The place of reading in education

I came across these articles this morning. There are some interesting clues in here for the future of higher education.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 50 percent of U.S. adults can’t read a book written at an eighth-grade level.

According to survey data released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Americans 20 to 24 and 25 to 34 read an average of 6.6 minutes per day.

The future of growth in higher education appears to be one that centers around audio and video with limited expectations for reading. However, people who don’t read extensively are generally unable to write well. (Perhaps that is OK if nobody wants to read what they wrote anyhow?)

If there’s a hard ceiling on the number of people who can be successful at a college that puts primary emphasis on reading and writing, colleges need to start thinking about appropriate ways to assess student achievement without expecting them to have to read or write very much. I am not talking about assessments and assignments in addition to reading and writing. I’m talking about assessments and assignments in lieu of reading and writing.

In case you’re wondering, it gives me no pleasure to write this. I am highly skeptical that anything can replace the necessity of reading for complex learning and writing for complex presentation. Go back 100 years, and radio was going to transform education. Fast forward a few decades and then it was television. How’d that work out? I believe that one of the main reasons for this is because listening and watching are largely passive activities (or at least they can easily devolve into passive activities). Reading by its very nature requires constant attention and engagement. If you’re not actively learning, I would argue that you are not learning.

This aversion to reading and writing is why there is definitely not a future for online education that centers around the use of written discussion forums. Synchronous elearning is definitely the future of online education. Look at how younger people behave in their production and consumption of media.

Do most of them write lengthy, well researched, heavily cited blog posts and then wait for comments or do they post a photo to Instagram with a few sentences about it and wait instead for a flurry of likes and snarky retorts? Do they write detailed emails or is that some thing that only an old fogey would do? Even Facebook is considered a bit antiquated with its “excessive” emphasis on text. I put excessive in quotation marks, because Facebook is clearly more focused on multimedia than it is on text these days. However, it is definitely more text-heavy than Instagram or TikTock. Apparently, that is a turn off.

How to this embrace this radical shift in learning preferences is something that needs to be considered separately for different fields of study. I’m going to explore this from the perspective of areas of study that are most likely to result in abundant and well-paying jobs in the future.