MacLean’s published an article by Stephanie Findlay in 2010 that highlights a basic problem with University students: they don’t study enough anymore. Students generally spend 60% as much time studying now as they did 50 years ago.
But don’t jump to conclusions yet. It may not be a bad thing. What you should always do, before deciding what conclusions you can draw from a claim, is find out exactly what the circumstances might be that can account for the claim.
There are some excellent reasons to think that the drop in study time is actually a good thing. For instance, we have learned an awful lot about how to teach effectively in the last 50 years. We’ve learned how to make it easier for students to learn and retain difficult concepts; we’ve found more efficient ways of delivering material. We’ve also changed the nature of the material taught to respond to modern times – modern knowledge is much more tightly integrated than it was 50 years ago, so it’s more likely that students can leverage what they learn in one course to help them understand material in other courses. It’s also much easier to get access to high quality educational material (Thank you Internet!); no longer is it necessary to spend hours searching for and pouring over arcane volumes in a library.
Of course, it’s not all just hugs and puppies. There a downside too. Students have more on their plate than they used to. Very few students had four-hour, round-trip commutes 50 years ago. Very few students worked more than a few hours a week to earn any more than pocket money. And tuition was much lower; even if you account for inflation, tuition has almost tripled in the last 50 years. All this eats into a student’s study time.
There’s another effect, however, that’s also eating away at students’ study time: they don’t need to study as hard to get good marks. Universities have, over the last 50 years, inflated grades; that is, it’s easier to get an A today than it ever has been before. This is a particularly pernicious effect. The easier it is to get a good mark, the less time students will spend studying; the less study time, the less competent they will be upon graduation; the less competent they are, the more screwed up the world will become.
I’ve already written about minimum study times: if you’re not studying at least 25 hours per week outside of class time, then you’re doing it wrong.
Let’s face it; most of you have absolutely no idea how things were 50 years ago. In many ways, they sucked. But in some ways, they were quite good. This is one of the good things: we used to expect students to put in the effort to master their subjects.
And I still do.