Recent News

Not Nearly the Threat I Thought I’d Be

One of the last presentations that I did before I finished at William and Mary was to Mark Hofer’s doctoral class on student engagement. The topic was engaging adult learners, and it gave me the opportunity to look back over my time at William and Mary and to think about how it was shaped to a small set of core values about the way adults learn. These values are based on my belief that higher education would be more effective if we saw our core mission as helping our students become more effective and confident lifelong learners rather than as experts “delivering instruction.”

For me, the prime directive for understanding adult learning is:

Adult education is concerned not with preparing people for life, but rather with helping people to live more successfully [right now]. Thus if there is to be an overarching function of the adult education enterprise, it is to assist adults to increase competence, or negotiate transitions, in their social roles (worker, parent, retiree etc.), to help them gain greater fulfillment in their personal lives, and to assist them in solving personal, [professional] and community problems[1].

Within that prime directive, I’ve tried to stay true to several principles:

  1. Every learner is unique—as is every faculty member. Technology has given us extraordinary tools (bags of gold) to dig as deeply as we want to into areas of personal interest—and to help students learn to do the same. Our course designs should nurture that uniqueness.
  2. Learners are whole human beings. Thoughtful course design allows faculty members to be extremely creative in helping persons develop an integrated view of themselves as lifelong learners.
  3. The most effective classes are inquiry communities where participants work support each other in building new knowledge based on their individual backgrounds and experience. Engaging course designs allocate time to helping participants articulate and plan their own learning projects and to identifying ways they can help others accomplish their goals.
  4. Adults tend to organize their learning around solving problems rather than around “covering the material”. The simple shift to having students think about problems that they want to solve rather than assignments that they have to complete changes the dynamic of the class.

Through my discussion with the students in Mark’s class, it became clear that these core concepts are still seen as pretty radical, both by my colleagues and by many students. I feel a bit like folksinger Arlo Guthrie, who says that he still received a fair amount of attention from the TSA when traveling by plane. He acknowledges that most of the TSA officials have never heard of him, and he feels that he should let them know that “I’m nowhere near as big a threat as I had hoped to become”. When I finished my doctorate in Adult Education at Syracuse, I never thought these ideas would still be on the fringe of higher education practice 30 years later.

Requiem for a Dead Blog

When I met our new president for the first time. “Oh, you’re Gene Roche”, she said. “I looked at your web site.” That probably wasn’t a positive comment…

The site hadn’t been updated in a year. It was a WordPress blog with a theme that had been pretty outdated when I installed it in 2016 and certainly hadn’t got any fresher over time. The posts were generally long, images were few, the language was probably overly academic, and what structure was there didn’t really reflect my interests now. The site that had once been the center of my internet presence had become an embarrassment.

Long ago, I joined a small group of evangelists centered at the University of Mary Washington to promote the notion that everyone needed their little piece of the web that they controlled and that presented them to the world in the way they wanted to be seen. (The notion hasn’t gone away. Canadian Researcher Harold Jarche just posted an article

I challenged the students in my educational technology to Google themselves and to see if they liked what came up. I asked them to imagine that they were applying for a job and the chair of the search committee did a Google search–which, of course, every search committee chair did.

Quite a few of them started to do something about it. They registered a domain of their own, bought some space on a hosting service, studied search engine optimization, and started trying to manage their digital identity. I suspect that most of those sites are dead now, replaced by Facebook, Instagram, Youtube channels, and Tic Tock.

When I look back, building and maintaining that site was one of the more creative activities of my career even with all its warts. I enjoyed the technical challenges managing PHP and MYSQL and a host of other arcane sequences of all capital letters. In spite of some dry spells, I posted a couple of hundred mini-essays that gave me the opportunity to think a bit about some interesting things that I was encountering. I wonder if 100 days 1 of attention, of tweaking, of showing up could breathe some life into this and become an outlet for my creativity again.


  1. The 100 days comes from a workshop that I’m participating in. I’m sure I’ll provide more context and detail as we to down this path. ↩︎

Writing my way to a retirement plan.

Yesterday, I posted an overview of a process that I had recommended to one of my former colleagues to help get started on the process of finding a possible focus for her retirement. She’s an extremely accomplished woman, with deep expertise in her field, a long record of achievement, and plenty of energy to invest in activities that are personally meaningful to her.

The recommendation was based on the belief that I had for more than a decade that every professional needs a digital home base—that you own—where you can store and share the results of your work with others who share your interests. In many of the courses that I taught over the last 10 years, I’ve encouraged students to use some of the time and energy they are investing in taking a course in establishing their digital identities in ways that will live after them. (For an early discussion of this see this post from 10 years ago.)

