectives without taking them personally and entering a reactive state. Being able to value diversity of though and approach in collaborative problem-solving, and to hone the skill of reflection to breed clarity and good decision-making. This is the stuff that executive coaches make careers out of helping adults develop, but imagine we could do the heavier lifting ourselves.
We are in education marketing and recruitment, as you likely are, and we can surely see how appealing this is to parents and older learners. Making SEL a key priority in all levels of learning will help bring institutions into a new century of socially responsible, self-aware and compassionate changemakers. Teaching needs to change, accreditation needs to change and all the rest of it, but is it too idealistic to imagine a culturally sensitive SEL framework embedded in primary to tertiary education?
It must be a whole-institution approach. This is not something that can rest on the goodwill of committed teachers. When we talk to parents of primary and secondary learners about supporting SEL, when we bring in our teachers and administration staff to the conversation and training, when we embed it in the way we communicate internally and externally, and when it runs as a thread throughout our learning, we become something new.
Everyone can benefit from this, and focusing only on SEL in the classroom is a missed opportunity. Everything from student work experience to campus HR and marketing can involve SEL principles and frameworks in their decision-making and strategizing. You can also develop your own curriculum around SEL principles, such as the Kindness Curriculum project in the UK.
At NEO Academy, we consider the impact of our decisions on our team. We embed reflective and socio-emotional thinking in all of our professional training, and we navigate our community as listeners and connectors. Our strategy is based around lifting each other up, supporting what we value, and being the change we want to see. At least we try, even if we don't always get it right the first time.
The time of the Clint-Eastwood cowboy approach to leadership is as dead as the genre. We can and should show our emotions, share understanding of them, put in the work that requires, and push for more of this in education as a right, not a privilege. If you feel the same way and want to showcase what you are doing for learners and your community, let us help you tell your story and bring in others to share the journey.
How can we meaningfully engage students in institutional strategy? It's a question that has been on the minds of educators for years, and one that is more pressing than ever in today's climate of stakeholder empowerment and enfranchisement.
The answer, of course, is not to ask them to read the minutes of board meetings or sit through PowerPoint presentations on analytics. Nor is it to create ad hoc "town hall" meetings where they are asked to provide input on issues that have already been decided. This gives the illusion of engagement, but the inauthenticity is pretty transparent.
So what do we need to do instead, to create opportunities for students to contribute their unique perspectives and experiences at every stage of the strategic planning process? Can we really ensure that our institutions are truly responsive to the needs of all stakeholders? How can we in marketing and recruitment play a part?
We are a long way from the "sit down and pay attention" mode of education, but we have not come as far as we would like to see. While education has generally moved to focus on skills over simple memorization of facts, and has generally centred learners more in the process, the true enfranchisement and empowerment of learners is still not the reality we see before us.
Learners might have a student council, might be invited to meetings of the institutional leadership team, and get some reasonably token decision-making powers, but is this the best we can do? True stakeholder engagement means really letting go of some control, and we can appreciate that this is a little scary for those at the top.
This is not about just "making students happy" or "letting students run the institution"; both of which show a real lack of understanding of what stakeholder empowerment can bring, and how strong an institution can be when all voices are not only heard, but carry substance and weight.
The 19th century planners of industrial-era education would be horrified, but if we really want our learners to leave as empowered individuals with a true sense of agency, and we really believe that this is essential in the very turbulent world ahead of them, then the choice is pretty clear.
Getting learners to give the thumbs up to something that has already been decided, is something that happens all too often. Equally, when learners are actually involved in improvement strategies right from the inception stage, the "project" is often siloed apart from the core institutional strategy.
The message coming from both these approaches is that we are ok with some contributions from the back seat, but we do not really trust learners with the keys. The ultimate goal is for the learners we serve to be the ones initiating the ideas and decisions, which can then be guided, developed and validated by the leadership team as true partners. Not tokenism, and not written off as "projects" to show on social media.
In Maryland, USA, a nominated student sits on the state board of education. The responsibilities of this position are "extensive" and carry real weight, rather than just tokenistic inclusion for the glossy brochure. It's time to give students voting rights on an education board. Some may say that students are too young and immature to make meaningful decisions about education policy. But the fact is, students are the ones who are most affected by the decisions made by the education board.
They're the ones who have to suffer through overcrowded classrooms, outdated content, learning approaches that do not spark passion or prepare them for an uncertain future. If anyone deserves a say in how their education is run, it's them. Giving students voting rights on an education board allows them to have a say in decisions that affect their lives and supports a more inclusive and representative education system.
Our colleagues in the world of education marketing love to communicate examples of student-led decision-making or activity in the institution. The sad thing is that we are often not part of it. These projects, decisions, strategies etc. are communicated to us so that we might tell the world of what is going on inside. But what happens when someone from the marketing department participates in these groups alongside student council members, parents, local councillors and all the rest of it? Oxford Said business school is a great example of a diverse group of stakeholders driving the major decisions of the institutional strategy, right down to partnerships, projects, community activities and on-campus campaigns.
The School board itself at OS is a closer knit group, but includes students, and representatives from marketing and innovation. The wider Global Leadership Council includes key figures from the surrounding business community, in addition to the school board. Students are there throughout with a vote and voice, but marketing is also there, not just to report but to be part of the decisions and the discussions. Too often there is a disconnect between "departments" or between academic, admissions and marketing, when in fact they are all part of the living institution. We often talk about decompartmentalizing education, but our institutions themselves can become far more fluid and horizontal, and this is a good thing.
