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Colleges: Traditional vs. Unconventional

Did you know that the word "college", as in one definition supplied by Webster's Ninth New Collegiate dictionary, is "a group of persons considered by law to be a unit." That's easy enough to take in. I doubt that anyone would find much disagreement with that statement. However, there are differences in colleges -- often very pronounced differences -- in curriculum, based on traditional approaches to learning vs. more unconventional, or unstructured styles. Ever since the times of the philosopher and educator, Rousseau, questioned the theory that education is not the imparting of knowledge but the drawing out of what is already in the student, there have been both types of higher institutions of learning.

While a number of educational theorists have stressed the benefits of an unstructured or "open" educational environment, others assert that a highly structured learning experience is most likely to produce better educational success. So, the question becomes, can student interest alone supply a structure for higher education, or must it be imposed by an educator? Welcome to the debate that continues today, and, if current trends are any indication, they will continue. The good thing is that this is not an official "argument" among educators by any means; there are simply differently recognized ways of learning while also enjoying the college social environment. Some research has suggested that students learn more if they are actively engaged with the material they are studying. This self-paced kind of curriculum conconsists of website learning, independent study, and mock "on-the-job" scenarios, which include students actively participating in the given material.

By contrast, much can be said of the traditional side of higher learning, in which students, though always encouraged to participate in classroom discussions or events, are largely listening, absorbing, and taking notes on what the instructor is teaching. The styles are so widely varied, even in subcategories of each module, because educators have learned this for certain: To help college students learn, they must be prepared to offer courses that are more "personality-driven" than the old one-room-schoolhouse plan. In effect, teachers and professors are also engaged in learning -- learning more about how to best teach and prepare programs of study for individual students; a relatively fresh approach that considers not only SAT scores and entrance exams, but personality tests administered prior to entry. The world of education, even on the higher learning level, is indeed changing, and if administrators want to bump up the dropout rate, they realize they must structure this "group of persons considered by law to be a unit" into a plethora of opportunities for learning. And the great thing about this ongoing process is that students are far more involved in the "style" of education they receive; it has become a world of "student centered learning," as opposed to "teacher-centered." In either case, you can certainly rest assured there will always be a need for teachers -- those who have studied extremely hard to then take upon themselves a position of great virtue, courage, and hard work.


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