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A new kind of learning

How area colleges are adapting to the future C-suiters

(page 1 of 3)

From the pages of In Business magazine.

Wisconsin is being challenged like never before by an aging workforce, and when that soon-to-retire demographic — in most cases baby boomers — involves C-suiters the question becomes: Where will future leaders come from?

Savvy businesses may already have a succession plan in place, but many do not. A recent study from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development predicts that in the next 10 years the state will need to add or replace as many as 1 million workers. Knowing that, programs have been implemented to retrain and match workers in jobs for the future, but just as important is attracting and retaining the younger set, those under 30 who don’t necessarily want to fit into the same mold as their parents but who may one day be running companies. Are they out there? Will they have the determination to earn the big jobs?

How people learn has always been at the forefront of college curriculums. In this discussion about executive education, one thing is clear: Education as many of us knew it is a thing of the past, as institutions try to accommodate a new breed of student.

Advising the educators

“If you went to college 20 or 30 years ago, you’d be surprised now because you’ll see small-group tables, computers, and white boards for presentations,” reports Kim Hollman, business management instructor at Madison College. “The delivery of the material and the development of that knowledge has changed significantly over the years.”

Several times a year, Madison College taps into an advisory board comprised of local and state employers to help determine how its curriculum can better churn out the workers businesses are looking for. Programs are revised every year or two with the focus being active learning versus lectures.

“We’re preparing future managers, supervisors, and executives by giving them more real-life applications in the classroom,” Hollman says.

The technical school has offered online and accelerated courses for years, but growing demand is also forcing change as students seek convenience and flexibility in how and when they study. The students fit a different profile as well, Hollman notes. “I’d say the majority of our students are not in the 18 to 21 age group.” The recession had a lot to do with that, she explains, noting an influx of returning, working adults.

Madison College offers courses in a variety of formats: online, accelerated (earn three credits in six to eight weeks), and the traditional 16-week course. Distance learning is also available through Telepresence, which connects students across multiple campuses. “From an employer’s standpoint, Telepresence is a great thing because students work with people who are not even in the same location as they are in, and they work in groups even though they might be physically located in three different cities.”

The technology used in online courses allows educators to appear “live” to maintain the classroom feel. “In almost all online courses, there is a healthy amount of discussion and group work occurring,” says Hollman, who records herself every week giving instruction or feedback. “Just because I have an online class doesn’t mean I’m not calling [my students] and talking to them.”

Hollman says the advisory board companies are seeking individuals who are aware of industry trends, can work in groups, and apply critical thinking. They want employees who can be more persuasive, present an unbiased argument, and sell their thoughts. They’re also frustrated by a lack of good writing skills.

In response, Madison College has significantly increased the amount of written and oral communication skill sets it is providing its students, many of whom are older working adults who may be changing careers or just getting back into the workforce.
“The advisory boards help us keep the pulse on what the needs are today and what they will be in the future. We’re continually changing the curriculum to meet those needs.”


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