4 Reasons Why College Students Don't Need to Study as Much Anymore

College faculty and administrators are abuzz about new research that says today’s undergraduates spend 38% less time studying than undergraduates did 50 years ago. Results just out from the 2011 National Survey of Student Engagement (NSSE) show that the average student now studies only 15 hours per week. Freshmen and seniors from more than 700 colleges and universities participated in the survey, so this is substantive research. But, does it really matter? 

Here are four reasons why it probably means less than we think.

1. In today’s knowledge economy, it’s what a student has actually mastered that’s important-- not how much time he or she spent pouring over the books. Forward-thinking educators now favor metrics that capture student competencies – as opposed to credit hours – as the ultimate gauge of what a student knows. “Study hours” are as outdated as “seat time” in this new paradigm. 

2. Technology is changing higher education and I don't just mean online classes. When students study online, computers can generate continuous feedback to let the instructor know how a particular student studies; whether that student does best with visual, auditory, or written modes of delivery; what pace she or he prefers; what topics are most problematic. In other words, learning can now be customized and study time is becoming far more efficient than was ever possible in the past. 

3. College students (even many older, “adult learners”) use social media to communicate and collaborate in all dimensions of life – including education. Technology enables students to form peer study groups and to coach, advise, quiz, and support one another without the benefit (or constraints) of institutional organization. In addition, students integrate study with social and work time – a practice that can’t be easily measured. 

4.  Out in the job market, employers are looking for graduates with more than book knowledge. With very few exceptions, today’s in-demand occupations require skills like critical thinking, oral communication, teamwork, and flexibility – none of which are learned in study hall.  HR recruiters scan resumes to see whether applicants have experience applying what they learned in school, not whether they memorized the textbook. 

The sponsors of the NSSE say they will be modernizing their survey instrument for the 2013 report. That’s good to hear.  n the meantime, those colleges that are fretting about how their students rank in “study time” might do well to reconsider what it means. 

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Blair Forlaw

Blair Forlaw is an economic development freelancer with a special interest in talent development and the changing world of work. She supports business, government, professional organizations, and non-profits in crafting new approaches to workforce challenges. Blair is a member of No Labels, a national movement of nearly 500,000 citizens who are pushing back on hyper-partisanship with an action plan to restore common-sense, bi-partisan problem-solving in Washington.

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