How does a person learn?
The desire to gather knowledge remains a strong part of being human, even as the world continues to change. Past generations lacked technology and yet they learned. Today, students use laptops and cellphones and they continue to learn.
Regardless of the generation, the fundamentals remain. Students pursue higher education to discover and process the information they need to move forward with their lives. Successful students always need focus and self-discipline, regardless of the modality or era in which they study.
Students now coming from high school to college have a background far different from their parents and grandparents. These students grew up using technology and a wide variety of media platforms to gain immediate access to any and all information.
Technology is a positive enhancement for today's students, whether they are traditional or nontraditional in age. For example, online classes provide greater access to education for students who physically cannot come to a college campus.
The challenge facing today's students is higher expectations. As future leaders, they will be expected to process information quickly to make precise decisions. But they are bombarded every minute of every day with new information that comes from all corners of the nation and world. They are often sidetracked by the wealth of information and media constantly surrounding them.
This means educators must capture and hold the attention of distracted learners. We must help these students learn how to analyze the vast amount of information at their fingertips, place it into proper context and make intelligent decisions that will satisfy the expectations placed upon them to be successful in their careers and lives.
The information age has brought with it the notion of individualization, where education moves away from mere instruction to a process of facilitation, which lends itself well to the distracted learner.
At College of DuPage, we can target individuals through smaller class sizes, service learning opportunities and clubs that involve students in a way as freshmen and sophomores that may not occur at larger, four-year universities. These kinds of opportunities help students focus and process the information in front of them.
Students at a community college also have more leeway to sample classes to discover their interests and future careers. The key here is to keep these students from becoming so distracted by the many options that they cannot settle upon a major.
College of DuPage is in the process of implementing guided pathways, a concept that may not be new but is quickly gaining traction at educational institutions around the country.
By creating easy-to-follow, college-level programs of study and redesigning support services and instructional approaches, guided pathways help students clarify their goals and enter defined paths that will help them achieve these goals. Currently, we are beginning the process and will have more news about this exciting initiative as the year unfolds.
I am optimistic about the new generation of learners. It is a great time for expression of individual creativity, and this generation is eager and ready to cut through the distractions in order to become thoughtful and engaged.
We must be ready to help them understand that cellphones, laptops and social media are tools that enhance their lives rather than replace important skills such as face-to-face conversations and authentic friendships.
We must emphasize the healthy positives of exploring ideas and effective ways of sharing points of views in order to be heard and understood.
Methods of education may change over time, but the desire for knowledge will remain even amid the many distractions that modern-day life throws at students. The partnership between faculty and students and their shared obligation is an extraordinary model that will always provide a solid foundation for teaching and learning.
Education is a goal and necessity that will always be pursued. It enhances the human experience, adds to our dignity and supports a democratic society.
College of DuPage is more than ready to meet all challenges through our adaptability and inventiveness that can help students navigate toward success.
• Ann Rondeau is president of the College of DuPage. Her column appears monthly during the school year.