What Do Corporate Teamwork and Higher Education Have in Common?

What Do Corporate Teamwork and Higher Education Have in Common?

Over the past three months, we’ve been talking with more and more people about our online learning tool. And something interesting has happened. We’ve started working with a few great higher education partners (more on that soon!), but we’ve also had a number of companies express interest in using this tool.

These companies aren’t just thinking about corporate training, which might be the natural overlap with higher education. They want to use our tool to manage long-term team research projects.

It’s not the focus of this story, but I owe you a quick explanation of what, exactly, we build. We develop a learning platform for managing online discussion- and question-based classes. Think of your classic english literature discussion class. Or a leadership class in business school. Our platform tracks group discussion about class content, and helps instructors manage that content and modify the course to fill gaps in student understanding.

I think it’s kind of curious that we’ve managed to find an overlap between corporate teamwork and higher education. Its not like Google went and said, “You know MOOCs? I think we could use a MOOC as a way of documenting our research into self-driving cars.”

So what is the overlap between higher education and corporate teamwork?

In 2001, Russell Edgerton, director for 20 years of the American Association for Higher Education, wrote, “Graduates … need to learn how to do things. Having looked at the new civics, we can further conclude that learning how to do things is also not enough. There is a third dimension of learning that graduates must acquire. They must learn not only how to do things but learn to value doing them as well.” (His full white paper gives a fantastic overview of the history of US higher education, and his predictions for the future are still incredibly relevant.)

Can’t you just imagine some corporate leader — maybe it was Bezos, or Jobs, or Packard — saying that?

“Our future employees need to learn how to do things. But learning how to do things is not enough. There is a third dimension of learning that our employees must acquire. They must learn not only how to do things but learn to value doing them well.”

In both undergraduate classrooms and corporate teams, the ideal of good performance ought to be awfully similar. After all, the vast majority of the students in the former will go on to work in the latter.

When building Beagle we have focused on the question of how we build and maintain a culture of question-asking, contribution, and feedback in the classroom. We have worked hard to encourage every student to build their own concept map of the subject they are learning, and to never lose sight of the end goal they are trying to achieve. We’ve done all of that because we believe every student needs to learn not just content, but how to apply that content, make new ideas, lead teams, and creatively solve problems.

As we have talked to more and more corporate leaders, we’ve found some general trends in their needs, as well.

They need a cultural reset button. They need a way to invite their entire team to the table to share their best ideas and work together to solve big challenges. They need to build a culture of feedback and question asking. They need tools to document the results of such collaborative work, and ways to quickly understand the output of big research efforts large teams have tackled over many months.

Sounds a lot like a project-based class to me.

Education technology companies and online learning groups have often looked to get statements from big companies. These statements say, “We believe that X product helps our future employees learn what they need to know to work for us.”

I think education technology companies should instead be looking for big companies to say, “We want our teams to use your product, too, because your students are already able to do things as well as our employees, and clearly your product is helping with that.”

The metric for success needs to change. Companies used to hire based on the content a student knew. Now they are hiring based on the student’s ability to do things and how much they value doing them well. Education needs to follow suit, and begin building tools and classes that help students do things, and help them value doing them well.