Active learning yields knowledge in action

The Chronicle has a nice article reflecting on the deluge of data we’re awash in every day. Specifically, it draws attention to the failure of colleges to adequately prepare graduates for effectively working in and with this data in critical, in-depth ways:

Many employers said their fresh-from-college hires frequently lack deeper and more traditional skills in research and analysis. Instead, the new workers default to quick answers plucked from the Internet. That method might be fine for looking up a definition or updating a fact, but for many tasks, it proved superficial and incomplete.
It turns out that students are poorly trained in college to effectively navigate the Internet’s indiscriminate glut of information.
It goes on to describe what we (employers and a conscientious, civil society) look for, what we need:
While students will always need to think critically and ask the right questions, emerging in this new world is the need for a skill set we call “knowledge in action,” a kind of athletics of the mind aided by Internet-enabled devices, search engines, and pools of data from a wide variety of outlets.
I propose that this knowledge-in-action is a hallmark of a Liberal Arts education. There are several points in Cronon’s “Only Connect” essay that tie into this. “How does one recognize liberally educated people?”
  • They listen and they hear.
  • They read and they understand.
  • They can solve a wide variety of puzzles and problems.
  • They respect rigor not so much for its own sake but as a way of seeking truth.
  • They practice humility, tolerance, and self-criticism.
  • They understand how to get things done in the world.

I see our inter-disciplinary course connections and our theory-into-practice programs as good examples of directly fostering this characteristic, actually prompting students to look substantially at a subject from alternate perspectives and to question perceptions.

And I think it has a lot to do with active learning. The more students are encouraged to bring to the educational experience, the more invested they are in its outcomes, the more likely they are to develop such sophisticated yet essential skills. It’s like dynamic learning leads to dynamic living and working.
I’m also reminded of the saying that 21st century literacy is the ability to learn, unlearn, and relearn.
By Rick Doble (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
By Rick Doble (Own work) [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

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