Manchester University in the UK has completely overhauled their M&R structures to become more transversal, alongside a wider plan to break down boundaries between departments and involve students more closely in each area of institutional life which was previously "behind the scenes". Marketing teams can now help students develop their own campaigns, and help train them on how to engage interest in new ideas and spread awareness, for example. Academics are opening up their research activities more to students who may be interested.
When students have more open access to different areas of an institution and a vote and voice in how it is governed and where it is going, things really begin to change. Accountability and transparency are much starker, there is a fresh influx of ideas, and the institution is far more closely connected to those it serves. Marketing can be right in the midst of this, working more directly with students and witnessing the process and results of co-created strategy. We look for an authentic tone in external communications, but that means authentically creating open channels of communication, and leaving our offices to get involved with the workings of everyday institutional life.
At NEO we are education marketing and recruitment consultants, but we are also students, passionate lifelong learners, activists and networkers. We never wanted to be stuck away apart from the heart of the institution, and perhaps that is why we seek to work with more open, progressive and student-centred schools and universities. We all serve the same purpose, and the fewer boundaries the better. Let students in, open the doors between departments, and when we all sit around that table we may just find something new and exciting ahead.
Aside from location, which is pretty hard for institutions to change, what are the factors which really influence applicants' decision on which business school to attend? The thing is that the top three factors are relatively unchanging:
1. The quality of the learning and reputation of the school
2. The cost
3. The employment prospects after graduation
That is unlikely to be surprising, but what does surprise us at times is just how hard business schools work to compete on the same things, instead of finding their way to standing out more.
The ranking is an easy one to understand, but unless you are the type of institution that is willing to put "the 23rd best Business School in South East Asia" on your promotional material, ranking really works best as a lever for those near the very top. Some institutions further down the ranking opt for less salubrious accreditations to fill this gap, such as those which look official but can actually be bought and displayed with little to no oversight or quality control*.
Cost is understandably critical, and students want to know that it really is an investment with ROI, which means employment prospects must be substantial (tying into ranking and reputation, and academic quality once again). Flexible payment options, scholarships and sliding scales to broaden access are all critical and play a role in reducing equity gaps.
Employment prospects again come back to the quality and reputation argument. Schools which have a well established alumni network do much better here, as they can showcase positive destinations, even if the diversity of these highlighted case studies is sometimes a little formulaic. What it most often comes down to is the skills you can evidence to an employer, and the relevance of your areas of understanding to issues that are mission-critical to businesses.
So where can Business Schools really hope to stand out? What are the ways to differentiate ourselves in the top decision-making factor in 2022?
An unchanging curriculum with static content is not going to fit well with students who can already see how unstable and fluid the real world is. Dynamic, evolving and adaptive are the keywords to leverage here, as Business Schools build more learner-directed experiences into their offer. The thing is, that when learners have the chance to explore, learn experientially, tinker, fail forward and reflect, they will not only become better lifelong learners, but they will also develop more of the critical skills the world needs.
One cannot build skills simply by imparting knowledge. Business Schools have long come under criticism for failing to adequately provide learners with practical opportunities to take control of their own development. Too much focus on research has sometimes cocooned the institutional psyche in a bubble of academia that responds enquiringly to what has already passed, instead of making meaningful steps towards dealing with what is ahead.
When course content is set in stone, lectured and taught, where is the room for empowerment and agency? It may not be the easiest route, but modernising learning in an institution pays dividends well beyond student satisfaction. Students will not forget the place where they learned to really be themselves and step confidently forward, and that means a greater sense of belonging and community. Organic reputation is built on this, where applicant look less for research credentials and high profile partnerships, and more at the views and reviews of current and former students.
Put learners in the centre, ditch the sage-on-the-stage, support teachers to step into mentoring rather than instruction, and the learning will be far richer. Building your content around the learners might sound like much more work, but it is far more vibrant and energising than delivering the same classes year-on-year as the world carries on regardless.
Technology can also support this transition, with adaptive learning tools a great asset to the flexibility a learner needs to juggle family, work and study commitments, as well as being able to take more control over their own pace. Interdisciplinary learning is another trend in this area which de-siloes thinking and helps learners connect the dots between areas to better face the "wicked" problems of the 21st century.
This focus on modern learning approaches to help develop real-world skills (cognitive and practical) is a huge draw for a generation of learners who can press a button on their phone if they want to listen to a lecture, and really don't need to re-mortgage the house for the experience. What Generation Alpha want is the skills and awareness to make a difference in this world.
This means that not only the learning experience has to be more about the learner than the teacher, but also that it has to be focused on the values and issues of a more socially and environmentally conscious generation. Sustainability is not an elective, but needs to be embedded in all aspects of Business School education. We cannot teach the Thunberg generation how to get rich by extracting ever more diminishing resources and widening glaring inequity gaps. Learners will reject this increasingly, and they are right to do so.
Sustainability is not just about resource management. Business schools can stand out here by actively working to reduce the gender gap, reversing the attainment gap in diverse applicants, doing meaningful work on inclusion and standing more vocally and actively for social justice.
We have already written recently about how all jobs are green jobs, and that sustainable thinking is a huge draw for employers who are either being forced to reduce carbon emissions and/or are actively seeking to go beyond the mandated changes to be a positive force in their sector. This is only set to increase, and Business Schools who ignore this and try tokenistic band-aid fixes are really going to miss an opportunity to be part of a fundamental shift.
