Oct 30, 2023

Results of Summer and Fall Research Question

The basic concept behind our research question.

Twice per year we take on a relevant or pressing research question, typically about current and future issues impacting the education industry. We pose that question to our readers, followers, clients and colleagues using both in-person and online research. It is simply an informal and crowd-sourced methodology that allows us to pose a critical question, gather some responses and share what we learn with you.

We asked and you answered.

Our summer and fall travels for clients and speaking engagements took me across 15 or 20 states in the continental United States, down to Brazil, up to Canada, and over to Hawaii, where I continued to ask a simple research question — informally in person and virtually on our website. We completed several focus groups among our clients including college and secondary school faculty and staff, including a couple hundred of educators along the way. We also posed the question to our followers on our website and social media feeds.

It wasn’t rocket science research. It was simply developing a dialogue — with educators and educational leaders — around a pretty important question at this moment in time.

Our summer and fall question was a simple and fundamental one.

What’s the primary purpose of education in a future marked by lightspeed cultural and technological change?

We thought this was a truly relevant research question at this moment in time. At a time when public trust and sentiment appears to be eroding around both the cost and return on investment for education, we need to be honest about the purpose of education.

We also must remember that the purpose of education has evolved over time. You may disagree, but, I would argue there was a time when the core business of education was to sell and distribute knowledge. Colleges and universities that owned printing presses could sell knowledge through both tuition and books. Obviously, that primary purpose of education left at least two decades ago — or more — yet many schools and colleges are still organized around that fundamental business endeavor.

Our sense is that it is again time to ask this pressing question and keep ourselves honest with what we learn.

We learned four key themes.

Here are the four key themes — in no particular order — from our discussions with clients and submissions from our colleagues, friends and followers online:

  1. Meaningful relationships – between people, knowledge and culture – form the most fundamental purpose of education. People learn and grow best when the learning process is forged in meaningful relationships with trust.

  2. Education instills a passion and outlet for lifelong learning, recognizing that learning is a part of life and a critical key to personal growth and development. Many respondents indicated that this “traditional and durable” purpose of education is actually more important than ever, increasing in value, as the window of learning grows well into and through adulthood as individuals prepare themselves for new careers and develop new skills.

  3. The future will require humans to better shape and mold a changing world and a formal education is the best tool to mobilize global citizens in this effort. Respondents indicated a deep need — and responsibility — to use their knowledge as power for good with the moral and civic duty to build stronger and healthier communities.

  4. Education is a critical driver of the development of soft skills and emotional readiness that breeds adaptability and resiliency – the absolute currency of the future. In other words, the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior. We know that the world is changing faster than we can keep up with that change. Education forges in individuals the needed adaptability and resiliency to thrive in a fast-moving, constantly shifting world.

Some pitfalls and omissions.

Organize Around These Findings. If these are indeed the key purposes and priorities of an education for the future, educators and educational leaders must be honest about whether they have successfully organized their schools and colleges around such evolved purposes.

Measure and Communicate Your Results. It also becomes critical that their learning endeavors can be tracked, measured and communicated back to those very educational purposes. The public discourse continues to weigh the investment of a formal education and public trust has been in decline in recent years.

Some Sample Bias. Finally, an interesting note on an obvious omission. Did you notice that there was no theme around “getting the best job”, “earning the most money”, or “accessing the best college”? Those are not themes that we heard during the past three months. Our guess is that is simply because our followers possess a sample bias: most of them are educators, not consumers of their craft.

A special thanks to those taking the time to share their thoughts with us.

No Comments

  1. Luke Hladek on October 31, 2023 at 2:49 pm

    Eye-opening, if not unsurprising, results. I’m glad you noted the majority of respondents are from within the education industry, as there tends to be a disconnect between the expectations of consumers and providers. But I do believe communicating PRIOR to measuring results (however we choose to measure such subjective goals like meaningful relationships and soft skills) may be as important as singing praise after the fact. That can help align expectations and evolve mindsets, as well as control the narrative, not to mention move the needle on deeper, less superficial educational worth.

    Thanks to everyone involved in sharing this research and for reinforcing the real purpose behind our work.

  2. Jennifer Phillips on October 31, 2023 at 8:52 pm

    The four themes align with ongoing discussions I have been part of in various educational arenas. Thank you for synthesizing here. You pinpoint an essential pitfall we need to wrestle with: how do we measure and track results in innovative ways? In many senses, we are still measuring the results expected from the distribution of knowledge model. How can better integrate the research of cognitive scientists and psychological studies in the school sphere to teach and measure the development of essential life skills like building intentional relationships and exercising adaptability and resilience? What different questions and problems do we need to challenge students to take on at school?

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