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Why is Education Important? A Q&A with Matthew Thornton

Matthew Thornton, associate vice president of undergraduate advising

We asked Matthew Thornton, "Why is education important?" Thornton brings us along on his personal journey in education and tells how each of us can benefit on our own paths toward greater knowledge.

Why is education important to each of us as individuals and to society as a whole?

Education is so very important, especially in today's society where we're constantly being bombarded with information coming from all directions. We are a society of information overload, and without proper education, there's no way to crawl through all of it (using our critical thinking skills, source evaluation skills, problem-solving skills, etc.) to determine how to make truly autonomous decisions for ourselves.

The journey from high school to college to graduate school and beyond pushes us to higher order thinking skills. It's no longer about just memorizing and reciting information. It's about synthesizing competing ideas and using critical thinking skills to form stronger arguments. It's about learning to appreciate diversity of thought so that we can see issues from perspectives other than our own. It's about developing a growth mindset, and reframing the notion of "winning" from a "proving myself right" mentality to a "learning" mentality, where we are open to changing our minds when presented with evidence contrary to our previous stance. We should not only welcome, but invite people to challenge our views so that we can all learn something new from the discussion, and by bringing all of these perspectives together, we can create new knowledge - new ideas that are more powerful than those which were created before.

What led you on the path to your own journey in education?

People often laugh when they hear about my educational journey. For my undergraduate degree, I enrolled into a Bachelor of Fine Arts program for acting. I knew before my senior year was over that I didn't want to be an actor for my career, but the lessons I learned have been applicable every single day since. In every "scene" in life, you have "players" who each have their own goals and objectives - and, of course, we have obstacles that get in the way of us achieving those goals. In life, we have to constantly evaluate the tactics we're using to get to our goals, and sometimes, a tactic that worked yesterday won't work today, and we have to switch gears and try something else. You have to constantly read the situation, watching for verbal/non-verbal cues from our "scene-partners" to evaluate if our tactics are working or not, and if not, you better have another trick up your sleeve so that you can shift your approach.

I went on for a Master of Business Administration. When I enrolled into this program, a major light bulb went off in terms of understanding what education was really all about. It didn't matter so much that my undergraduate degree was in a completely different field. My undergraduate degree prepared me with incredible transferable skills - effective communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, an appreciation of diversity and global perspectives, and the ability to conduct powerful research. The specificity of the subject matter became less important to me than the process of learning itself. Don't get me wrong, the subject matter was certainly fascinating and has been instrumental in my career development, but I would argue that once you learn how to learn, the possibilities become endless.

I'm now toward the end of my Doctor of Science in Information Systems program. (That pesky dissertation is still dangling over my head!) This program focused on knowledge management and decision-support systems. In our world of information access, how do we leverage "big data" to make the best decisions for ourselves? How do we determine the "interestingness" of that data, given the sheer volume of it? How do we capture new knowledge, share that knowledge out, and seek out and apply that knowledge to new situations (resulting in even more new knowledge?) It's a wonderful cycle of learning that results in an ever-growing body of knowledge.

What impact has education had on your life?

Most importantly, my undergraduate degree taught me how to breathe (literally, but figuratively as well). Think about what happens when you have an "aha" moment. It's usually accompanied by an inhalation - that moment of inspiration when a new concept or idea becomes clear. Every inhale can bring with it a moment of inspiration and clarity, so breathe deeply!

The MBA program helped me to evolve into an influential leader, and it taught me critical lessons about organizational agility, continual improvement, and the "law of process." (It's your development path, so own it and be relentless in achieving it!)

My doctorate program has really shaped my thinking (especially in the world of online learning) for how we can make the educational journey more effective and efficient for the students of today and tomorrow.

Pamme Boutselis is a writer and content director in higher education. Follow her on Twitter @pammeb or connect on LinkedIn.

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