I compiled this list for the Carnival of Journalism November cavalcade, so it is particularly designed for the “disciplines” of journalism, public relations, advertising, marketing and management.

Despite the underlying motivation for my post, the tenets I put forth are, in reality, applicable to all fields.

1. Uncertainty is the norm, at least today and for the foreseeable future.

Actually, our world has always been fraught with uncertainty, but perhaps there was greater perceived certainty when news and information wasn’t available at our fingertips 24×7.

And there was a brief period in the 20th century when jobs were mostly for life and came with benefits and retirement pensions. But that time was an historical aberration, not the norm. Many of our grandparents and some of our parents experienced this world, but it no longer exists. We may as well accept that and focus on the reality that's here and now.

2. Life (and work) doesn’t come with an assignment guide.

Jobs that do have assignment guides are being outsourced or automated.

[Tweet “Life doesn't come with an assignment guide.”]

One of the outcomes of college should be that students rapidly evolve from the type of person who needs detailed instructions for every assignment to the type of person who can chart a course to an outcome or objective without a precise roadmap.

3. Questions rarely have one right answer.

The only exceptions can be found in these contexts:


Basic facts: For example: Who, when, where

  • What is often contextual and colored by internal and structural constraints.
  • Why is always contextual and interpretive and almost always the product of internal and societal filters. (Probably “always” but see item 1 above re: uncertainty).

Basic grammar, AP Style and spelling (caveat: these do evolve, see item 1 above)

To educators: We do a grave disservice to college students if a majority of the questions we ask have one right answer. We must ask questions that require an explanation of the rationale for the answer, i.e. good responses must explain “why” the answer given seems to be the right one.

To students: Cherish the teachers who ask questions that leave you wondering. Don't worry about your grades. Unless you're going to med school, they don't matter very much.

4. Factual Knowledge Still Matters

Yes, we have the world of information at our fingertips. We don’t need to memorize a bunch of facts.

But we can’t adequately interpret and synthesize information without a contextual basis for understanding.

The more facts we know, the faster we can mentally process and synthesize information and create something new and valuable for the world. Humans are, for the most part, still better at processing information contextually than are computers. But that only works if we have a foundation of contextual knowledge stored in our brains. If we have to stop and look it up, we've already missed an opportunity.

Journalists, strategic communications and managers must have a foundation of factual knowledge that enables them to ask the right questions and define problems to be solved.

To students: Ignore factual knowledge at your peril.

5. Not all information (on the web) has equal value.

Information literacy matters.

The incorporation of social sharing data into search results adds a new layer of noise that must be filtered out or taken into consideration.

6. Internet technology skills enable content creation.

Today, we can all create our own media empires.

Tech-saavy doesn’t mean the ability to consume media content created by others or interact with friends.

Consuming media online and tweeting or instagramming @friends is nothing more than the 21st century equivalent of watching TV and spending hours chatting with friends by telephone.

Conventional wisdom says “digital natives” are tech-competent and tech-comfortable. That bit of “conventional wisdom” is, as often the case, mostly misinformation.

My experience: Today’s college students are universally capable of using smart phones and mobile devices to interact with friends and consume and, sometimes share, media content created by others. Many will readily admit to me, “I’m not a techie.” Others are afraid to reveal that technology makes them feel uncomfortable and they will flounder until I eventually discover the tech disconnect.

My experience: A minority of college students have web sites where they actively blog and publish, but they’re mostly blogging about personal things. And most of those sites are built on free platforms like Blogger or WordPress.com, which are great as a first step in learning internet technology but insufficient for professional-level competencies.

My experience: A small minority of college students come into my classes with the tech skills to set up a self-hosted WordPress site, install a drag-and-drop customizable theme, select and install plugins and use this site.

Few students learn coding skills. I’m not convinced that all college students in the class of 2014-2016 must learn to code. But those who do will have a huge advantage in the long-term.

Perhaps coding is a necessary skill for today’s college freshman, high school and younger students. It probably is.

In any event, today's internet technology lets us create, publish and connect with new people, build our own audiences, even without learning any coding. Understanding html helps.

7. Lifelong learning is a reality.

In the real world, it’s not enough to simply “do the assignment.”

The assignment of life is never over.

I still set out to learn new skills and new information every day. And I have a BA, JD, LL.M. and Ph.D.

The answer to the question: ‘Is this going to be on the test?' is yes. At some point, it will be on the test of life.

[Tweet “Just doing the assignment won't bring life success.”]

8. It’s OK if you don’t know what you want to do with your life.

Students who are:

  • Self-motivated
  • Possess the type of desire that leads to action
  • Capable of collecting, analyzing, synthesizing information using critical thinking skills

and who can write  and communicate well will always be able to find a way to serve others and make a living doing so, even if it's not the perfect or ideal situation.

Students Pretty much everyone will be changing “careers” multiple times anyway. This thing called “career path” no longer exists. The thing called “career” is pretty much dead, too.

9. Students We have more opportunities today than at any time in history.

Today, it’s possible to create our own media empire using free tools readily available on the internet.

For the price of less than 2 lattes each month you can buy a custom domain and a web-hosting package to create an online portfolio and/or business and, with desire, effort, and perseverance, create a life you love.

10. Don’t be afraid to fail.

It’s ok to make a mistake. Do what you can to be prepared, then choose yourself and take action.

When you take action, something will happen. Or maybe nothing happens.

Take the feedback from the action and use it take another action.

If the actions aren't yielding the expected outcomes, reconsider the strategy, the tactics or the destination.

Anyone who's studied mass communication at the graduate level is familiar with the various  models of communication. All of them, even Shannon & Weaver's linear model, incorporate feedback into the communication process.

[Tweet “Take action. The results will amaze you.”]

This is what I've been trying to teach students in my classes, in addition to course-specific skills and information. I think these 10 lessons are the  most important things I teach, even when the reception isn't always favorable.

What do you think? What's missing? Am I wrong? I'd love to hear your thoughts.

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Into Happiness, Social Business, Leadership, Entrepreneurship, Real Food. Hiker. Runner. Friend to Animals. Beekeeper. Idea Explorer. Dot Connector. Writer.

10 Comments on “10 Things We Should Be Teaching Today’s College Students”

  1. You’re absolutely right, every one of these points applies to all of us. We must always be looking for ways to improve our knowledge and skills in this ever-changing world. The technologies and information increase and change all the time and those who don’t keep up will be left behind and will miss opportunities.

  2. Thanks for stopping by, Kat. I feel rejuvenated when I get to learn something new everyday, even though the pace of chance can sometimes make me feel like swimming against the current. But constant learning and adaptation is necessary to survive today. So it’s exciting whenever I meet someone who “gets it.”! Come back soon. 🙂

  3. This is great, Sheree. I try to reinforce these ideas with students and interns all the time. If it’s OK with you, I’d like to share your post with them.

  4. Fantastic post, Sheree – definitely sharing this. I think this is so true and important for high-school students to know as well.
    Chris O’Neal

  5. Interesting. This is precisely the kind of language that we were using in career services at UT Austin in the 1990s. The trick is getting parents, faculty and other stakeholders in on it–and start talking like this as early as gradeschool. A degree simply doesn’t add up to a job. That may have worked once-upon-a-time, but it’s over now.