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Learning to Learn in Cyber Education

The EvoLLLution | Learning to Learn in Cyber Security
Higher education models need to evolve to create situations where students are learning to learn, and becoming increasingly comfortable with the modern reality of lifelong learning.

The rapidity of technological growth is evolving the way technical courses need to be taught at the collegiate level. Cyber Security and Computer Information Systems’ programs too frequently have been providing a theoretical education where systems are conceptualized, threat actors are imagined, malicious software and attacks are described, and perhaps, students get the opportunity to see and interact with the simulation of these concepts. This sounds good but those students are, generally, being handed the answers and told to memorize, rather than being encouraged to find the answers and apply critical thinking. By teaching the students to learn, piquing their curiosity with fundamentals and use cases, showing them where to find additional resources and answers to their own questions, then releasing them into an immersive education, their breadth of knowledge will expand and give them the ability to understand different levels of technology based on the underlying concepts. Graduates who learn how to learn will be more independent and have higher competency and versatility to do their jobs, as well as set a new standard for their field.

Traditional education has followed a pattern of “listen and learn” and “remember and regurgitate.” Students are given facts and steps, and told, “Do and say exactly what was taught to succeed in this course.” This traditional education is no longer very applicable for students attempting to move into technical roles after the completion of their degrees. These students, whether a System Administrator or a Cyber Security Engineer, quickly find out that their specialized roles won’t follow the same patterns their education followed. With the speed at which technology changes there is no one set of facts or steps that will make them successful in their job. Even as Computer Information System and Cyber Security courses are moving to include practical aspects, they still evaluate students on their ability to memorize facts and concepts, then regurgitate them after a relatively short amount of time. The retention of information isn’t following those students even as far as their job interviews which is a major shortcoming of modern education. Joseph Aoun (2017), talks about changing higher education to create a workforce that will survive the ever-increasing potential of job automation and the use of robots to perform common jobs. Aoun (2017) reinforces the idea of learning to learn with this statement,

A robot-proof model of higher education is not concerned solely with topping up students’ minds with high-octane facts. Rather, it refits their mental engines, calibrating them with a creative mindset and the mental elasticity to invent, discover, or otherwise produce something society deems valuable. 

Learning, both in-class and outside of the class should move to an immersive and interactive “sink or swim” style. The instructor should provide the tools, guide the students in exploring the resources available to find answers and solve problems, then throw the student into progressively more complex assignments and stand back. By reserving the life preserver until the student has exhausted other options, students will be encouraged to build independence and develop technical troubleshooting and problem-solving skills. Failure, while not generally included in traditional technical education, is an important part of this paradigm. In technical positions, students will frequently find themselves responsible for exploring new technologies and solutions to optimize processes and solve organizational problems, and they will be able to use previous successes and failures discovered through research and application to immediately disqualify certain solutions.

Learning to learn is about more than one single method of learning. Whether the backing school of thought is the superiority of visual, aural, read/write, or kinesthetic learning, the concept of learning to learn is still to teach students to find an answer rather than memorize an answer. Research should be introduced at a much earlier level than the Graduate or Post-Graduate level and students should learn how to apply it to individual problems in a single assignment. Instructors should withhold the answer to a question, or issue the student is having in their assignments, long enough to challenge them to find the answers independently. Students will be learning how to adapt and keep up with ever-changing technology. Students should start partnering with others in the field and use the endless number of resources on the internet and in both physical and digital libraries to solve problems and answer questions. These students will begin to be both a provider and a beneficiary of collaboration in the field of technology. The students will learn how to comb through websites, forums, and technical documents to find or create a solution to their problem while also discovering other ways to correctly and, maybe more importantly, incorrectly perform their tasks. They will begin to develop problem-solving skills needed to find, test and implement changes in their environment that meet the goals of their organization.

Educators need to move away from providing answers and move toward inspiring their students to take concepts at a high level and build a deeper level of understanding based on the students’ own research and application. The ability of an information technology professional to think creatively, critically and practically to solve problems is what sets them apart from other professionals in the field. The practical application in and outside of the classroom should become an interactive and immersive type of education where the student is playing the role of the expert, not simply following step-by-step instructions. They may struggle for hours or days solving problems during their practical hands-on work, but they will be prepared for the expectation that they will have to devote time to their careers to be successful. They will also be learning skills that will reduce the time needed in their professional roles to solve similar issues.

When receiving an employee directly from college, companies have an inherent expectation that they will be required to train those employees for six months to a year or longer. A student educated in, and familiar with, the expectations of lifelong learning will require less training. These students should be able to sit down in front of technology with a basic, foundational understanding, regardless of brand or implementation, and begin to teach themselves how to use it. The degree will no longer be a piece of paper but will represent the ability to find answers through constant independent research and hands-on exploration, while using their previous successes and failures to maintain a level of risk tolerance appropriate to the organization’s systems or technology. By teaching students how to learn, they can be introduced to a wider range of concepts and build on those as they work with each one individually. Graduates will be independent as well as vital team members, providing value with the resource that is a continual ability to learn as they work.

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Aoun, Joseph E. Robot-Proof: Higher Education in the Age of Artificial Intelligence (MIT Press) (Kindle Locations 170-172). The MIT Press. Kindle Edition.

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