Does any of this chime with what you are trying to do in your institution? We want to support you, because our part in this is to elevate and sharpen the voices calling for change and help them to succeed over the institutions who are not. We are clear about that, and we can help your message to come through clearly too, so do reach out to chat with NEO about how we can help you stand out.
*Don't do it. Gen Z and Alpha can sniff out this stuff and can easily find out that your "award" from "XXX magazine" (censored) was given to pretty much anyone that paid for advertising space, or that your EQYASTHST Gold Standard membership (we made that one up) was "conferred" by a shadowy company with no registered office who encourages award holders to "self-monitor" their quality in exchange for money. Such practices undermine people's faith in such claims, and fund organisations who have little interest in the integrity of education.
Back in 2014, Irina Bokova, then the Director-General of UNESCO, launched the UNESCO Roadmap in 2014 for a Global Action programme on Education for Sustainable Development (ESD).
Bokova began this document with a foreword, which made it clear that for humanity to survive the coming decades, and move to a way of life that could be sustained, tinkering at the edges of our system would simply not do. Bokova called for nothing less than a "paradigm shift" in the way we work, live and consumer resources.
That's a big, bold statement. A total rethink of everything we are doing is pretty scary. Our economies, societies, ways of travelling, consuming and powering our lifestyles have to become something totally different. This is not just switching to electric cars and cutting out the beefburgers, but something much, much more.
Within the Universal Values of the United Nations, in which we have agreed fundamental Human Rights and that nobody anywhere should face barriers to living a healthy, happy life, there is a plan to achieve this. Oh yes, the Sustainable Development Goals you have heard so much about might be a little wooly and vague around some of the terminology and implementation, but they do cover pretty much everything we need to do to get this world working for people, planet and prosperity in equal measures.
We zoom in on SDG 4 (Quality Education) and find 7 targets. The last one, target 4.7, tells us of the role that education has to play in sustainable development, and it really does completely understate the point.
Far from being one small target component of one of 17 SDGs, this one really is at the heart of absolutely every part of the Sustainability agenda. If we are going to overhaul the whole blue planet, then we need to know what we are doing, and how to adapt when it doesn't go to plan.
Look at any one of the SDGs on that plan. From Climate change to innovation, life below water to reducing inequalities: every single one requires an informed, adaptable, aware, empowered and capable society to make that happen. And just who is going to take responsibility for that? We are.
Before we get any emails, when we said "we are", we didn't mean just NEO Academy, though we'll do our best. "We" means everyone in education, from teachers and marketers to administrators and planners, learners and researchers. "Education" of course refers to K-12, FE and HE but also to the wide world of informal and non-formal learning, apprenticeships, mentoring and all the rest of it. We all have a huge part to play.
In what? Well, this is either the scary bit or the exciting bit, depending on how you feel about reworking the entire planet. You see, "sustainability" isn't very exciting. In our NEOchats with Eddy Van Hemelrijk, he asked us "if you asked your friend how their marriage was going, and they said it was sustainable, you'd probably think that doesn't sound very good". He's right. Sustainability is the ability to meet our needs without compromising the needs of current or future generations, but beyond that, we have aspirational words like renewal and regeneration.
Regeneration means making something new, and that's what this whole thing is about. We got a little carried away with fast fashion and avocado lattes, the illusion that wealth equates to happiness, and that we can all take as much as we want from the planet and from other people, and as long as we call it "success", things will be just peachy. We lost our way for a while.
Sustainability is sort of comforting, as it encourages us to tweak some things, reduce others and basically find new ways to do what we do. Regeneration is something more. This is where we get to say that the space to innovate is wide open, and we are up for the challenge. What happens if we have an economy based on happiness and wellbeing rather than GDP? What happens if we redefine what success looks like and support each other to find passion and purpose in pursuit of that? What happens when we share values beyond the material and look at what bonds us, and not what divides us?
When the challenge is so complex, and the "wicked problems" of our world overlap, interact, contradict and generally just don't sit well together, who do we need to be to face that? When the way forward is going to shift and tremble, the cascading effects of climate breakdown and food insecurity speed up or take unpredictable turns, what do we need to know to face that? What kind of education do we need to regenerate the world and build something new and vibrant?
According to UNESCO, we need specific elements in all of our education contexts, institutions and approaches.
We need to integrate critical issues, such as climate change, biodiversity, disaster risk reduction (DRR), and sustainable consumption and production (SCP), into all of our curricula. In our experience, that process is happening pretty slowly, though some like Bali's Green School have been doing it for years already.
We need to design learning (not teaching) in a way that is interactive, puts the learner at the centre and in control, and which is transformative. Transformative pedagogies are approaches which leave us changed in the way we think, feel and act, and not just what we know. The James-Bond wannabees all love to hang out in the shadows just "knowing" stuff, but it won't slow down global warming, will it? Education needs to be about empowering growth and change, and not just sharing facts. Immersive, experiential, personal, adaptive are just a few adjectives that fit well with that new paradigm of learning and education, but there are many more.
Learners need to be equipped with the green skills for jobs. You'll note that we did not say "skills for green jobs" because in order to regenerate this planet, we have to accept that all jobs are green jobs. From hairdressers to engineers, taxi drivers to marketing ninjas (why do people call themselves that?!), we all need to integrate and internalise new ways of doing things that do not leave others behind and do not take more from this earth than it can support.
