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Being Well Educated In The 21st Century

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As an educator who’s nearly fifty years old, I have had the privilege (okay, it wasn’t always a privilege) of hearing many people share their opinions on the value, or lack of value, of education. I’m not sure what it is about me that makes people want to share so openly. But, every now and then I will have someone vehemently share their thoughts on what’s wrong with higher education; what’s right about it; why one approach is better than another; what type of degree best serves learners and any number of other topics pertaining to education.

These rants are provided by people from all walks of life. Occasionally, they lead to interesting conversations. Other times, I walk away puzzled by the views just shared. Eventually, I began to realize that those with little education have many misconceptions regarding the goals, benefit, and value of higher education. That makes sense, right? I mean, how can people who aren’t well educated understand what it means to be well educated?

No matter what your education/credentials, consider the answers to these questions from your personal perspective.

  • What would a good, a better, or more education do for you?
  • If you decided right now to become better educated, what knowledge would you pursue?

These might seem like rhetorical questions, but they aren’t. There are real, doable, answers to these questions. And, it may surprise you to know that the answers aren’t as complicated as you might think.

The Key To Being Well Educated

First, let me state openly that being well educated is about knowing how to think, not what to think. Yes, in higher education we study specific content but more importantly if we are being well educated we are studying how to think, solve problems, and create solutions. Consider the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson.

As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principle can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble. -Ralph Waldo Emerson

Unfortunately, most people aren’t comfortable identifying and pursuing principles/rules. Rather than learn the rules related to their desired outcomes many people choose instead to mimic the methods they see someone else walking out. Then they wonder why they aren’t achieving their desired results.

Before I go any farther, and so that there is no misunderstanding, let me state using different words the key to being well educated. If you want to be well educated in a manner that helps you achieve your goals; study the rules associated with what you want to achieve and where you want to be in life. Study the rules in great detail and learn them well. Then, once you know the rules, practice applying them until you can do so in an exceptional manner. Once you have achieved that, find unique ways to apply these same rules. Understand that there is no short cut to learning the rules. Nor is there any benefit to learning someone else’s approach if you don’t first know the rules that govern the context in which the approach is being applied.

Now that we’ve covered that, ask and answer these questions for yourself.

  • How well do you know the rules associated with the job/career/profession in which you work?
  • What best practices exist in your career/profession?
  • How have things changed in your career/profession in recent years?
  • What are the additional professions or specific jobs/positions that are closely related to yours? Do you know the rules associated with those also and how they overlap with your work?
  • When was the last time you studied something new?
  • What memberships do you have to professional organizations? What professional journals, magazines, or websites are you reading regularly?

Here’s a brief example of how this all looks and plays out for me.

I’m an Instructional Designer. I have studied the principles, models, and best practices in the field of Instructional Design. However, in order to set myself apart from the many people who label themselves Instructional Designers, I have also studied the following topics as they relate to Instructional Design for very specific reasons.

Human Cognition – The more I learned about designing instructional content the more I wanted to know about how we actually process, store, connect, and retrieve information.

eLearning Design & Development – Roughly 90% of my work product ends up being developed into an eLearning experience. Having a thorough understanding of what happens after my specific work is done allows me to do better work which yields a better final product.

Visual Design – Words are powerful. In fact, the ability to communicate effectively in verbal form is considered by many to be the highest form of architecture in civilization and a passport to success (–C. Haanel). However, the combination of verbal and visual information is so powerful that when it’s done correctly it can greatly enhance a learning experience. But when it’s done incorrectly, the combination of visual and verbal information can completely undermine the learning experience. I don’t want to risk undermining someone’s learning so I figured I’d better dive deeper into this too.

Sound a bit overdone? Well, for those who are satisfied with doing things in a standard manner, a basic understanding of your career is fine. But, if you want to design an exceptional career for yourself, you need to go above and beyond standard and ensure that you are well educated in all facets of your work and those topics related to your work. Now, I’m not going to leave you hanging by ending this article here. I’m going to share the one final tidbit that usually gets left out of such conversations.

Final Tidbit

If you decide to take a deeper dive and pursue being a well-educated professional, you need to understand what you’re getting into. Because, when you begin operating in this manner it seriously changes the workplace dynamic. To be certain you don’t put yourself in a bad situation, be sure to put as many of the following in place as possible.

  1. Consider how your direct supervisor feels about you expanding your knowledge of your field. Will she/he be supportive? If not, you may want to do this independently in your personal time away from the workplace.
  2. Do the same with your coworkers. They may or may not be supportive of your decision to change your professional approach/direction. You really want to surround yourself with people who are supportive and tend to operate in a positive manner when it comes to learning and growing professionally.
  3. Don’t be surprised if once you begin educating yourself you begin to outgrow your current situation. In fact, be surprised if this doesn’t happen. That means you need to tweak your approach a bit. Everyone says they want promotions and great professional opportunities. But many don’t understand that continual and consistent growth is the key to opportunity.

Now, all that being said; be open, pursue knowledge, and enjoy where the journey takes you. -cd



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