Learn about issues in higher education. This article reviews Randy Bass’s assertions about how learning is now taking place.

May 10, 2012
Writer: Steve Hunsaker

In "Disrupting Ourselves: The Problem of Learning in Higher Education" (2012), Randy Bass calls on educators to drop traditional thinking that privileges the formal curriculum as the center of the undergraduate experience.  In its place he asks his readers to consider a "post-course consciousness."

Professor Bass is not asking that we abandon our courses but he is asking us to be clear-headed about where learning with the greatest impact happens.  He says, "What I am arguing is that we have reached the end of the era of assuming that the formal curriculum-composed of bounded, self-contained courses-is the primary place where the most significant learning takes place."

Bass develops his call to rethink and reconsider with short discussions of student choices that lead to robust learning, features of a rapidly evolving online culture, and e-portfolios.  The central idea of the essay is that we must "recenter the curriculum" by bringing peripheral modes and sites of learning to the center of the experience of higher education if our students are to learn as they need to.

Key passages

"Indeed, in my experience of holding focus groups and informal conversations with students, if you ask them where they think their deepest learning has taken place, they will sometimes point to one or two courses that had meaningful impact for them. But they almost always point enthusiastically to the co-curricular experiences in which they invested their time and energy."

"So, how do we reverse the flow, or flip the curriculum, to ensure that practice is emphasized at least as early in the curriculum as content? How can students "learn to be," through both the formal and the experiential curriculum?"

"[W]e need to acknowledge that the center of significant learning has shifted to a new, recentered core and that, from the perspective of deep learning and impact, most of the formal curriculum now must move from margin to center."

"[W]e need to move beyond our old assumptions that it is primarily the students' responsibility to integrate all the disparate parts of an undergraduate education. We must fully grasp that students will learn to integrate deeply and meaningfully only insofar as we design a curriculum that cultivates that; and designing such a curriculum requires that we similarly plan, strategize and execute integratively across the boundaries within our institutions."

"[W]e need to think more about how to move beyond the individualistic faculty change model. We need to get involved in team-design and implementation models on our campuses, and we need to consider that doing so could fundamentally change the ways that the burdens of innovation are often placed solely on the shoulders of faculty (whose lives are largely already overdetermined) as well as how certain academic support staff (e.g., IT organizations, student affairs, librarians) think of their professional identities and their engagement with the "curriculum."

"To be sure, we should work very hard and carefully to align, document, and capture our current assessments of student learning; at the same time, we should be attentive and ambitious in figuring out how we want to cultivate and evaluate learning in this expansive environment."