And the big picture? Our values need brought to the fore, alongside the reflective and cognitive skills to interact with empathy and cultural acumen with a wide range of people in uncountable situations. We need to have a core that is us, in ever-changing unpredictability. Empathy, compassion, inclusiveness, and the systems-thinking ability to understand how it all fits together; these are the outcomes of education in a regenerating world.
When we at NEO Academy talk about the future of education, decentralization of control through Web3, immersive VR learning, purposeful learning and all the rest of it, it's because we see what could be. We are also a bit impatient, and that might come across in the tone of these articles at times, for which we make no apology. We have only a few years to sow these seeds.
There is no time for dragging heels and teaching to the test. The real test is whether we can let go, cross that knowing-doing fear gap, and move forward into uncertainty. Uncertain times are coming whether we move forward or not, but we can start now to build a world where we all have a fair shot at remaking it to include us all, to honour our new place as stewards of a living world, and not to fight for what is left of a dying one.
At NEO Academy, we want to promote and amplify the voices of those who have a similar passion and value set, even if you're not yet where you want to be. Especially if you're not yet where you want to be. Get in touch to see how we can help you get there, and let's be part of something new.
Virtual Reality is more than gaming and 3D movies. A growing number of K-12 schools, colleges and universities are investigating the educational potential of VR. But how does VR actually work? How can it be used to facilitate learning?
Neuroscience has a lot to say about how our brains learn in virtual reality. When we put on a VR headset, we're effectively transported into a digital world. Our brains receive visual, auditory and other sensory input that trick us into thinking we're somewhere else. This is known as immersion.
Immersion is key to VR's educational potential. When we're immersed in a virtual environment, we're more likely to pay attention and engage with the content. We're also more likely to remember what we've learned. That's because immersive experiences activate the brain's memory circuits, which helps us encode and store information.
When we learn something new, our brains create connections, or neural pathways, between neurons. These pathways allow electrical impulses to travel from one neuron to another, allowing us to remember and recall information.
In a traditional learning environment, such as a high school, learners are often engaging with tasks set for them, without being actually immersed in them. Why? Because there's only so much that can be done in a classroom. There are physical limitations to what can be done and how much equipment is available, as well as the fact that supporting experiential, personal learning is a pedagogical skill which needs time to learn and develop, and we all know that time is in seriously short supply for today's educators.
In virtual reality, learners are placed in an immersive environment where they can interact with their surroundings. This allows for a more realistic learning experience and creates more neural pathways in the brain. In other words, VR helps us learn better and remember more information.
An example of this is a study done by the University of North Carolina. They found that medical students who learned in VR were better able to retain information and perform tasks than those who didn't use VR. In this study, the VR group had a 34% increase in test scores, which is seriously significant.
We can also see VR at work in flight training. A study conducted by the US Air Force found that those who used VR in their flight training had a 230% increase in task performance.
Ok, so these examples perhaps seem quite easy to accept as rational uses of VR. Flight training has, for years, been done on simulators anyway, for example. So what about high schools, and what about subjects that we might not traditionally associate with VR?
How might Virtual Reality work for learners who are studying, for example, mathematics? A recent study published in Frontiers in Neuroscience used functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) to investigate brain activity patterns while participants undertook a simple mathematical task in a virtual reality environment. The task required the participants to identify whether a sequence of numbers was either odd or even, and then press a button to indicate their answer.
The researchers found that when compared to performing the same task on a computer screen, doing it in VR resulted in increased activity in regions of the brain associated with visuospatial processing, working memory, and attention. These findings suggest that VR can provide an immersive and engaging learning experience that activates key areas of the brain involved in mathematical learning.
While this research is still in its early stages, it provides some insight into how powerful VR learning can be. But are there any concerns around using VR with high school students?
Some experts have raised concerns about potential negative impacts of VR on young people. These include the potential for addiction, social isolation, and exposure to inappropriate content. However, it is important to keep in mind that VR is still a new technology, and we are only just beginning to understand its potential impacts. As VR technology develops, it is likely that these concerns will be addressed, and there are reasonable counterarguments to consider.
In terms of the potential for addiction, it is worth noting that VR can be used in moderation, like any other technology. There are also many educational and productivity applications of VR, which can help offset any potential negative effects. For example, VR can be used to help people with anxiety disorders or phobias by gradually exposing them to their fears in a controlled environment. It can also be used for rehabilitation after injuries, and to help people with conditions such as autism or ADHD.
As for social isolation, VR can actually be used to connect people who are geographically far apart. VR can also be used to create virtual communities where people with common interests can connect and interact.
Finally, in terms of exposure to inappropriate content, let's just bear in mind that VR headsets can be equipped with filters that block out inappropriate content. It is also possible to create safe spaces in VR where only appropriate content is allowed. As challenges emerge, technology develops to counter them, and we can only imagine what will happen when whole scale adoption of VR learning comes into play, in a world where knowledge sharing and open source development is the norm. The sky is the limit.
It is really clear that neuroscience supports the use of VR for learning, and that VR can provide immersive and stimulating experiences that engage learners on a cognitive and emotional level. With its ability to create social connection and override the limitations of physical distance, VR does have truly great potential for impactful learning opportunities. As technology continues to develop, it’s likely that we will see even more innovative uses for VR in education, and we will do our very best at NEO Academy to keep you posted as it develops!
