Why Young Adults Are Trading in Traditional Education for Experiential Education

The current school system was designed to create interchangeable workers for the Industrial Revolution and is currently failing to adapt to the individual and respond to dynamic real world issues. According to Accenture, up to half of college graduates are unemployed or underemployed a year after graduation and two-thirds report they need more comprehensive training. Traditional education is defined as the delivery of information to students via teachers in a classroom setting and typically values conformity to the group and academic mastery in standard subjects. However, millennials are seeking to rewrite our current model of education for one that values individual freedom, highly personalized curriculums and where unique abilities and passions are nourished to reach their fullest potential. In an age where education is beginning to be a subjective term, here is why young adults are trading in traditional education for experiential education.

1. Keeping Up with The Times

The world we live in is constantly changing. Technology has super-charged our evolution and it seems as though as soon as we get one foot in the door, 15 more open in different directions. We are transitioning  from a world that was very structured in one’s life path (a bachelor’s degree used to guarantee you a job) to a world where adaptability and diverse skillsets are more valuable, and our curriculums need to be as fluid as we are. Even though a university professor may be an expert in their field, they might not be up to date on current trends that are crucial to success in their industry. In a traditional education setting, you can spend 4 years learning information that might be outdated by the time you put on your graduation cap and enter into the real world.  One way to keep up with the times is to learn more modern, current or relevant topics in our age of rapid change with quicker or shorter classes. For example,  Udemy is an online learning platform that offers over 40,000 courses in topics ranging from business, personal development, health, marketing, language and more.  Udemy courses start at $12 and are structured to be short and allow you to learn at your own pace and develop a variety of skills.

80% of children in KS2 will go on to do jobs that don’t exist yet, using technology that hasn’t been invented yet, trying to solve problems that we cannot yet predict. 

– Cumbria Development Education Centre

2. Breaking Away From The System: Throwing Away The Cookie Cutter Mold and Embracing Our Uniqueness

The traditional education system is designed much like a factory, aiming to maximize output and mass produce ideal workers. The refusal to be just another cog in a machine has led many to explore the value in alternative means of education such as work/ trade, apprenticeships, trade schools, business accelerators and online courses where our unique gifts and abilities are celebrated. As we are redefining what it means to be ‘educated’ and have a successful career, the digital nomad lifestyle and other trends of non-traditional ways of working are becoming more and more mainstream. Many are valuing freedom over perhaps financial security in a corporate firm that may not necessarily nourish their passions or allow them the liberty they desire through a more flexible work schedule.

The problem with our current education system is that it does not account for individual learning styles and the unique set of passions and abilities that everyone has. What may suit one person’s academic needs may be complete gibberish to another. Hundreds of students are given the same material and expected to perform in the same way. Not only does this overlook the individual, but it creates long-term issues in our society. The term academic inflation describes the decrease in value of degrees as a result of many people having the same degree.  This makes it hard to stand out and has created a mass amount of qualified college graduates who are left without a job, or a job that meets their qualifications. Young adults are leaning towards experiential learning because the curriculum is not one size fits all. It provides uniquely tailored education that adapts to your needs and responds to real world changes.  Experiential education allows us to be the masters of our own learning and design our own study roadmap that factors in the diverse array of interests and passions that we may have and expand on skills that would not have had the room to breathe in a traditional classroom setting.

Our take on experiential education is to literally bring aspiring changemakers to specific projects that are making a difference in the world. This way, they can ask their own questions and feel the inspiration from meeting people who are living what they teach. There’s an urban land trust, a greening the desert project, a biodiverse organic farm right off the border of Mexico, a natural disaster-proof dome building project, and more on The Sustainable Living Tour. Finally, participants are connected into a network of eco-entrepreneurs specifically in Southern California who are willing to support each other.  Together, we learn practical skills such as how to build crucial topsoil and grow food while sequestering carbon to contribute to the reversal of climate change. We learn community building skills which help us access the resources of the group, aid in decision making processes, and support meaningful relationships using non-violent communication. We explore permaculture design to work with nature instead of against nature. Transformative activities that support positive habits help us step into our power and gain clarity on our paths as changemakers. Instead of just learning from one teacher we have a diverse range of teachers and support participants in becoming teachers themselves through out activities where we offer feedback to each other’s visions or projects as aspiring entrepreneurs. This learning experience is carried on through 1 year of on-going support that’s designed to provide practical education that grows and adapts with you along your journey.

3. Theory vs. Reality: Know That You Love It or Know That You Hate It

A common issue among post-secondary graduates is feeling lost in ‘life after college’ and not knowing which career path to pursue.  We are all born with gifts and interests, however often times traditional education fails to respond in a way that nurtures these gifts and provides clarity in finding one’s life purpose. Even if there are plenty of classroom activities and off-site field trips,  there is no substitute for true, hands-on experience. The Green Program is one example of alternative learning that provides students with unique, transformative and accredited study abroad experiences that aim to tackle immediate global problems such as climate change. They are partners to the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals and are offering a medium to bridge traditional education with experience that works towards real world solutions. While learning in a theoretical manner teaches you to define what pants are and create a mental image of them, hands on experience allows you to put on the hypothetical pants to see if they fit. Traditional education is also a huge investment in terms of time and resources and at a young age we are encouraged to take out loans for $100,000 or more. This can be especially challenging for those who are unsure of their direction and would like more breathing room to test the waters and be able to easily change their mind. Experiential learning means that you can dive into smaller, more niche topics that are more bite-size while being able to know if it is something that you would want to pursue further.

Even if you’ve graduated and found a job where you’re making bank and now you’re comfortable, you may feel as though something is still missing. Maybe you’re not quite sure what it is, but you feel a little spacey. It’s common to latch on to your support system, figuring: well at least I’m making $X a year, my coworkers are chill, this is nice. However, as human beings we were destined for adventure. Nature itself has been our playground to explore and survive in. Finding more meaning and purpose in your weekly work is a great way to tap into that feeling of what it means to be human. Being a part of an exciting project or movement that’s actually working towards important solutions is a sure-cure for that spacey or bored feeling. Experiential education, whether it’s volunteering your time at a non-profit and learning about their cause, or just learning a whole next skill in its entirety, is a great place to start a big life transition.

Young adults are changing the education system because we are changing as people. The desire for independence and freedom to choose when and how we work, as well as desiring careers that match our passions and interests and fulfill us with meaning are expanding. We are realizing the power we have to create our own alternatives if the current model does not fit. The traditional education system does not adapt to the ebb and flow of industries and the evolutionary cycles that are inevitable and rapid. Oxford University reports that in the next 25 years 47% of jobs will cease to exist, this means that half of what we are learning will not be relevant to the time that we are living in. Experiential education provides us with a much more unique pathway to designing the kind of life that we want through using a system of learning that adapts to us as individuals and can keep up with worldly advancements and innovations.