It’s Time to Get Rid of Teaching and Learning: Education as Talent Development

talent development

This is a short but very insightful post by David Rosen, President of the Kendall College of Art and Design, in which he makes a number of very important points about learning and work in the 21st century. He raises key questions, such as “Where is knowledge?” and “Where does learning take place?”

Essentially, he invites us to re-imagine education as talent development in which educators should behave like those who help children learn how to walk: By providing orientation and guidance rather than examples and instructions.

We should encourage learners and workers to assume the shape of a T,

someone whose narrow specialty is shaped by an open and malleable ecosystem of diverse knowledge.

Tim Brown, CEO of IDEO, one of the leading design firms in the world, elaborates on T-shaped stars as the backbone of IDEO’s collaborative culture:

T-shaped people have two kinds of characteristics, hence the use of the letter “T” to describe them. The vertical stroke of the “T” is a depth of skill that allows them to contribute to the creative process. That can be from any number of different fields: an industrial designer, an architect, a social scientist, a business specialist or a mechanical engineer. The horizontal stroke of the “T” is the disposition for collaboration across disciplines. It is composed of two things. First, empathy. It’s important because it allows people to imagine the problem from another perspective- to stand in somebody else’s shoes. Second, they tend to get very enthusiastic about other people’s disciplines, to the point that they may actually start to practice them. T-shaped people have both depth and breadth in their skills. [emphases added]

Here are some very similar talent management lessons from the world’s most valuable firm, Apple.

This combination of depth and breadth of skill, creativity and disposition for cross-disciplinary collaboration with empathy and enthusiasm constitutes excellent education, as we have frequently discussed on this blog. The key is that the specialization itself is developed hand-in-hand with – and therefore is shaped by – the capacity and disposition for cross-disciplinary collaboration. Students and workers have to know how their specialty fits into the larger world around them. And they cannot know once and for all as the world is constantly changing, which is why lifelong learning is so essential.

This definition of talent development happens to be very similar to what may well be the most useful definition of global competence as the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance.

When we combine those two definitions we gain a powerful understanding of honors education to guide our theory and practice: Honors education cultivates lifelong transdisciplinary and transformative learning that develops talent and global competence. The better we develop talent in a global context, the better prepared learners will be to succeed personally, professionally, and as citizens in the globalizing 21st century.

Rosen argues that while “industry craves talent,” higher education is not ready for the paradigm shift a new focus on talent development would require to meet that demand. Making talent development the new organizing principle “for everyone and everything” runs into vested interests tied to professional identity.

This also raises the more fundamental question of how to re-educate the educators, and how to switch the emphasis from knowledge to ignorance as the driver of science. What could be effective incentives, given how much time, effort and money educators have invested in their own education, and given just how much un- and re-learning would be required? If higher education does not make more progress towards talent development, does it risk widening the gap between what it has to offer and what the world demands?

Here are the relevant excerpts from Rosen’s post:

The problem isn’t that education is learner-centered or place-based, like snow shoveling or the other type of shoveling wiseacres talk about happening in college. The problem is that it’s not about developing talent. Developing talent is our new work. Industry craves talent, but responding to this craving would create a paradigm shift that higher education, one of the most conservative businesses on earth, is not ready for.

Ready to hear a dirty little secret that no one wants to talk about? Educators (even learning-centered educators) are in love with their own knowledge. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing on its own, but when you consider that an educator’s power, prestige, and even their very identity is born from the knowledge they possess, you can recognize it as a millstone around the neck of change. An educator’s knowledge is their stock, and as such the learning process is a form of investment by the student that causes the value of that stock to rise.

Why then would colleges, those repositories of learning, storehouses of wisdom, trash heaps of history, ever embrace a system that would devalue that stock? Who wants to give up their authority? Who wants to admit to a lifetime of teaching something that is not valuable or important? Who wants to undermine all the years invested in the development of their identity? Forget the raging debate over new and experimental educational models. These are the questions and reservations that truly define our august community. [emphases added]

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