How to A.D.U.L.T: Do
Editor’s Note: This article, the second in a series about Unbound’s A.D.U.L.T educational model, was first published on Medium.com. You can read the first post in the series here.
Unbound uses an educational framework called ADULT: Ask, Do, Understand, Live, Thrive. In the last post in this series I talked about Ask.
Ask means understanding the reality that the knowledge we need to be successful in our world has fundamentally changed. Instead of knowing lots of answers, we need to know how to ask good questions. In a dynamic, rapidly changing world, the critical academic skill is the ability to learn (QEMCI).
In the ADULT framework, Ask is the underlying framework of ideas. The next letter, “D,” stands for Do. Do is the action-based component of the framework, and that’s what we’re going to explore in this article.
The global shift from an answers-based paradigm to a questions-based paradigm not only transforms education and the way we prepare for the kind of work that we do, it has changed the way we work and the way companies are managed. Specifically, it has changed the pace and the process of business.
In the past, the world was more static and less dynamic. This meant that innovation and change was relatively slow. In this world, theory drove action. New products, new ideas, and new businesses launched slowly. The best practice was to do a lot of research and a lot of planning before launching anything new. Change was expensive and slow, so you wanted to get it right the first time.
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The old way was to carefully and cautiously launch a product, idea, or business after making sure that it perfectly fit the market. Once it was launched, the goal was to make it efficient and then repeat.
Technology disrupts everything.
Today, action drives theory. Anyone who takes the time to cautiously and carefully match new products, ideas, or businesses to the market will find that the market has changed before they can launch. In today’s world, the successful strategy is iterative decision-making.
Iterative decision-making was born in the software world. In software, if you take a long time to perfect your product, you will find that a competitor has already beaten you to the market. In response, software companies started practicing iterative product development. They brought software to market quickly, even before it was perfected, sometimes even with known flaws. Then they continued to fix, perfect, and adapt the software based on customer feedback.
Today, iterative decision-making and iterative product development is the standard for most industries and jobs. This has a major impact on how we work today.
The Knowledge Economy
Before we move on, we need to acknowledge that academics and academic knowledge has an intrinsic value that exceeds practical application for careers and work. Education can be an end in itself, and we need educated and academically trained people to be able to successfully run a Republic. There are certain careers where academic training is absolutely essential. You want your attorney to have the best kind of academic knowledge. You want the engineer who designs bridges that millions of people depend on to have a rigorous education. You definitely want your medical doctor to have spent some time in a traditional classroom. Clearly, some professions and some trades require significant academic knowledge and training. But this is not true of all professions and trades.
As technology accelerated, we entered what many experts called the “knowledge economy.” The common (and incorrect) understanding of the knowledge economy is that everyone needs academic training. If you read my last article, you may recognize this as an answers-based paradigm. The idea was that people with more answers would have some sort of advantage in the knowledge-based economy. But that’s not the way today’s world works.
Answers and information are easily available. We live in a questions-based paradigm. And we live in a world where most jobs need people who are really good at iterative decision-making. They need people who can figure out the problem that was caused by technology disrupting their industry, and who can then figure out the solution and apply that solution to the problem at hand. That kind of knowledge and iterative learning takes a kind of preparation that is different from a strictly academic approach.
An education system based on classrooms and an answers-based paradigm does not prepare students to enter a world that is disrupted by technology and operating on a questions-based paradigm. Working in today’s dynamic world in an iterative decision-making process requires a different kind of educational model. It requires project-based learning.
Project-based learning means an educational model that is built on taking action rather than doing research. It’s a hands-on, learn-on-the-job educational model. Project-based learning assumes that there are three critical skills that are necessary to be successful.
- The entrepreneurial ability to take an idea and turn it into reality.
- The ability to follow, listen, and bring someone else’s idea into reality.
- The leadership ability to lead a team in turning an idea into reality.
The critical word and idea here is reality.
A strictly academic education is based on the old static world where there is time to carefully learn everything that is necessary before taking action. Project-based education is designed for a dynamic world where action drives theory.
In a purely academic education, reality is taught by reading and researching what has been done before, and simulations such as case studies, role-playing, and group projects. Project-based education is built on the idea that the best case study is actually doing the real job, the best role-playing is done by working with real people doing real things, and actual teams doing work are better than group projects.
