A Learning College for the 21st Century

May 15th, 1998 | By | Category: 9-4: Pre- K-12 Education, Media Reviews

American Association of Community Colleges and American Council on Education Washington, D.C., 1997
Softcover, 280 pages

Review by James K. McNeley

This book is in the forefront of a profusion of books, articles, and conference presentations regarding the learning college (also known as the learning paradigm or  the learner-centered college). Terry O’Banion’s book,  A Learning College for the 21st Century, is distinguished by its comprehensiveness. It includes a critique of the current “inherited architecture of higher education” and also reviews the historical roots for the so-called “shift to the learning paradigm” in earlier movements, such as the progressive education movement and humanistic education. The book provides an overview of the key principles of the learning college and of its foundations in new technologies and new understandings of how learning takes place.  It describes the actual experiences of six community colleges now engaged in the transition to becoming learning colleges.  Plus, the author recommends practical steps and strategies for launching a learning college.

This book’s comprehensive treatment should appeal to diverse readers, from those who are merely intellectually curious about this “higher education reform movement of the 1990s” to those educators who are looking for theoretical and practical guidelines for leading institutional change.  Educators at tribal colleges may be especially interested in passages explaining how current forms of higher education are rooted in the demands of Euroamerican agrarian and industrial eras rather than in students’ needs. This raises a question:  Why should our Native American students (as well as many other of today’s college students ) be expected to fit into an inherited structure of Western education that was never designed to meet their needs?

O’Banion argues that the learning college proposes fundamentally overhauling higher education, not simply “tweaking” the current system to fix “a few broken parts.”  He cautions not to confuse such “transformational change” with other changes now underway in higher education, positing that the key issue is changing what students learn and how they learn.

Transformation to a learning college requires that the inherited system of “time bound, space bound, efficiency bound, and role bound” education must be broken.  Higher education students today are diverse in age, experience, competencies, learning styles, family and job responsibilities, etc. Traditional class schedules and structures do not meet  their needs. Campus boundaries are becoming obsolete because of the new distance learning technologies. The demands of today’s global economy call for developing student skills and competencies that can be acquired only as students become increasingly responsible for their own learning:  Passive learning in traditional lecture sections does not adequately prepare students for today’s world.

At Diné College, O’Banion’s book has been widely circulated among regents, administrators, faculty, and staff as we begin to plan ways to improve student learning within the context of the Diné Educational Philosophy. The information provide by the six community colleges in the book, together with the author’s chapter on “Launching a Learning College,” provide concrete examples and guidelines to follow as we begin to explore this new path..

O’Banion’s book can be ordered for $27.50 by calling (800) 250-6557 or writing Community College Press, P.O. Box 311, Annapolis Junction MD 20701-0311. Discounts available for bulk orders. A thought-provoking, one-hour videotape discussion with O’Banion (from the “Author, Author” television series) is also available from the PBS Adult Learning Satellite Service, telephone (800) 257-2578.

James McNeley is vice president of Diné College.  He holds a doctorate in cultural anthropology and has previously served as a member of the Diné College faculty and as an academic dean..


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