WHAT IS EDUCATION?
Simply put the answer has to be “the exchange of knowledge”.

The English dictionary has it that education is “The process of educating – systematic training and development of the intellectual and moral faculties”.

Broaden the answer out a little as might be applicable to audio & music technology and we would also include,
• The physics of sound & the understanding of audio theory
• An appreciation of the creation of sound
• An understanding of the technology applied to capturing sound
• A working knowledge of using the tools to successfully capture sound
• The exchange of experience
• An appreciation of the roles involved in business
• The acquisition of work related skills leading to employment opportunities

student man on laptop
And on the list goes.

50 years ago the world was a much simpler place. The only way to get an education in audio & studio recording techniques was to get a job and learn as you go. And by comparison with today there was much less to learn about. The physics and fundamentals haven’t changed but the technology development curve is like the decibel, it’s exponential. From direct monaural analogue sound recording on a wax disc via a large horn, to 192 channels of automated mix down of digital data streams stored on a disc drive, the process of “Capturing a Performance” has changed enormously. You have to ask yourself is this the same process? And basically the answer is yes.

Many practitioners have been fortunate enough to live through and grow with the later part of this development. Start afresh today and you will be faced with a mountain of ‘Education’ to grapple with. So what is the best way to do this?

There are many ways of learning and all of them have advantages and disadvantages to the student. The traditional “I started as a tea boy” is still very valuable but very hard to come by and leaves the student with no recognised qualifications at all.

Most courses offer a satisfactory mix of theory, practice, life skills and personal development that lead to empowerment of individuals and the qualifications to open doors… if no more.

It is quite interesting that the dictionary covers three things under education: Training, Intellectual Development and Developing Moral Faculties. Though all of these may be included in the exchange of knowledge there is a danger of concentrating only on the training.

The old ‘tape op’ route is an interesting one because our view of it usually comes from those that proceeded through to a successful conclusion and moved on in the profession. But it was actually as much a Darwinian process as a training process. Tape ops would be taken on and many would either be fired or wander under their own impulses off into other areas. In this way, from a pool of possible people, there was a selection of those who had the right sort of intelligence and the right aptitudes to progress in the audio recording world. This was a very natural process, like seeds from a tree, but not an efficient process. There are many reasons to prefer this process to an educational course, but it is important to remember that for anyone running an educational course they have to make sure they are providing the platform on which to build the rest of a life for every student, which will include those who would have blown away elsewhere in the ‘tape op’ days.

Most courses offer a satisfactory mix of theory, practice, life skills and personal development that lead to empowerment of individuals and the qualifications to open doors… if no more.
Developing Moral Faculties may seem slightly irrelevant to Audio Education but if we rephrase it ‘developing the right attitudes to succeed’… The ‘tape op’ route is slow and personal. You learn from people you respect, with whom you spend a lot of time. Slowly you take on their attitudes and practices; you become the right sort of person.

And Intellectual Development… The great thing about the Tape Op days is that the tape didn’t change that fast. Yes, it grew more tracks and remotes made it easier to locate your drop in point, etc. But the pace of change of technology was fairly slow. Now the technology taught in the first year of a degree is likely to be out of date by the time a student graduates. It is essential, even to the students who will stick to the Audio Industry, that they have the deeper understanding of technology needed to grow with the technology. That requires an understanding of the underlying science and technology but also an understanding of human/computer interfaces, of society and how emerging technologies change the way we interact.

At a recent graduation, over 100 students graduated in ‘Music Technology’ and ‘Sound Technology’. Quite a number of these already had jobs in media companies, studios and live sound, but also there were several who will be moving on to Masters Degrees in Multimedia or Computer Graphics. Many students move away from Music or Audio by the time they graduate. Because their university course is more than training, they have the personal attitudes and intellectual skills to move with confidence in many possible directions. That is the job of a university, to ensure any student who, by the end of the course, is still seeking a future in the music industry, will have the best possible chance of succeeding and those that have changed direction have a solid basis on which to build their various futures.

Good courses must be built to deliver to individual needs and not everyone wants to work in a studio. Just as well in the current climate. ‘Education’ could be all theory and then go out and get the experience, or all practical and then go out and learn to do it properly by trial and error. The best education is a blend of the two and the challenge is to provide both the student and employer with an understanding of what type of education different courses might be expected to supply. The simple BA or BSc is a start but nowhere near helpful enough.

And so where might On-line remote educational courses sit in today’s environment? Many subjects lend themselves readily to this form of learning that has huge benefits to working individuals and those with a healthy desire to simply learn more, or to individuals tied down with “Life situations” that make it impossible to spend four years and a lot of expense away from home. Equally many subjects demand more practical “hands on” elements to the educational process. Once again the challenge is for both the student and employer to recognise the value and limitations of such ‘Education’.

It is more important that the education paths on offer are relevant to the students rather than ones that fit with a vision of how things should be. Students will have a much better idea of how they need to 'consume' the information, what they don't know is what information they require and how to use it - that is where JAMES comes in. It is indisputable that for some students full time courses are not an option as is moving to London or another city away from their homes - it is often economically and socially not possible and will become less so for more people for the foreseeable future. Therefore distance learning can be a valuable tool.

Our challenge therefore is to identify early on who can best supply this type of learning and devise ways to support it so that we can help to overcome any obvious shortcomings in the device. In this respect of course trying to incorporate the capacity for students on these courses to get access to real commercial facilities would be a good start. This can be easily bolted on to an online course as a purchasable option that would potentially benefit our studio community. JAMES Master classes and even Summer Schools could be incorporated into the schemes and that could benefit the conventional learning places.

Another challenge that applies to any education is the examination process and distinction between success and failure to learn. This is extremely important for the credibility of any education and is covered separately by the Validation process.

That is ‘Education’.

JAMES’ role is to assess all forms of education and measure the relevance to industry and value against the expectation of the student. And then convey that value to the world of employment.

One thing is a certainty for all of us. Our ‘Education’ never stops.