Education: Excellence for few or access for many?

 

Singapore ranks #1 in the global PISA rankings.

Just four US universities (Harvard, Columbia, Chicago, MIT) have produced over 400 Nobel laureates.

About 82% of Danish citizens are enrolled in post-secondary education, while over 2% of the US (over 6 million people) can call themselves doctors – either medical or through a PhD.

So what’s the right measure of a country’s educational prowess? Which of these countries offers the ‘best’ education?

In his great new podcast, Revisionist History, Malcolm Gladwell offers a strong vs. weak link framework to understand advancement and higher education. To use a sports analogy, a strong link sport is one where one superstar or high-performing individual can often influence outcomes, as in the case of basketball. A weak link sport is one where an above average team with no tangible superstars will often beat a mediocre team with one superstar. Leicester City’s league win in last year’s English Premier League is one such example. Gladwell uses this framework to explain why the Industrial Revolution gained momentum in England – where a large number of common folk were proficient tinkerers – rather than in France or Germany where the elite few had attained remarkable heights. He proceeds to compare Stanford – a strong link university – with Rowan University, a small and deliberately weak link university in New Jersey.

What constitutes a good education? And as an educator, should you build strong link systems or weak link institutions? In other words, do you focus on access or global excellence? Do you build institutions that enable access to the largest slice of the population or focus on the few most likely to succeed and build a truly cutting edge system?

The tempting answer is ‘both’. Where possible, we should combine breadth with depth. But let me throw another complication to the mix – what in Mathematics is often called initial conditions.

See, the initial conditions – the starting point – aren’t the same for all countries and communities. We don’t have the same populations, resources, values and levels of homogeneity. Here in India, we’ve made a concerted effort to build strong link institutions – IISc, IITs, IIMs and AIIMS. We are justifiably proud of graduates from these institutions, and these graduates occupy a majority of the senior leadership positions in academia, business, medicine and even startups. But we don’t seem to be doing as much about wide-reaching access to good quality education. I’m not talking about nominal access – on paper. I’m talking about access to the kind of education that can help you learn and even master topics, get a good job, perform well in that job, and build a strong career. Millions need this kind of education, the kind of education that launches a million careers in a thousand companies.  We aim to be just this kind of an institution, but I’m sure we are not alone in this endeavor.

If you know of transformative weak-link educational institutions that improve access to high-quality education in India, please write to harish@greatlearning.in. We would love to work with like-minded people to improve learning outcomes.

 

 

The only resolution you should be making in 2017

Every New Year brings with it the hope of a new beginning in our lives and along with it, come the myriad of resolutions we make to ourselves. Research indicates that most of the resolutions made by people are towards fitness and weight loss. As a result, January becomes a windfall month for most gymnasiums and fitness studios while most of us don’t become any leaner or fitter with passing years the one thing that we can definitely achieve is being a better version of ourselves. To achieve that you don’t have to make tall promises to yourself just Make Learning a Habit.

Learning new things is simple, achievable and one of the most profitable investments you can make each year.

 

1. Learning is like weight-loss

train

Let me make an uncanny analogy here: Aspiring to becoming leaner is very similar to wanting to learn something new. Ultimately, you have to change something that’s core in your behaviour to have the desired results. Both these goals need focus, determination and lots of discipline. And lastly, just as in weight loss as in education, there are no low-hanging fruits or express results. Both take time to fructify, but once you go the distance, there is no looking back.

 

2. Why ‘Learning’ in 2017?

Why we need to learn in 2017

The right question here should be ‘Why Not’. There has never been a better time to learn and frankly speaking, with the changing dynamics of businesses and technology disruption impacting us, if we don’t make learning a habit in 2017 and onwards, our professional credentials would be questionable at best and irrelevant at worst. Learning new skills and upgrading one’s professional capabilities is no longer a matter of choice but a necessity to have a fruitful career. In today’s time and age, the half-life of knowledgehalf-life of knowledge is forever decreasing which means that one needs to keep learning always to stay professionally relevant. The new reality is that what you learn at 25, will not take you till 35.

 

3. What should I learn?

What should you learn

This is like standing by an ocean and trying to find the perfect starting point for your swim. What you can learn is limited only by your intellectual bandwidth and interest. For the sake of brevity, let us focus on what the professional in you needs to learn. Depending upon the industry you are in or aspire to be in, you need to understand the trends that are driving growth. If you are unclear about it, you should talk to your seniors from the industry and pick their brains. Pick an area that is affecting most companies in your space and eventually will impact everyone and build your skill sets in that. Professional competencies such as analytics, big data engineering, product management, information security, intellectual property, digital marketing etc. are high growth areas where most companies are struggling for ‘good’ talent. Finding a sweet spot like this and making yourself competent in it will ensure your career benefits from this talent shortage.

 

4. Where should I learn?

e-learning

Learning in 2017 will be easier than ever before. From blogs to YouTube or TED, from companies offering online learning to mobile apps, ‘lack of access’ cannot be your excuse to not learning. But having said that, having a plethora of options makes it overwhelming and confusing.

I come across some candidates who know what the skills they need to acquire but are not sure if they will be able to learn. I usually advise them to first test the waters by accessing some free content online. YouTube is usually a good source for this. See if you like what you are learning and are able to grasp it.

 

5. Why do we fail to learn online?

why we fail to learn

If you are the kind that does not suffer from such starting troubles, you will usually find your learning options to be either completely online courses or blended courses (online + occasional weekend classroom sessions). Given this spread, how do you decide which format to go for?

Completely online courses provide convenience since you don’t need to attend any classroom sessions. But, online learning has been plagued by abysmally low rates of completion. The main reason for this is that for most of us, we learn better when we learn in a classroom setting with peers and faculty, who we can talk to in person.

The flexibility of attending class room sessions over few weekends in a month gives you the advantage of mixing the best of two worlds – the flexibility of online learning and the learning effectiveness of classroom learning. In our blended analytics program, we have seen hundreds of candidates do our program after having done one or multiple online courses. When asked, the most common response we get is because they feel that their learning in the online programs was incomplete. Also, when it comes to acquiring hard skills such as analytics, big data or machine learning, it is important to focus on programs that are more exhaustive and immersive and don’t take a superficial approach by promising to teach something in a matter of some hours.

 

6. What will it take?

learning in 2017

Learning is for everyone. Amongst the thousands of candidates who take our programs every year, we see about 30% of them to be with in the 15-30 year experience bracket. While there is no age to imbibe the habit of learning, just like with all good habits, the sooner you do it, the better you are. Having said that, learning is hard work. Depending upon when was the last time you were in a class, you would need discipline, focus and perseverance to go the whole distance. Usually, we have seen that the first two months are the hardest but once you settle into a routine within the first sixty days, you will go one to achieve the results you desire. The advice that we give to all our learners is to start small. Begin by dedicating an hour every day for the first 2 weeks, then about 8-10 hours a week for the next thirty days. Small changes in your habit will ultimately lead to big gains in your learning and professional success.

On that note, in 2017, make a promise to yourself. To learn something new and to challenge your professional status quo. Make Learning a habit and build the career you’ve always wanted. Oh and as for fitness, try playing a sport – 5 days a week. It is fun and just as effective (or ineffective) 🙂