In the meantime, why not check our other articles and podcasts on the Web3 and Ed3 world, to learn more about how your institution might develop new opportunities in this space. You can click here to see everything under our Web3 tag, and if there is something else you'd like to see, just let us know!
Tell me about yourself. The dreaded question that beckons an effective answer in order to enter employment, study, or even a romantic relationship. But how do you really capture a sense of who you are and communicate it?
Some people begin by talking about work or study, but that is really only a fraction of the whole. Sure, your qualifications are an important part of your life story, but what about all the other learning experiences you've had, which don't fit on the page? Even describing the things you've done can be difficult in terms of how they connect to the skills which those experiences developed.
Our lives contain so many learning experiences, and shorter, focused learning episodes which we may have done in a variety of settings. How can we evidence these and present a more complete picture of who we are and the path we have taken?
The LinkedIn Profile structure has had a good attempt at helping us do this, but verifiability of these claims is also a challenge. How many times has someone endorsed you for a skill you are either not sure you really have, or would prefer not to be the one people remember you for? We need something a bit more developed, and micro-credentials are ready to take that role.
With the world of work changing so rapidly, it's increasingly important to be able to show employers that you have the skills they need. That's where micro-credentials come in. Micro-credentials are digital badges that indicate that you have completed a specific learning experience and possess a certain skill. They can be issued by educational institutions, companies, or even individual experts.
Because they're stored on the blockchain, they're tamper-proof and verifiable. That makes them much more trustworthy than traditional credentials like degrees or certificates, which can be forged or faked. A study showed 76% of employers assumed that any degree certificates presented to them were genuine, and did not perform any further checks.
It is unsurprising in an age of more sophisticated technology that the micro-credentialing movement is gaining momentum as a trusted and verifiable way to certify learning. Blockchain technologies are playing a pivotal role in this, with Ed3 leading the way in developing Web3 solutions for higher education. This is having a profound impact on institutions, which are now being forced to adapt or risk becoming irrelevant. So what is this all about?
First up, micro-credentialing can be a great way to evidence your skills and experience in the workforce. If you're looking to change careers or move into a new field, micro-credentialing can give you the edge by demonstrating your capabilities.
For example, let's say you're trying to break into the tech industry. You might use micro-credentialing to showcase your skills in coding, web development, or user experience design. Or, if you're aiming for a management role, you could use micro-credentialing to evidence your ability to lead and motivate teams.
Statistics show that micro-credentialing is on the rise, with the number of micro-credentials issued increasing by over 400% in the last year alone. And it's not just individuals who are benefitting from micro-credentialing - businesses are using it as a way to assess the skills and experience of job applicants.
If you're a coder, for example, you might micro-certify your skills with the help of protocols like Ed3. This would allow you to show potential employers that you have the skills they're looking for, without having to go through the traditional education system. Why would this happen?
Well, HigherEd is not known for changing its learning content quickly to keep up with the changing demands of industry. Most universities nowadays have pathways for teachers to request curriculum changes, such as additional modules, usually done by a central development team such as this example here from the University of Sussex.
This process is not quick, and has ramifications. Changing something means updating learning resources, scheduling, communicating all of this with learners and sometimes even having to run it all by the accreditation boards and bodies. Phew!
But learners want to learn. Fundamentally, what they want are relevant skills and the space to pursue their own interests, which emerge and mature over time and cannot always be predicted at the moment of choosing course pathways. Higher education needs therefore to be more responsive and adaptive, and being able to provide learners with the solid foundation of a reputable degree, alongside the flexibility to stack and badge more personal learning, is an opportunity which institutions need to make much more of.
So how can Higher Ed actually build micro-credentialing into its learning offer? The possibilities are really quite endless – but here are a few examples to get you thinking.
If you're studying for a degree, micro-credentials could be used to evidence the additional skills and knowledge you've acquired outside of your main course modules. For example, if you're doing a business degree and take an online marketing course as part of your professional development, you could add this to your CV as a micro-credential.
Or, if you're studying for a teaching qualification, you might use micro-credentials to show that you've completed extra training in special needs education or classroom management techniques. These learning episodes may not be part of the core degree, but they will make you more marketable to potential employers. They can be verified very easily by the issuing institution, and they add value to your degree.
Ultimately, they allow learners to take the same core course of studies, but branch off into areas of learning that spark passion and support career aims. You can also study them online, in your own time, at your own pace. This means that you can fit them around your work or other commitments and adapt to the core course workload.
This may mean actually reducing the core course workload to allow space for adaptive learning at the edges, and requiring students to complete a certain amount of peripheral learning under their own steam.
As with so much in this Web3/Ed3 world, we do not have to reinvent the wheel. Universities do not have to suddenly create short courses for all the possible learning complements that students may which to pursue, but in a world where more and more learning is happening online, the question of how to certify academic levels for micro-credentials is becoming increasingly important.
One option is to use MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) as a way of assessing academic levels. MOOCs can be a useful tool for certifying micro-credentials, as they provide a way to measure learners' progress and assess their understanding of the material. However, MOOCs also have their limitations. For example, they are not always well suited to measuring practical skills. They can also be vulnerable to cheating, though there are strategies to counter this.
Another option is to develop a qualification framework specifically for micro-credentials. This would provide a more comprehensive way of assessing academic levels, and would allow for the development of specific qualifications that are tailored to the needs of micro-credential holders. Ultimately, whichever approach is taken, the goal should be to ensure that micro-credentials are properly certified, so that employers can be confident in the academic levels of those who hold them.
