President’s Corner

Continual Learning in the New Marketplace

by Benjamin O. Canada

In the 1960s and '70s I remember hearing warnings that half the jobs that would exist in the year 2000 didn't yet exist. Pretty hard to believe, wasn't it? We couldn't imagine that such widescale change really would take place.

Well, the year 2000 has come and gone, and it's not so hard to believe any more. Just ask today's computer chip makers, Web page designers, software writers, gene splicers, biomechemical engineers, cable and satellite television technicians, wireless communications developers or the already outdated word processing specialists.

So how do we educate our students in this new economy, in this age of information and innovation? How do we prepare them to succeed when we have no idea what it is they will need to succeed at?

The answer is deceptively simple, and it's not new. We must prepare our students to be continual learners. We must prepare them to grow—and go—in any direction necessary. We must teach them to develop a permanent mindset—prepared to receive new information and to respond with energy.

While this is a simple concept, carrying it out can be complex. We must envision the combination of knowledge, skills and abilities that will give students the foundation and desire they need to thrive in an inherently unknown world. How can we do that?

* Recognize that multidisciplinary advances are the wave of the future.

Biomechanical engineering is a perfect example of the increasing convergence between what formerly were separate disciplines. Biologists work with mechanical engineers and chemists; artists work with software programmers and architects; musicians work with electronic engineers and mathematicians. Ideas, innovations and scientific discoveries increasingly result from the cross-fertilization that occurs when experts in one area brainstorm with individuals from other specialties.

Prepare your students for those kinds of learning exchanges by exposing them to lessons that combine math and art, biology and electronics, music and chemistry. Integrate as many disciplines as possible into each activity.

* Realize that a convergence also is occurring between work and learning.

Learning never again will be a separate, early segment of a person's life. Learning will be and must be lifelong.

Prepare your students by merging theoretical and practical learning. Invite business professionals and artists into the classroom. Bring students to the worlds of business and art. Use partnerships to extend education beyond the traditional boundaries of the classroom. Introduce your students to adults who can model learning behavior as an ongoing adult role. Expose yourself to new ideas so that you, too, can serve as a model for continual learning.

* Provide the tools students must have to learn how to learn.

Invest in the most up-to-date technology possible and connect that technology with the outside world. Teach your students how to find the resources the world has to offer. Theirs will be a global society and their success will depend on how well they can function in that environment.

The question isn't how can you afford such investments, but how can you not? Today's technology gap will be tomorrow's economic gap.

Children will learn and grow throughout their lives if we expose them to the excitement and fun of encountering new possibilities. The more tools we give them to engage their natural curiosity and interest in the world around them, the greater the adventures of their lives can be. And the better prepared they will be to master the many unknown changes that lie ahead in the new economy.

Ben Canada is president of AASA.