The 13th Roberts Lecture - University teaching in a post-knowledge age by Professor Neil Rackham

Event details

Wednesday 27 March 2019


On Wednesday 27 March, the 13th Roberts Lecture was delivered by alumnus, honorary graduate and experimental psychologist Professor Neil Rackham.

Professor Rackham’s lecture, ‘University teaching in a post-knowledge age’ utilised his expertise as both an academic and business consultant. In the lecture opening, Professor Rackham explained the background to universities - institutions that exist to create knowledge through research as well as test, teach and certify knowledge.

In business terms, a university’s product is knowledge. The lecture explored where the future lies for universities, in an era where knowledge is a freely available commodity via the internet. What does this mean then for universities? Professor Rackham argued that universities need to change their business model.

Using case studies, Professor Rackham teased out whether universities could teach knowledge differently. In recent years there has been a shift from teaching knowledge towards the teaching of skills which have utility in the real world. It is teaching applications and skills which are increasingly more effective.

Skill learning however is fundamentally different to knowledge learning. To demonstrate his argument, Professor Rackham invited a member of the audience to the stage to highlight that capability is learning by doing; to learn a skill it needs to be practiced and feedback is required for improvement.

Professor Rackham went on to discuss that existing methods of skill development are disproportionately costly and labour intensive, such as skills associated with medical and engineering degrees. Core skills, the '4Cs’ are highly important skills that employers look for. These are critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration. These core skills are hard to teach and measure, but they are skills that are crucial in business and the world of work. Professor Rackham explained, the experiences of the business world in teaching skills can shed light on how universities might scale skill learning.

To conclude, Professor Rackham stressed that knowledge and skills are not separate entities and that ultimately the ‘4Ms’ are needed for better core teaching skills: models, methods, metrics and money.

Audience Feedback

  • "Thank you for an enjoyable and worthwhile event."
  • "Professor Rackham's style of presentation and idiosyncracies were really great and entertaining."
  • "Entertaining but with a message."

    Background on the Roberts Lecture

    The late Professor Sir Gareth Roberts was Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield from 1991 to 2000. At the time of his departure from the University, Professor Sir Gareth Roberts established a fund to provide for the organisation of an annual public lecture. To date there have been 13 lectures delivered by a range of high profile speakers.

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