This means that universities clearly have work to do in building these structures, but the opportunities are endless, and clearly the benefits outweigh the investment in resources. Having a fully adaptive personal learning offer is something institutions will want to work towards, as our future work environment becomes ever more fluid and unpredictable. Micro-credentialing, however, is a stepping stone towards this and can be a powerful hook for students considering your institution.
It seems like just the other day we were talking about the struggle many K-12 institutions had in adapting to online, blended or hybrid learning during the Covid-19 pandemic. We are very aware, that virtual high schools and K-12 offers partially or wholly in the metaverse are not about to happen overnight. We are not even saying that they should happen.
What is clear, is that this transition is taking place. Check into it, and you'll see that the schools dipping into immersive virtual learning environments are not as rare as they were, even a year ago. This is happening, and from where we are standing and observing, it seems to be picking up pace.
So what might that transition look like, and why would we want to go this route? What's in it for learners and institutions? Let's start by asking what it's all about!
A recent report from Hirsh Pasek et.al entitled A whole new world: Education meets the metaverse opens by saying that "Soon it will be as omnipresent as TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook". This plays into a sense that the metaverse is unstoppable, inevitable, which it most likely is. However, they do not explain why we need it. That seems to be the best place to start when we are talking about something as emotive, or sacred even, as traditional K-12 education.
A great summary on XR today outlines the reasons why the metaverse is so advantageous. The main arguments seem to be that it can be more collaborative and accessible. Rather than siloed, passive consumers of Web2, we can interact and visualise information in a more visceral way. The idea of decentralisation and open source data is key too, which would imply that our rate of development could accelerate quickly. In a world facing climate, where bold technological and societal solutions are needed, they may very well be made easier in the metaverse.
These are early days, and we have no idea how things will unfold, but we seem to be at the stage where a diversity of voices are able to shape the metaverse, without trying to "own" it. Long may that last.
Educators at K-12 already know about gaming. How could we not? So many of our learners are absolutely immersed in virtual worlds, teaming up with people they have never and will never meet to perform tasks, meet challenges, slay monsters, develop skills. Some are even professional E-sports players. Games like Roblox have 42 million active users, and that number is climbing fast.
These learners already know how it feels to live between physical and virtual worlds, and they know how to find their own way. This translates well into learning in a modern environment.
We do not learn best when we sit down to be instructed, and at least we all pretty much agree on that now. We learn best when we are supported to direct our own learning, explore and find our own way through, ask for help when we need it, but essentially use teachers as another learning resource, alongside peers, technology, community, experiences and our own reflection.
Learning immersively with technology is not a leap for Gen Z and Alpha, and institutions who can afford it can be quite confident of engagement and uptake. The Optima Classic Academy in Florida has provided 1300 students with VR headsets and is launching a metaverse classroom in August 2022. Learners can choose a range of study options, visiting ancient Rome, learning French at a virtual Parisian café or standing witness to the formation of galaxies. They will then supplement this work with independent research and learning to consolidate what they did in the metaverse.
We are not talking about dipping a toe in the virtual waters of AR in the classroom, for example, but full learning environments in the metaverse. That can be a scary prospect to many, but looking at Optima Classic's example, the metaverse can augment and complement other forms of learning, rather than replace it. As superfast 5G connections become more ubiquitous, and the price of the tech falls (even a little), we are going to see more institutions setting up metaverse learning environments and integrating them.
Learners will most likely love the opportunity to explore and direct their own learning virtually, although the jury is still out on how to manage mental health, identity and wellbeing in a scenario where our physical and virtual selves can develop separately. If the technology is user-friendly and affordable, uptake will ramp up very soon, but institutions do need to take advice on how to prepare for the shift. Having more engaged learners who can experience learning in a richer, deeper way is incredible, but our duty of care comes first. This is another reason why metaverse learning will not become commonplace in the next few years.
Transitioning to full metaverse learning can happen step by step, and this is really positive. Schools which are already offering education programmes online can quite easily partner with tech companies to augment that offer with more immersive learning. One more recent example of this is the American High School, which is a fully online school in the US, with a virtual learning component.
AHS students are all over the world, and though they do offer structured programmes like getting your American High School Diploma, how they get there is customisable. With a fully digital learning environment, they can build learning pathways around individuals, so that learning can be personalised.
So here is the thing. Up to now, what we have been describing could be a 2D online learning environment, much the same as many institutions developed during the pandemic. There is a foundation here, in that we have really seen how online learning can give more people access to learning on their terms, and makes managing personalised pathways so much more viable.
On this foundation comes the next step. AHS partnered with The PIEoneer award-winning Victory XR who have helped bring 2D TO 3D. Immersive learning through VR headsets mean that students can, in the words of AHD "experience the inside of a heart, build atoms in space, explore the Pyramids of Giza, virtual museums.". By attending a virtual campus and learning in 3D, they have quite literally taken the best of what online learning has to offer, and added a new dimension.
The learning for institutions can and should begin now. Equipping ourselves with a greater understanding of the opportunities and challenges, and opening ourselves to change and to new conversations about education 3.0, are what will make all the difference to our relevance in 10 or 20 years. If we are left behind, we will not catch up. More than this, we owe it to learners to provide the best experience possible, and to do so in a way that works with their world and their future.
