Emerging opportunities for wired professions Featured

7:01am EDT April 24, 2006
When I was pursuing my bachelor’s degree, I remember taking copious notes from textbooks and during lectures supported by overheads and chalkboards. And that really wasn’t very long ago. When I was pursuing my master’s degree, curriculum delivery and educational assessments had already changed drastically. The trend is not only continuing — it is accelerating.

These days, most classrooms have evolved well beyond overhead projectors and transparencies in favor of computers and PowerPoint presentations. One interactive CD can replace an entire wall of encyclopedias. Some professors even offer live video streaming and podcasts of their lectures. And many colleges and universities are offering entire courses or programs over the Internet.

In part two of this series, I’d like to share a few dynamic ways technology is rapidly changing the field of education. In the process, the change in education is keeping up with — and in some cases, even preceding — advancements in the business world, suggesting a strong link between the two realms.

E-books and online libraries
The educational environment at the University of Phoenix (and other schools that have made similar strides) more accurately approximates the environments our students encounter in the workplace.

Variations of online learning, like Web-based training, are a staple of many companies’ employee development programs. The ability to deliver material online helps reduce the cost of such programs and can help increase their effectiveness.

Likewise, more in-depth academic curriculum and materials can be effectively delivered electronically. One major contributor to that effectiveness is the implementation of e-textbooks, a more advanced and cost-effective solution to traditional textbooks.

These e-books make key text available to students in a number of user-friendly ways including Palm Pilot uplink, mobile phone downloads, online viewing and PDF formatting. Students still have the ability to print copies if they wish.

Some schools like the University of Phoenix have developed an extensive, state-of-the-art library consisting of digitized books and the most up-to-date information. At the core is a collection of 72 online databases that can be accessed by students and faculty from virtually any location where an Internet connection is available.

Next-generation education models
Many seasoned professionals have looked at a new hire and think, “They may have good intentions, but they just don’t know how things work in the real world.” New learning programs are now challenging that school of thought.

More and more students are being exposed to advanced interactive learning simulations that give students real-world, professional scenarios that take the “choose your own adventure” concept to a high-tech — and highly effective — level. The programs require students not only to identify business problems, but also to analyze alternatives, recommend solutions and defend their decisions.

Computer-based interactive tools and business simulations help students to make decisions in a learning environment where they receive immediate feedback. The simulations adapt to the skill level of the learner, and participants may repeat the process using a variety of scenarios to determine the best outcome. This ability to determine “what if” in a relatively risk-free environment encourages exploration and learning.

Many universities now realize that, in order for students to make “real-world” decisions, they will need to rely on realistic data. Through programs such as “Virtual Organizations,” available at some local universities, students are able to view mock company Internet and intranet sites. Programs are worked out via simulated e-mail chains that mirror the most popular business communication channels.

Marketing trends
The advent of the Internet has dramatically changed how businesses market themselves. The same is becoming increasingly true for educational institutions, both traditional and nontraditional.

More consumers are receiving e-mails promising instant degrees if we fill out a simple form and pay a few hundred dollars. It’s part of a growing and disturbing trend. In fact, the National Consumers League estimates that Americans lost nearly $13.8 million due to Internet fraud in 2005. Furthermore, a recent Consumer Reports “WebWatch” study found that Internet users assess the credibility of sites based more on visual appearance than any other factor.

As business leaders, you will naturally want to research the educational background of your new hires. You’ll also want to carefully research your options for any continuing education courses you decide to take on your own. You might even be in the position to approve or reject options for your employees. Beware of sound-alike universities, and watch out for schools that offer degrees in a matter of weeks or months or for “life experience.”

ERIC ZIEHLKE is campus director for the University of Phoenix-Columbus Campus. The University of Phoenix is the nation’s largest private university, with over 230,000 students at more than 150 campuses in the United States, Canada, Puerto Rico and Mexico. Reach him at Eric.Ziehlke@phoenix.edu or (614) 433-0095.