Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Learning Partnerships Model: The Future of University

With rising costs of higher education, more and more students are getting attracted to Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). MOOCs are cheaper and provide almost the same content knowledge to students as they would get from a course taught in a college classroom. Besides cheaper education, MOOCs also help students get past the barriers of time synchronization and co-location. While being enrolled in a MOOC class, a student does not need to be present at a fixed location during a fixed time. They can access the course content any time and from any location according to their convenience. This is why MOOCs are becoming more popular each day to the extent that some universities ask their on-campus students to take online courses. I myself have taken a 3-credit graduate level online course at Virginia Tech as the professor who teaches the course (or rather prepares the online material and coordinates its delivery) is not present on the main campus of the university.

If a student can learn the same content at cheaper price and with more convenience, it is reasonable to argue that their inclination to attend a physical university will go down. In such a case, the reasons for which a student might want to attend a university would change in future. Universities will have to move beyond the information-transfer model to something which will add value to students, and something which cannot be learned through MOOCs.

In the book Learning Partnerships: Theory and Models of Practice to Educate for Self-authorship (edited by Baxter Magolda and King), Marcia B Baxter Magolda notes the 21st century college education should help students develop systemic thinking, enable them to critically analyze the knowledge claims made by the authority instead of merely accepting it, help them construct their own knowledge and beliefs, and prepare them to be open to new possibilities. These skills will help students grow into “effective citizens” who can take ethical actions for the good of not just the individual but the society as a whole. In order to achieve the goal of developing students into effective citizens, Baxter Magolda suggests universities should create learning environments that help students attain three learning outcomes:  cognitive maturity, integrated identity, and mature relationships. Cognitive maturity refers to the ability to take mature and reflective decisions while problem solving. Integrated identity refers to the ability to make independent decisions, understand one’s own culture and backgrounds, and choose one’s goals and values. Mature relationship is linked with respecting others’ beliefs and identities, and integrating the diverse perspective brought by others with one’s own. Figure 1 depicts an integrated model of the three learning outcomes which universities should help students attain.

Figure 1.  An integrated model of university/college learning outcomes [1]

Baxter Magolda further suggests that these learning outcomes can be attained by employing the learning partnerships model (as shown in Figure 2) in the universities. A learning environment based on the learning partnerships model conveys knowledge as complex and socially constructed and situates learning in learner’s experiences. Depicting knowledge as complex validates learner’s capacity to learn. Situating learning in learner’s experiences conveys the idea that self is vital for knowledge construction. Such a learning environment helps students develop cognitive maturity and integrated identity. Finally, in order to help students develop mature relationships, the learning environment portrays authority and expertise as shared, and learning as mutually constructing meaning.

Figure 2. The learning partnerships model [2]

For universities to become the “centers for learning” in the true sense of the terms, I think, they need to move toward creating a learning environment based on the learning partnerships model. Such a learning environment will produce graduates who not only have the required knowledge to do a job but also are able to make ethical decisions for the good of humankind while executing the job.

[1] Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2004). Self-authorship as the common goal of 21st-century education. In M. B. B. Magolda & P. M. King (Eds.), Learning partnerships: Theory and models of practice to educate for self-authorship (pp. 1–35). Stylus Publishing, LLC.
[2] Baxter Magolda, M. B. (2004). Learning partnerships model. In M. B. B. Magolda & P. M. King (Eds.), Learning partnerships: Theory and models of practice to educate for self-authorship (pp. 37–62). Stylus Publishing, LLC.

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