We've barely begun to make sense of how the regular internet has affected education, communication, knowledge sharing, ownership, and perhaps even changing our brains. Now comes something new, and it is understandable that we adopt a "wait and see" attitude, but this time we are not all experiencing it n the same way. Our learners at K-12 are already deep in the transition, flowing with it, and becoming comfortable with a whole new relationship with technology.
For schools who had to react quickly and get online learning set up, you may by now have had the chance to see how amazing it can be for learners when done right. We didn't ask for it, but the pandemic did give us an accelerated learning opportunity, and that just might be a stepping stone to the future, rather than a reaction to the present.
For schools making this transition, reshaping their offer and trying to find new ways to communicate what you do and build broader learning communities, talk to us at NEO to see how we can help. We really are in this together.
For a long time now, education has been changing. That change has been too slow for some and too quickly for others, but it is happening nonetheless. Moving from education 1.0, where learning was dictated to us, we are now moving to education 3.0, which coincides quite neatly, and not just coincidentally, with Web3.
These are phrases you will be hearing a lot, because this is what education is becoming. For years now, the centralised control over education has created a huge number of issues. In education 1.0 environments, learners are passive, lack agency, never learn to learn themselves, but only how to "be taught", which falls so staggeringly short of our human potential that it is almost criminal to think that this still exists,
Education 2.0 moved forward, broadening access by using technology so that learners and educators could connect from home or elsewhere. There was some loosening of the reins, as teachers brought in group work, peer to peer learning, and even things like learning visits and visitors. We started to talk about diversity and inclusion in the classroom, and to understand that one size cannot fit all, and that "instruction", memorization and regurgitation favored only the few.
Education 2.0 is still fundamentally flawed, however. This is because
While in Milan with team NEO, we got talking to a recent graduate in one of the city's skate parks (it wasn't all work!). He had just finished an MBA, but told us that there was barely any mention of sustainability in the course, even though we all know that this is something that should be central to any business education offer. Alberto had not quite realised this when he started the course, but quickly learned that it was something he cared about, and which was vital to his future career.
Because this was not a mandated part of the curriculum, he was stuck. He told us that he was "lucky" to find a professor who could help him learn more about it, but there was no credit given for these efforts. Not in the course content, and not on the radar.
Alberto decided to study himself alongside the MBA. He informally learned a lot about sustainability leadership, taking online courses, listening to podcasts and reaching out to authors, influencers and thinkers in the field. Alberto has no way to really evidence that learning, though it turned out to be his passion, and as he said "The MBA is just the base. It's hard to really put my own stamp on it".
Yes, sure, Alberto could collect his own evidence of learning, but where is the reliability of evidence that employers might ask for? What if he wants to pursue a doctorate in sustainability leadership? And yet, This learner took control of his own learning, followed his passion, built his own understanding of the field, and did so by making the physical and digital community his classroom.
Now this is a true shift. Education 2.0 saw a lot of progress, but the fundamental system of ownership and centralisation stayed intact. Institutions provide and regulate qualifications, overseen by other institutions who control the accreditation. Learning might happen at home, but it is controlled from the classroom, because as broad and self-directed as the learning might get, in the end it is funnelled back to the same centralised structures.
But that's not how learning works. We learn things all the time, and we can find and create learning opportunities for ourselves, as Alberto and a thousand like him did and do every day.
How can we possibly script out learning programmes that have no space built in for the diversity of learners coming in? How can we expect to control everything centrally, so that only a narrow part of the true spectrum of learning experiences can actually be captured and evidenced for the learner's future progression?
We can't. At least, not within the current system as it stands. Back in 2007, a very prescient paper by Keates laid out the vision of education 3.0 as...
"characterized by rich, cross-institutional, cross-cultural educational opportunities within which the learners themselves play a key role as creators of knowledge artefacts that are shared, and where social networking and social benefits outside the immediate scope of activity play a strong role. The distinction between artefacts, people and process becomes blurred, as do distinctions of space and time. Institutional arrangements, including policies and strategies, change to meet the challenges of opportunities presented. There is an emphasis on learning and teaching processes with a focus on institutional changes that accompany the breakdown of boundaries between teachers and students, higher education institutions, and disciplines"
In other words, learners own the process, and create the learning. The learning ecosystem opens up to be transdisciplinary, trans institutional, and to bring in communities and employers in authentic ways. Teachers don't disappear, but become mentors, shapers, guides and learning resources, rather than the font of knowledge they were expected to be in pre-Google days.
The learners are taking control, and if institutions don't embrace this, there are already paths around them. Now, we truly have the technology to make this all happen.
We have the technology. Immersive learning experiences through AR and VR, asynchronous learning, adaptive or personal learning, endless customizable resources and self-research pathways. We have communication tools, learning monitoring tools, online journals and peer evaluation platforms, MOOCs and a million others.
There's more. With Web3, Alberto might find a chance to evidence his own learning through micro credentials which can be validated using blockchain technology so that their authenticity is iron-clad. He might have been supported earlier to find mixed-media approaches to creating a learning vitae which could be shown to potential collaborators and employers to say "this is who I am and what I can do".
We can create complex learning communities where time and distance are no longer boundaries and, best of all, more people are able to be a part of this. The biggest argument against education 3.0 was the complexity of trying to structure and monitor it to protect quality, but the tech is now there. We can build learning around learners rather than setting it in stone right from the start.
