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LSBR, UK - Higher Education - Cultural Change in Learning

Cultural Change in Learning

According to Richard Keeling and Richard Hersh, there is a need for a paradigm shift in priorities across higher education. Academic quality and intensity of study get too little attention in comparison to rankings and student promotion.

Cultural Change in Learning

Higher education in America is in jeopardy, a lot of college graduates are unable to think critically and creatively, speak and write reasonably and convincingly, understand complex issues, accept responsibility and accountability, listen to other ideas or meet expected targets of employers. This is so wrong. How did the American Higher education system become this way when the rest of the world looks up to her as the best?

The only explanation for this academic degradation is the lack of a serious culture of teaching and learning. The inability of students to learn is perceived as the result of a poorly delivered education. Every institution that is worth its quality should be able to deliver a sound education in character and learning. Resolving the learning crises would, therefore, require thorough and fundamental changes in our colleges and universities. There must be wholesome and real changes that go beyond simplistic answers like merely reducing cost or improving efficiency to improve quality and value.

What is needed is non-incremental change; to make higher learning a reality, we as a nation must undertake a comprehensive review of the entire undergraduate higher education and introduce reforms in universities and colleges.

In our society, and higher education a learning culture is of utmost importance our K-12 schooling has been reduced to a basic skill acquisition program that effectively leaves most students unprepared for college-level learning, bachelor degree have been reduced to a mere avenue of getting a job (though today that avenue does not get you to any reasonable position). The academy has adopted an increasingly consumer-based ethic that has produced a costly and dangerous effect: the expectation and standards of a rigorous education have been displaced by tiny disguised professional or job training curriculum. Teaching and learning have been devalued, de-prioritised, and replaced by an emphasis on magazine rankings; an increased admission and enrolments, bigger and better facilities, more revenues from side businesses, and the hunt for research grants have all replaced learning as a primary standard for decision making.

Teaching is rapidly losing its prestige, seemingly contracted professors have little or no motivation to spend time with undergraduate and impact knowledge, let alone evaluate the progress of their students. The focus is more on retaining students to maintain budgets with little or no attention being given to hard work on the students’ part as well. On the contrary, students are rewarded with grades for minimal effort to keep the institutions populated. This neither improves the student’s disposition to learning nor does it prepare them for employment or citizenship. We need to rethink and reevaluate our higher education values.


The current culture shared norms, values, standards, expectations, and priorities of teaching and learning are not well-positioned to support higher education learning. This has resulted in ill-equipped students in character and learning. There is some sort of integrated, holistic, rigorous, and developmental experience that is expected of undergraduate education.

At the moment, questions are not asked of the standard for fear of conflict with consumer-friendliness. Our standards are not high enough (setting them high will create retention crises). Lazy and hogwash students are permitted to bring less energy and determination to their academic work and therefore they demand less from their lecturers. Regrettably, this attitude seems to be condoned in most high institution of learning, doing otherwise would be said to be more serious and less fun. Degrees are issued out like packs of candies because we are no longer willing to demand hard work and excellence from our students.

All the possible wrong opportunities are created by a wrong educational culture when student’s time is not put to proper use and time is wasted in the absence of any expectation of a reasonable standard of education and learning low and less demanding peer norm becomes dominant.

In peer culture, time spent on assignments, reading, and reflection must be limited too much if it affects the student’s social value. It has been established that students who abuse substances like alcohol and recreational drugs which should affect their short-term memories are likely to pass with good grades and obtain their bachelorette in flying colours. Residents halls of the universities are not conducive enough for serious students to study, write, reflect, and think. The damaging accommodation in these higher education needs to be reconsidered. And to do so a rigorous identifying, evaluating, and challenging of the present situation has to be effected immediately. What do you refer to as damaging accommodation? Damaging accommodation refers to the misappropriation of funding and allocates a greater percentage of institutional resources to infrastructures, individuals, activities, and programs that do not contribute directly to the development and transformative learning that is required in higher education.

We refer to the erroneous prioritising of brand and marketing above educational programs and academic qualities as a means of attracting students and increasing enrolment. We refer to the humongous resources wasted in building new and attractive buildings as opposed to inducing good-spirited teachers to handle the all-important first and second-year courses.