I also believe that it’s important that those of us who freely give advice understand the implications when someone actually takes it. In the following section, I’m going to comment on some ways that I hope to follow my own advice in creating my retirement plan.

  • Buy a copy of What Color is Your Parachute, and do the exercises. (This still is the best resource, to my mind, for anyone who wants to engage in systematic career change at any life stage.) ($16 for the paperback.)

I’ve done the exercises in Parachute multiple times including two trips to Bend for Dick Bolle’s two-week workshop. I’ll be using the Kindle version of What Color Is Your Parachute? for Retirement, Second Edition: Planning a Prosperous, Healthy, and Happy Future. Amazon Link

  • Get a domain name and a web hosting service. ($15 for the domain and $12 for a month’s hosting service.)

I already have a couple of domain names (generoche.net and generoche.com.) I use hover.com as my registrar and highly recommend them. From many years I used BlueHost.com as my hosting service, but bailed on them when I got tired of upgrading plugins and trying to figure out what sql call was triggering the throttle for my account. I’ve cut back my hosting to a single WordPress instance on wordpress.com. Every year I look at possibly moving to squarespace.com, and if I were starting from scratch, I’d look at it as a real possibility.

  • Start a WordPress blog. Pick a theme that you can live with for a month, and don’t get bogged down in tinkering with fonts, themes or color palettes. There’ll be plenty of time for that later.

I have a blog with several hundred posts on it that I can use for this project. It really needs updating, and it will be hard for me to keep from tinkering with the appearance to concentrate on the writing. This is a perfect example of the “easier said than done” fallacy of advice-giving.

  • For five days each week for the next month, write a post. The goal is to find something from your work, reading, thinking, social media or other source that seems to you to be worth sharing in a form that is longer, more fleshed out and potentially more useful than a tweet, clicking “like” or adding a comment. For many folks, 350-500 words might be a reasonable target for a post, but adjust your targets as you learn more about your own habits and preferences.

When I was working on my dissertation, my advisor gave some really good advice: “When you’re promising me what you’re going to finish before the next meeting, cut the goal in half and double the time. You’ll come much close to delivering what you promise.” That was good advice then, and it’s just as good now. I’ll try to be more comfortable with shorter posts—hopefully not months (or years) apart.

  • Don’t worry about whether anyone reads your posts or not. If you decide that this is a practice you want to continue, you find lots of advice about how to build your audience.

This is tough. Producing a decent post is hard work, and it’s normal to want to get a visible return on the work you’ve invested. My goal this month is to use the blog to “find my own voice” in writing for a new audience about different topics.

  • At the end of a month, do a content analysis on your site. Who were you writing for? What kinds of posts did you think would help your audience members? What kinds of problems or opportunities did you posts address? What themes emerged that might be explored in more depth?

Richard Saul Wurman said: “My definition of learning is to remember what you are interested in. If you don’t remember something, you haven’t learned it, and you are never going to remember something unless you are interested in it. These words dance together. ‘Interest’ is another holy word and drives ‘memory’. Combine them and you have learning.” ~ Richard Saul Wurman. Post things that pique your interest so that you can remember them a month from now.

  • Don’t beat yourself if you didn’t keep up the discipline of writing every weekday for a month. Most people don’t, and you might be able to cross of one career possibility—being a professional blogger—off your list of potential ways to spend your valuable time during retirement.

If I actually hit the post button on this–never a sure thing–this will be the my second post in using this process in refining my own retirement goals.

Writing Your Way to a Meaningful Retirement

I’m in the midst of my third month of being “retired” from William and Mary and things are admittedly quite different than I had imagined.

In this series of posts, I’m going to share some ideas about how to move into a new life role as a “retired person” post pandemic. In July of 2019, the Chautauqua Institution collaborated with the The Stanford Center on Longevity to host a fascinating weeklong event, “The New Map of Life: How Longer Lives are Changing the World”. Clearly their vision of retirement went well beyond playing golf and complaining about the government full-time, which used to be the primary activities of a couple of my retired friends. The project asks us retired folks to consider what we want to learn and what we want contribute in the final 20-30 years of our lives. (Chautauqua is closed this summer, and we are grieving big-time.)

Stanford Center on Longevity’s New Map of Life™ initiative aims to envision a society that supports people to live secure and high-quality lives for a century or more. This new initiative will research and define new models for education and lifelong learning, redesign how we work, advise new policies for health care, housing, the environment and financial security, and promote more intergenerational partnerships. It will also advance a new narrative, which redefines what it means to be “old” and values people at different stages of life.

Choosing where we want to invest our time and energy isn’t simple. A few years ago, one of my colleagues (also a former student in one of my classes) asked if I had any ideas for how she might think about what she wanted to do next with her career now that she had completed her doctorate. This sounded like the perfect example of a self-directed learning project, and we worked through a process to some up with the following project.