At NEO Academy we are so excited to watch this change develop in real time. We really are right inside the transition now, and that means there are both challenges and opportunities. Decentralised ownership is just one part of this learning revolution, and the other is collaboration. To find out more about how we can support progressive institutions transitioning to support a new generation of Web3 and Ed3 learners, please do get in touch to talk.
Did you go to university or college? Whether or not you did, you likely know someone who has gone, and it is also pretty likely you work there now, if you're reading this. Whatever the case, perhaps we can all agree that starting a major new phase in your life like heading off to university is actually quite a serious and challenging time for many of us.
Oh sure, the Hollywood movie scenes have shown us countless students packing their cars and heading off to college with undented optimism and perfect teeth, to arrive and slot seamlessly into sororities and immediately sipping beer from red cups at Chad Hogan's party. For some, that is the experience, and that's great, but what is the reality?
You've seen the website, talked to the amazing admissions team, perhaps even visited the campus virtually or physically, and have made your choice. Accepted into not just a course or an institution, but a complete change in your life.
Change in life tends to happen gradually. We learn, grow and develop, and sometimes look back to see how far we have come from. Sometimes, however, change happens all at once, and we need to really understand how major that can be. The social networks around you are not just friends and family, but security and stability. A sense of belonging, to an environment that is safe in its familiarity and predictability.
All of that changes when we go to university. The anxieties this can produce are, according to research, generally underreported. You will find figures of 15 to 30% of students reporting worries about the social transition of going to university, but the reality is that it is far more significant, with more detailed research suggesting that upwards of 60% of pre-college students are anxious about the transition.
Enter any anonymous chat forum of pre-college students, and you see the same thing over and over. Crippling anxiety not about the academic rigours of the course, but quite simply about meeting new people, finding their way around and generally being accepted and not too exposed. Will I like my dorm mates, will I make friends, will I be accepted?
Even the more reported fears of going to university are essentially social. "Running out of money", which is a very common pre-transition fear, is essentially a fear based on there being no social network around you to help. This is all normal and natural, and almost everyone feels it in greater or lesser amounts; responding to it in their own unique way. But are we in danger of just accepting this as something that just exists, or can we do something to help?
Having looked at dozens of university and college websites, the main ways they seem to be dealing with this essentially social issue are:
They tell prospective students that there are counsellors, or to register with a GP. All of these things are valid, and undeniably good advice, but they just aren't enough. How many students are admitted to further and higher education, but never make it to class on the first day? How many do begin, but have such an uncomfortable start that they do not stay?
Student retention is a huge challenge, as we all know in this sector. In the UK, non continuation rates hover between 4% and 15%. Though money and attainment are critical factors in this, a growing body of research again confirms that the social aspect is among the most central reason to leave an institution. As this research paper in the Journal of Further and Higher Education put it, "students who frequently considered leaving university without completing their degree (i.e. dropping out) had a significantly lower sense of belonging than students who did not".
We can assuage doubts about grades and academic rigours, and reassure students about earning potential to pay back student debt. We have the data, and we can make the argument. Feeling like you belong, however; how can we support something so intangible?
Technology is opening things up here. We have read articles recommending that new students "reach out" to others who are joining their course, so that they can chat to them beforehand, but is this easy?
Emailing someone or connecting with them on social media is arguably much easier than walking up to them in person and saying "Hi, I'm Chad Hogan". Chad Hogan is probably comfortable with that, but the rest of us find it daunting. Remember being 18 years old? The thing is that digitally connecting with someone out of the blue is still somewhat daunting, as it carries the same fear of rejection and exposure that we are trying to address in the first place.
One new community, however, is getting it right. Goin' Connect is part of a new generation of pre-enrolment tools for students to...well...go and connect! It is an app and a network where students can create their own groups, see where others in your cohort or class are from and what they're into, and form connections with them.
This is not monitored by the institution, as that would be a flop right away, would it not? As the Utrecht University put it in a Facebook post introducing Goin' Connect to their students, "it really is an app by students for students, with very little involvement from us". That seems to be key to the reason it works so well. It is no surprise, then, that they have been shortlisted as finalists in the prestigious PIEoneer Awards for the Students Support Award category.
Think about it. You get the chance to ask questions to others without it feeling stilted or staged. You can find out that others in your prospective class are from your country, or even your town! Maybe you want to get away from anyone that lives in your town, but at least this can help you avoid them. The essential thing is that this simple networking approach takes away the unknown, and that is where the fear always resides.
Onboarding, conversion, retention; yes all of that is boosted for the institution with giving students pre-start access to each other in a student-controlled environment, but the main thing is that that sense of belonging does not have to wait. It can be built before you even get there, and that makes all the difference. One Polish student said that Goin' Connect gave her the chance to connect with others before moving to study in Sweden, so that the experience felt more "real" and that she feels more relaxed about going.
We cannot solve every issue that prevents students from walking or logging into that first class, or which keeps them on track after their initial semester. We can, however, make our ways of addressing these a bit more human. Social anxieties must have social solutions, and what could be simpler or more effective than making friends with those we about to share the next part of our journey with.
At NEO Academy, we believe that the student journey is not a funnel, but a circle, and we have outlined our reasons for this here. This means that we do not take a narrow view of when our responsibilities begin and end in marketing, recruitment and admissions. Community building before they arrive on campus is an important step forward in supporting students, and everyone will benefit from this; no doubt about it. If you work in this sector and have insights opinions or ideas on how we can better serve students throughout their journey, we want to hear from you.