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The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm

Guest post from Shelly Alcorn, Principal, Alcorn Associates – Download her excellent paper with Elizabeth Engel here.

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I am very pleased to announce the publication of the white paper I co-authored with Elizabeth Weaver Engel, MA, CAE, “The Association Role in the New Education Paradigm.” This paper was a labor of love and has been a number of years in the making. In it, we describe some of the challenges we are collectively facing as a global society in the education to employment system. We also explore some of the natural advantages associations have in this new environment. We make the case that not only do associations have new opportunities to create value, they have a responsibility to use these talents to help stabilize an increasingly unwieldy system straining under an onslaught of serious and complex stressors.

We find ourselves at an endlessly interesting moment in time. Transformational change is upon us. Humanity has faced moments such as this before, however our lifespans were so short I wonder if our species ever truly recognized the moment a new epoch was about to dawn. Did the humans who harnessed fire, designed the wheel, developed agriculture or invented the printing press truly understand the deeply transformative effects those changes would have on the world? What about us? Right here, right now?

I recently saw Kevin Kelly speak about his new book, “The Inevitable: Understanding the Twelve Technological Forces That Will Shape Our Future,” at the Institute for the Future. One of the points he makes, both in the first chapter of his book and the talk he gave, was the fact that 100 years from now, people will look back and laugh at how little those of us living now knew about what was coming, about what we were actually doing. They will wonder if we were aware of what was about to happen.

Put simply, we are only at the nascent, very first beginnings of what is truly possible. All of the miracles we see ourselves surrounded by are only the very first indications of what will ultimately manifest. Its heady, exciting and sometimes a little scary. One thing we know about change at this magnitude is it has complex and unpredictable effects on large, interconnected systems. We would argue that one of the largest and most complex systems we have is the education to employment system.

There is a symbiotic relationship between education (acquisition of knowledge and skills), employment (economically rewarded activity) and living a “good life” (an ethical, spiritually rewarding existence as individuals and as a collective). After all of the research we have done, we believe the current system may have been sufficient for the 19th and 20th centuries, but not the 21st. We can do better.

In the paper, we describe some of the largest stressors on the education to employment system – access, cost, quality and outcomes. We also make the case that associations have an ethical responsibility to act. We must bring our talents to bear to help individuals who are locked out of, or at the mercy of, systems that aren’t adapting fast enough. This is truly an all-hands-on-deck moment in time. After all the wondering we have done over the past 20 years about what our “value proposition” might be, we have been presented with the biggest opportunity we have ever had to clearly answer that question. At the heart of it, we are what we have always been. We are social learning institutions, comprised of individuals and companies who are not only aware of the actual competencies needed in the workplace but how those competencies are rapidly changing. We have members who are actually applying technology in new and inventive ways and can quickly communicate with both inventors and users alike. We have value and we have a lot of it. It is time to take the things we do by “instinct” and make them explicit for an entirely new global audience.

It’s an exciting time to be alive, and an exciting time to be association professionals. Let’s get to work!


(photo credit)


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