About 14 months ago, I found my future beckoning in a way that pulled me away from professional pre-occupations towards active consideration of my own “next steps” as a person and a professional in this field that I have loved for over 45 years. So I took a little time off from writing and spent a lot more time thinking about what might lie ahead.
The result? After more than eight years at Kaplan University, and as I entered my 8th decade, I decided that it was time to retire and investigate life on new terms. It had been a great run at Kaplan, characterized by intense innovation with supportive and committed colleagues, focused on re-thinking what the future holds for higher education and lifelong learning in this digitized, information age. And so, I left KU on December 31, 2015 with a series of transition projects and a final graduation address at their 2016 commencement in Chicago in late June.
As I went through this period of time, I was, in Allen Tough’s parlance, entering into a significant personal learning project(1). Where am I on my life’s path? What comes next? What does it mean to be retired? What is the better path forward for me? It has been an intense and, sometimes, confusing period of time.
Fast forward to today. Well, to paraphrase my friends, I flunked retirement, receiving, at best, a “needs improvement” on my retirement competency. “Mastery” (full retirement) appears to be on the far horizon.
What happened? After initial conversations beginning in mid-February, I was appointed to the Orkand Chair and as Professor of Innovative Practices in Higher Education at the University of Maryland University College (UMUC), effective April 4th. On the pro-retirement side, I am 100% telecommuting and working part-time. On the flunked-retirement side, I am working daily on projects with my colleagues at UMUC and travelling to their HQ about once a month for a week. I have resumed writing and am continuing my Board work with the Vermont College of Fine Arts, NCHEMS and WCET while sustaining many of the professional and associational relationships that I have been so fortunate to develop throughout my career. I am re-energized and engaged. So, in this case, it wasn’t really a “flunk.” It was more of a re-calibration!
For me, there has been a happy by-product of this personal learning project and transition. As I have re-surfaced at UMUC, with new colleagues, different priorities, and extraordinary opportunities, I have found my thinking refreshed and my view of the future of higher education and lifelong learning clarified and, in important ways, extended and changed. And so, with renewed energy fueled by a new context and a refreshed spirit I am embarking on this blog series: A New Universe of Learning: Personalized Learning in the Digital Age.
My writing will range from the philosophical to the personal; and from the conceptual to the practical. For innovation to succeed, it must connect all these elements in its underlying belief structure, conception, design, and implementation. I will also assume ever-increasing technological innovation and digitization coupled with increasing clarity about the critical importance of the human touch in a technological age. Why? Because the DNA of personalized learning must include all these strands to comprise a revolutionary new picture of possibility for the democratization of learning in the years ahead.
To complicate matters, this new possibility is propelled and energized by the extraordinary compression of time required to achieve substantive change; moving from staking out philosophical ground, to developing practices which exemplify its value, to conducting research to substantiate and improve the practices, and then scaling them to the larger society.
This compressed time frame can be disruptive in its own right. Sometimes it can feel as if we are on an ever-accelerating merry-go-round with the world around us a blur and our ability to hang on (to understand) challenged by the increasing centrifugal pressure. What I hope to do is provide a context for understanding the changes that are upon us and the new possibilities that they will encourage and support. New understandings can clarify the blur and reduce the pressure.
I hope you’ll join me for the ride and continue to let me know what you think!
Tough, Allen. The Adult’s Learning Projects.Toronto, OISE, 1969.