Individuals in higher education today have to wear a variety of hats, from advisor, to career specialist, recruiter and counselor, to technological guru. Today’s millennial students want their education online, on-demand, and of course on their terms. However when confronted with basic general education courses, whether in the classroom or online, many students do not feel the need for those courses; they fear they will slow down their progress, and their expected graduation time.

new-300x172 Basic Education – DeLorean Style

Anyone who has ever advised students can tell you that just getting students to understand the concept of "what and why" you need general education courses - can be exhausting.

Millennial students are able to adapt to just about any technology you place in front of them, including a variety of gamification systems, social media, and many other forms of integrated technologies. The caveat that is perceived to be gained from all this technology is "instant gratification". General education courses delivered in any format – often baffles new students. Maybe it is just a maturity issue, or emotional maturity for that matter; whatever the case, student’s will balk at general education courses.

Competency-Based Education, which measures your learning, and not the time you invest, that’s becoming the "Big Idea" in higher education. Competency-based education is the disruptive innovation for higher education, and is proving somewhat effective in dealing with the issue of student lag in general educational studies. But to be honest, it is scaring the beegeezes out of some institutions of higher education. It is forcing them to act more like a business expecting a high rate of return, and forcing them to deal with competition which is often fierce - especially with online courses. It is becoming apparent that the academic pie is growing smaller.

How do we unscramble all this technology and competency based testing into a perfect size plate in which to serve students? Maybe it is not so much the size of the plate, but the speed in which students are being served. In the popular 1985 film Back to the Future starring Michael J. Fox as Marty McFly, and Christopher Lloyd as Dr. Emmett Brown, Brown is quoted as saying, “If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour... you're gonna see some serious S#$@!” He was referring to the time machine the DeLorean, being pushed along the tracks by a train.

2729f2a-300x162 Basic Education – DeLorean StyleMaking recommendations to students can be like trying to advise a locomotive coming at you at 88 miles an hour. You have to be quick to speak, think, and react in order to help guide students along their academic pathways or tracks.

If my calculations are correct, when this baby hits eighty-eight miles per hour... you're gonna see some serious S#$@!

From advisor, instructor, to designer, and back again.

With competency-based testing and self-lead learning, Instructional designers are more at liberty to develop academic models that will help influence and guide students to stay focused and engaged. Higher education really is becoming a designer’s forte, where they build the content, provide the necessary evaluations, and redesign as needs and preferences change. This is also partly due to the fact that many designers are cross training in the role of instructional technology and the learning sciences. The educator role has also evolved into that of guide and mentor. While they do work closely with designers, and/or are training to become designers themselves, they are closely at hand to assist the student in staying motivated and in guiding them in the learning discovery process.

Curriculum Development

Helping students to stay focused and engaged in their studies, in a collaborative fashion, and keeping them motivated is 50% of the educational journey. Designing and redesigning the program of study after evaluation is another 40%. Getting students to take that first step (sign up for classes) is the remaining 10%.

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I cannot count the number of times I have had a new student show up for an advising appointment only to learn that the student has signed up for poetry, guitar lessons, and maybe two or three humanities classes. The more the merrier in their eyes! We also must not forget that student who is set on making it through college by taking racquetball classes, tennis, and jogging. While the students’ 3203c91 Basic Education – DeLorean Styleintentions were probably very well and good in their mind, those intentions do not particularly meet with those of the university or college. To quote Dr. Emmett Brown from Back to the Future again, “Marty, you can't go losing your judgment every time someone calls you a name. That's exactly what causes you to get into that accident in the future”.

Marty, you can't go losing your judgment every time someone calls you a name. That's exactly what causes you to get into that accident in the future.

It is the same concept as Dr. Brown is discussing, students have to learn to dial inthose future thinking thoughts, and get back to the reality of today. There is not going to be that instant gratification that they were hoping for, or anticipating. Academia requires work, and that requires the student to have a certain level of focus and self-determination. It is important that students be allowed to make mistakes, and that is all part of the competency based approach. It’s taking one concept at a time, building on those concrete skills that will help them better prepare for abstract learning in their core and upper level courses later on.

I am no Doc Brown, and I am certainly no Marty Mcfly either. What I am is an adviser/designer who has witnessed the basic educational struggles of her former students – DeLorean Style. I have witnessed a few train wrecks as well, but nothing that was not salvageable.