Project-based learning offers three significant advantages in training and preparing students for work in today’s dynamic world.
First, project-based education offers practical skills. To take an idea from reality means that you have to deal with, well, reality. Reality demands practicality. To bring an idea to life you have to use and develop practical skills. If you’re learning about marketing, this means running a real marketing campaign. If you’re learning about business, this means starting or working in a real business. If you’re learning about graphic design, this means doing work for real clients. If you want to make a living in music, this means playing for a real audience.
Second, project-based education actualizes academics. Academics are important. The argument isn’t that we skip academics, the argument is that certain careers and fields require more than just a purely academic education. In a dynamic world, we rarely have the luxury to study academics in isolation. Instead, in order for academics to be useful, you have to understand how your academic knowledge applies to what you are doing in real life. Project-based education forces you to consider and use your academic training in the real world. This gives you a great opportunity to discover and disregard what isn’t useful and to double down and get passionate about learning what works.
Third, project-based education provides the best laboratory to learn how to quickly and effectively master complicated information (QEMCI). As I argue in my last article, QEMCI is the critical academic skill for today’s world. Project-based education requires students to constantly learn new things and apply what they have learned immediately. It’s the perfect “laboratory” for QEMCI.
Certain jobs and careers in our world require an academic education. All citizens of our Republic should have a solid basic academic understanding and knowledge. However, I would argue that the majority of jobs and opportunities in our world require more than an academic education. They require practical skills and iterative decision-making in order to find solutions in a dynamic world.
Practical Experience and Academic Degrees
That brings us to an interesting question. What kind of credentials are most useful in this kind of world? I would argue that the solution is not always a college degree. There are fields where a college degree is absolutely necessary, and rightfully so. Engineering, medical fields, and certain STEM fields require deep academic knowledge. Still, that leaves the vast majority of jobs in our world open and ready for a different kind of educational credential.
I have hired a lot of marketing people. At this point I count a marketing degree as a liability if you want to get a marketing job. If I see an applicant who has a marketing degree and has just graduated, I know from experience that means that the person in front of me thinks that they know a lot about marketing, when in fact everything that they know is significantly outdated. That means that not only will I have to train them on everything they need to know about marketing, but I will have to do that while overcoming their thought that they already know everything that they need to know about marketing. This will almost certainly be frustrating for both of us.
I would much rather hire somebody who has actual experience doing marketing. Show me you have practical skills. Show me that you have brought a marketing idea into reality. Show me that and I’m highly interested in hiring you and paying you. Show me just a degree and I’ll pass and look for somebody that has practical experience.
I don’t expect a new, entry-level hire to have deep experience, but in today’s world there are endless opportunities for someone to learn marketing skills doing real marketing work before that first “real” marketing job. Build a website for your church, help a friend who is a photographer get more social media followers, write copy for your speech and debate team’s recruiting drive. All of these are far more valuable than sitting in a college class being taught marketing by a professor who earned a masters degree before Facebook existed and has worked for the college teaching classes since MySpace was the hot social media company.
It’s not just me. The Wall Street journal recently reported on the fact that significant companies and states are no longer requiring college degrees for the majority of their positions:
“Companies such as Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Delta Air Lines Inc. and IBM have reduced educational requirements for certain positions and shifted hiring to focus more on skills and experience. Maryland this year cut college-degree requirements for many state jobs — leading to a surge in hiring — and incoming Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro campaigned on a similar initiative.”
For many employers now, and for many more in the future, certification and experience will be a much more powerful and useful credential than a college degree. Happily for students, certificates are much less expensive and time-consuming than a college degree, and most people get paid to gain experience.
This is the dynamic world that we currently live in. A world that is built on a questions-based paradigm. A world that requires people to be able to constantly adjust to change. A world where practical experience is likely to be much more valuable than an academic degree. A world that places a priority on action.
A world that is defined by Do.
Jonathan Brush is the President and CEO of Unbound, a homeschool graduate, and a homeschool dad of six. He worked for nine years as a Director of Admissions for a private, liberal arts college, and then spent over ten years working in non-traditional higher education.
Jonathan loves Unbound and Unbound students and dreams every single day about new ways to connect them to each other. He gets to work with the world’s best team and the most amazing student body in the history of the world (which is just as awesome as it sounds), and field questions about Rule 4 violations (ask an Unbound student to explain). Jonathan and his family make their home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.