We began with the assumptions that she’d be willing to invest an hour a day for a month and spend $100 cash to accomplish her learning.

  1. Buy a copy of What Color is Your Parachute, and do the exercises. (This still is the best resource, to my mind, for anyone who wants to engage in systematic career change at any life stage.) ($16 for the paperback.)
  2. Get a domain name and a web hosting service. ($15 for the domain and $12 for a month’s hosting service.)
  3. Start a WordPress blog. Pick a theme that you can live with for a month, and don’t get bogged down in tinkering with fonts, themes or color palettes. There’ll be plenty of time for that later.
  4. For five days each week for the next month, write a post. The goal is to find something from your work, reading, thinking, social media or other source that seems to you to be worth sharing in a form that is longer, more fleshed out and maybe more useful than a tweet, like or comment. For many folks, 350-500 words might be a reasonable target for a post, but adjust your targets as you learn more about your own habits and preferences.
  5. Don’t worry about whether anyone reads your posts or not. If you decide that this is a practice you want to continue, you find lots of advice about how to build your audience.
  6. At the end of a month, do a content analysis on your site. Who were you writing for? What kinds of posts did you think would help your audience members? What kinds of problems or opportunities did you posts address? What themes emerged that might be explored in more depth?
  7. Don’t beat yourself if you didn’t keep up the discipline of writing every weekday for a month. Most people don’t, and you might be able to cross of one career possibility—being a professional blogger—off your list of potential careers.

If this experiment works, you might have found a direction for some sustained, deliberate activities that will enrich your retirement. If not, you’ll probably be able to remove “becoming a professional blogger” from your list of possible retirement activities.

Owning Your Own Future

One of the last pieces that I read as I was leaving Williamsburg last summer was an column by Tom Friedman that captured many of the the central themes for our course this fall.  The central idea of the article is certainly one that resonates with me: the increase in the power of computer technology generated by robotics, artificial intelligence and “the internet of things” has created a world where every decent job demands more skill AND a stronger commitment to self-directed, lifelong learning.

Friedman quotes the C.E.O of Intel in his belief that his grandchildren won’t drive their own cars. History has shown the danger of putting too much faith in the predictions by the managers of technology companies, but it certainly seems possible that we’ll see fleets of autonomous vehicles in the next couple of decades. Those fleets will create good jobs for some engineers but they’ll also drive massive disruptions for those who drive trucks or cabs, sell lability insurance or own downtown parking lots.

The main enabler for the move to autonomous vehicles is the exponential increase in power and decreasing cost of computer power. The next generation of computer chips will allow car manufacturers to shrink the brain of a self-driving car from “something that fills the whole trunk to a small box under the front seat”. The result, as Friedman notes, is “a world where we can analyze, prophesize and optimize with a precision unknown in human history”

That ability to analyze, predict and optimize will infuse most jobs in the developed world as computer power increases. (We need to constantly remind ourself that if combined computer capability doubles every year, we’re looking at increases of 100 times plus over the next eight years.) When many of us think of the oil industry, we think of roughnecks, roustabouts and riggers on drilling platforms in the Gulf. That’s only part of the story as Friedman reminds us in his description of the the control room of Devon Energy in Oklahoma City–a “half a floor of computer screens displaying the data coming out of every well Devon is drilling around the world…if you’re working on a Devon oil rig today, you’re hold a computer, not just an oily wrench.”

The underlying reality for oil workers is that that they will need be be able to use–the computer and the wrench and they’ll need to manage their learning to keep with the changes in the computing technology. The wrench may not change much, but it’s pretty certain that the computer will be telling workers what to loosen or tighten and when to do it.

Friedman also describes how a College Board study that showed how reshaping some of our most entrenched institutions can foster self-directed, lifelong learning.

“We analyzed 250,000 students from the high school graduating class of 2017 who took the new PSAT and then the new SAT,” College Board president David Coleman told me. “Students who took advantage of their PSAT results to launch **their own free personalized improvement practice** through Khan Academy advanced dramatically: 20 hours of practice was associated with an average 115-point increase from the PSAT to the SAT — double the average gain among students who did not…

Practice advances all students without respect to high school G.P.A., gender, race and ethnicity or parental education. And it’s free. Our aim is to transform the SAT into an invitation for students to own their future.”

As we’ve been moving forward with our course this fall, we’ve been looking at how the lessons of industries as diverse as oil drilling and long-haul trucking can shape our personal and professional approaches to learning. For me, Friedman gets it right when he notes that, “And that means: More is now on you. And that means self-motivation to learn and keep learning becomes the most important life skill.”