Universities don’t teach as well as they think they do.

December 6, 2019 by Joshua
in Education

A friend once asked why I wanted a PhD in physics, or to become a professor. I told him I wanted to stay in academia because I wanted to keep learning. He responded, “I learn something new every day!”

He worked at a bank. I presumed banks didn’t care about employees except that the did their work.

My dad taught as a tenured professor since I was born. I grew up seeing universities as places to learn—as the places to learn. I saw the business world as crass in comparison. Corporations just worked people for money.

Teaching for years at elite universities and corporations have taught me otherwise, at least in the present. The past may have differed.

Universities are geared to give diplomas. They want students for four years. They mostly want students to learn academic knowledge and skills—abstract analysis, recalling facts, discussing things disconnected from your life. For example, they discuss values in general but not your values. They discuss how to act but don’t teach how to act, which takes practice and rehearsal.

I’m not saying no useful learning happens there. I’m also not counting many other purposes of universities, like extracurriculars like sports and drama. Learning academic skills is less useful outside school than universities believe.

By contrast, corporations that provide training would never provide training that only taught academic skills. Corporations that want training want training that changes employees’ beliefs and behaviors.

I’ve come to view “teaching” that doesn’t lead to behavior change as not teaching. The measure of something changing your life is if it leads you to change your behavior.

No corporation would accept training of lectures to give facts or train you to write papers. The ones that provide meaningful training hire to change behavior, beliefs, and experience. I see them as more geared toward learning.

To clarify, I’m not talking about corporations in general but ones that provide meaningful training, not ones that teach skills not useful outside a specific job. I’m probably ruling out most corporations and corporate training.

I guess I’m specifying corporations that bring people like me in. My point isn’t that corporations teach better than universities, though some do. Only that universities don’t match their reputation and that you can find institutions that surpass them in education.

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1 response to “Universities don’t teach as well as they think they do.

  1. Pingback: One way universities could teach better » Joshua Spodek

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