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What Serving Adult Learners Can Teach Us

The following is based on an article by Lee Bash, What Serving Adult Learners Can Teach Us: The Entrepreneurial Response.

Bash challenges the idea that entrepreneurialism in the delivery of education is harmful to the culture of higher education. Giving a brief background overview of the history of entrepreneurialism in higher education, Bash notes that the term is often used pejoratively on campus to denounce any new idea that threatens to change the culture of the ivory tower - even if it's practical or cost effective, and even when it's likely to protect (or at least sustain) at-risk departments and programs.

According to the author, to be entrepreneurial in the delivery of education means to be current - to "understand their students' needs and orientations" - and by doing so, institutions can remain competitive. Bash highlights the differences between "endgame" and lifelong learning, and points out that in order to attract lifelong learners, institutions must remain current in order to offer students services that remain attractive through the years. Furthermore, how can universities expect their students to learn the skills needed for life-long learning if that ability is not present within the institution?

The focus on lifelong learners has also opened up the market for adult learners, and Bash notes that "some estimates suggest that as many as 47 percent of all students enrolled in higher education are over 25 years old". The introduction of adult learners into the market has revolutionized higher education institutions, and this transformation is exemplified in the increasing number of "for-profit institutions and the emergence of corporate universities".

In Bash's estimation, continuing education programs are particularly vulnerable to the challenge of stagnation because "they tend to be institutionally marginalized and lack the financial security of more established programs". Because of this, "their very existence relies on their flexibility, responsiveness, and willingness to think less conventionally. They are constantly forced to address the challenges they face with creativity and innovation - in other words, to be entrepreneurial".

For Bash, the impact of competition and reduced funding for institutions will be a redefinition of success within educational institutions, namely that "success will be tied to a school's ability to be responsive to the needs of students who see themselves as customers".

In order to respond to these needs, Bash suggests that there are a number of actions that must be taken. Institutions must avail themselves of available technology in order to stay current as well as prepare students for the realities of the technically driven work environment. Distance learning is also an important consideration, as is the need for learner-centred approaches and accelerated learning and assessment.

To conclude, Bash states that the status quo is no longer acceptable in the delivery of higher education. Rather than a "boiling frog" approach, institutions must adopt the principles of entrepreneurialism in order to survive.

Bash, L. (2002). What Serving Adult Learners Can Teach Us: The Entrepreneurial Response. Change, 35 (1), 32-37.

Access the full article through EBSCOHOST on the RRU library website