We refer to the assumption that retention is just keeping the students longer in the school without regard for the quality of education and learning they are getting and the resultant graduation outcome.

We refer to the culture of promoting intercollegiate sports programs to the detriment of students who are not athletes.

By our attitude to education, institutional practice, and policies, proper teaching, and learning have become rocket science rather than the universal expectation and norm across the campuses. Similarly, we allow regalities to undermine the motivation and the determination of students to aspire for intellectual growth and aggrandisement. In many ways, being a good student is commendable. We intend to allow disinterest to dominate students’ already on a wholesome approach to courses and faculty.


The collective assertions that higher education has become a mere business with corporate character is not the main point of concern, the problem is that learning has become a secondary concern in most of our colleges and universities, and the culture formation, as a result, create fear of learning among students. Isolated examples to the contrary exist but are only the exemptions that prove the rule. Many if not most of the leaders of the colleges and universities agree with the assessment of the problem but argue most likely that a single institution cannot change the trend without the risk of losing out completely. Therefore, the collective effort of many institutions of higher learning would be needed as well as a nationwide resolution to find a lasting solution. In our determination to initiate a rethink, and create the serious systematic changes required to bring higher education to what it is supposed to be, four things are required.

  1. The widespread acceptance and application of a new and better touchstone for decision making in higher education. A touchstone is a criterion or basic standard of judging something, in higher education, their touchstone must be quality and quantity of learning. A touchstone and a clear consensual framework link our advocacy for change to a powerful set of ideas, commitments, and principles against which to test current policies, practices, and proposals for refund.
  2. Total reconsideration and revaluation of the core values of undergraduate education based on principles of hard work must form the basis of discussion nationally, and within the four walls of the universities. This must be given a holistic approach.
  3. The leadership of higher education is supposed to be led by the academy, supported by a board of trustees, higher education professional organisations, and regional accrediting bodies, they are to drive the implementations needed. A robust and transparent idea based on collective discussions by the university community will improve the quality and quantity of learning.
  4. The efficacy of institutions has to be measured intricately by their learning standards. The formative assessment of learning should become an integral part of instruction in courses and other learning experiences of all types, and the summative assessment of learning, at the individual student course, program, and institution level should be benchmarked, against a high clear public standard.

There is a tendency that when the rethink is driven by public discussion, it is more likely to succeed in process and result and less likely to cause harm, other than when the process of rethink is forcefully initiated by national policies, legislative and regulatory authorities. In the absence of significant reform, the dissatisfaction of parents, employers, alumni, and elected officials are not likely to decline.

Systematic problems require systematic solutions and so also do cultural problems. The sector that starts a conversation on what problems the higher educations have and how to resolve it is interested in solving this problem. This all-important discussion should be spear headed by the university committee themselves before it gets to the table of the government. However, it should be extensively discussed at multiple levels, in many places, and over a long period. The national discussion would provide context, direction, and motive but the workability of this discussion starts when individual colleges of higher learning and colleagues in the universities get practically involved in proffering solutions. The desired change which is restoring institutions of higher learning to higher education will not be achieved unless it is a multilayered and multifaceted discussion and process starting from the university campuses. If the desired changes occur in the important places of interest, learning will return to being the touchstone of decision-making and academic based rigorous learning and assessment would be used to grade the institutions. The degree of colleges and universities will once again be earned as a result of rigorous and befitting learning and not given out as entitlement. Then we will begin to see faculties pay more attention to learning and assessment as against instructions and credit hours. This will enable the colleges and universities to provide data and information required to assess their values so that prospective students, parents, accrediting organisations, donors, and the general public can assess their values. The graduating students, on the other hand, will be equipped with the requisite knowledge and skills needed to thrive in the highly competitive global market environment. These desired cultural changes will no doubt disrupt the entire spectrum of higher learning and it has to be so, to bring the change that will uniquely restore higher learning to higher education while preserving extraordinary diversity. Unless this is done, a more disruptive change that will not be in the best interest of institutional diversity is more likely to occur.

Richard P. Keeling is principal, and Richard H. Hersh is senior consultant, for Keeling & Associates, a higher education consulting practice. They are authors of the recent book, We’re Losing Our Minds: Rethinking American Higher Education (Palgrave Macmillan, 2011), from which this essay is partly excerpted by London School of Business and Research, UK students.

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