In a typical college course, the student is graded (and almost always passes, usually with an A) and then forgets most of the material. Much expense of time and money for little lasting gain.
Now consider the training that people who want to do scuba diving have to go through. It’s repetitive, with a single focus on mastering the things you need to know if you’re going to do something that’s dangerous. It works. There are very few diving injuries.
In today’s Martin Center article, Preston Cooper of the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity compares the two learning experiences. He’s been through both college and scuba certification and writes, “The certification process couldn’t be more different from traditional higher ed. When a life is on the line, the material must be accessible and memorable. Not so for a college class.”
If scuba were taught like college, Cooper says, many divers wouldn’t come back.
The big difference is that scuba training, and many other kinds of learning-by-doing, ensures that the student really knows something, whereas college classes don’t. True, there is signaling value in getting through college courses — that you’re able to manage yourself in a learning environment. But it’s a very inefficient way of doing that. Internships and apprenticeships are better.
Cooper concludes, “Professors are understandably wary of rote repetition, but it’s often the best way to learn, as high employer demand for apprentices and former interns demonstrates. Colleges and universities could learn something from trade schools, whether they teach advanced manufacturing or scuba diving.”
My view is that we would have much more in the way of scuba-type learning and less college if the federal government had not started to subsidize the latter.
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