THE HUMANITIES OF WORK: Towards a New Experiential Learning

Colleges, universities, and other organizations are currently investing plenty of dollars in spaces to deploy experiential learning—but mostly of the hands-on variety, and with the intention of polishing students’ career-readiness AFTER college. Absent from this effort seems to be enhancing student performance in the college classroom. What can we deduce from this?

It’s more of an institutional concern than an academic one.

And if we’re not careful, colleges and universities can become merely outsourcers of workplace thinking, and the impression on campuses could be that such efforts are purely STEM-oriented.

But such an approach would be mistaken, especially amid recent forecasts that Liberal Arts and Humanities will be driving forces of corporate thinking in generations to come. The automation of manufacturing jobs, and even finance, promises to make a dent over the next generation.

Experiential learning, defined as learning by reflection or though experience, doesn’t always require a hands-on component; it’s meant also to advance situational problem-solving techniques that employers apparently crave in college graduates.

While pockets of pre-secondary schools are finding ways to promote non-linear thinking amid their respective test crazes, post-secondary classrooms—in their recent outcomes boom—are playing catch-up with fostering innovate assignments meant to be more situational than prescribed.

The strongest way forward would be to align our English, philosophy, and foreign language programs with the recent focus on campus-wide workforce development.

How can this be done?

For one, philosophy programs can focus on assignments that align more to workplace conflict of interests and situations likely to be encountered in various corporate and non-profit settings. Nursing students tell me all the time that their courses in ethics were instrumental to their development, and we should consider how business and accounting students who sit in a Philosophy 101 can derive similar benefits.

Foreign language programs can speak to companies that regularly target large non-native English speaking populations, and derive assignments and curriculum that give students practical experience meeting consumer needs in a workplace setting. Increased review of documents like mortgages or apartment leases, or even more conversational scenarios like scheduling a doctor’s appointment, can be done NOT just in ELL programs, but with a secondary language focus.

English and literature-based programs, as well, can and should focus on more than just comma splices. Does every board room have an Iago? How can a microscopic focus on the elements of daily work abstract out to larger statements and sentiments which formulate how the work is done and what the work means? These are questions the poems, stories and drama we ruthless interrogate can and should push. Imagine papers are presentations that connect modern companies and political players to Shakespeare’s characters, for instance.

Such approaches—at the assignment level—can remind all of us that the humanities and workplace applicability are not opposing values.

THE HUMANITIES OF WORK: Towards a New Experiential Learning

Thanks for sharing!