Professor: Here’s what I learned from SXSWedu

From learning VERSUS career outcomes to learning AND career outcomes.

career-sxsw-professorThere was one contradictory trend at this year’s SXSWedu that’s quickly becoming a hot topic for many colleges and universities.

This year’s SXSWedu—a Conference and Festival invites educators from different spaces—featured high profile opening and closing speakers such as Charles Best, founder of, Goldie Hawn and Sal Khan, as well as a lineup of programming centered around the themes of social and mobile learning, entrepreneurialism in education and big data and learning analytics, among others.

As I reflect back on the conference, there were some contradictory trends that I noticed which made me pause and reflect on my role as a faculty member in the Rossier School of Education at the University of Southern California.

While some presentations (Disrupting the Disruption in Higher Education) looked at prioritizing job skills in higher education as potentially “anti-intellectual,” Matt Sigelman from Burning Glass Technologies (Not Just Learning Outcomes, Career Outcomes) presented how to stronger align higher education with job and career-aligned skills. The ideas he presented ranged from “evolutionary” steps such as adding external experiences to existing degrees (e.g., an anthropology student gaining robust Excel skills to make oneself more marketable) to revolutionary or “disruptive” ways such as organizing existing courses into new programs customized for specific market opportunities.

(Next page: Making sense of the dichotomy between education and training)

Rossier School of Education is a professional graduate school at the University of Southern California with non-traditional students who seek to learn and advance their careers; this brings up a potential dichotomy between education and training.

The difference between the two is important.

Generally, education is the knowledge of “why” while training focuses on the knowledge of “how.” Typically, education involves textbooks and articles rich with peer-reviewed references while training involves job-aids such as visuals that enable a learner to quickly access the necessary information to perform a task. But do education and training need to be a dichotomy?

We embed both education and training into our scholar-practitioner-oriented programs such as the new Doctor of Education (EdD) in Organizational Change and Leadership . In designing courses in an area such as learning and motivation, we base instruction on an understanding of solidly researched theories.

From that foundation, we advance to the theory-based learning and motivation principles and next to principle-driven strategies. For example, self-efficacy theory (Bandura, 1986) tells us that learning and motivation are enhanced when learners have positive expectancies for success. Our students gain a robust understanding of the theory, including ways to assess learner self-efficacy. This is the education, scholarly component.

However, in order to support the development of scholar-practitioners, we provide our students with opportunities to apply strategies that facilitate the development of self-efficacy. One strategy based on theory and principles is that in order to promote higher levels of self-efficacy, learners need to engage in goal-directed practice, coupled with frequent, specific and private feedback. We know that providing the theory-based foundation is critical, but unless students apply the principles and strategies, transfer to practice does not occur.

One of our ways of ensuring that our students are prepared to be effective scholar-practitioners in their intended field of practice is to provide them with “toolkits” that combine the theoretical foundation, principles and strategies. Calling it a job-aid would be a simplification, although the intent in fact is to provide an external repository that supports practice, similarly to that of a job aid.

None of the faculty involved in the process see that as anti-intellectual.

In summary, it is critical, I argue, that scholar-practitioner programs be designed based on both learning and career outcomes, rendering the dichotomy between the two needless.

Dr. Helena Seli is an Assistant Professor of Clinical Education at the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education.