Are schools disrupted by Continuous Learning?

Today we see a different attitude towards the concept of learning

Some students tell me they find school childish, a waste of time and not relevant to what they want to do for work. They seem to know things already because they read continuously online. Sometimes it’s just social updates about people’s activities, but there is much more. They also read about the news or educate themselves about topics they find interesting. In other words young people seem to learn continuously but prefer to get that knowledge from the internet and are not very enthusiastic about what and how they learn at school.

Are schools disrupted by this trend of Continuous Learning?

Let’s look at a number of trends.

Continuous Learning: what is it and how many people are doing this? 

With continuous learning we usually mean reading many articles, blogs and books online. Watching videos, networking with experts from the same field. Not during a couple of consecutive years fulltime, but during many instant moments. During these short moments we follow the news or developments in a certain area online. The things we learn this way are usually not followed by exams or diplomas.
In other words: we learn instantaneously and continuously without being challenged to see if we got it right.

The drive to develop continuously is pushed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Employers, individuals and governments are looking for different skills in order to stay on top of the latest developments and participate in economic growth.

How many people are learning continuously is hard to measure since it could be anyone with a device and an internet connection. The good thing is that learning today is open to everyone, meaning inequality should be less as the information is freely available. A number of universities are even offering online courses for free.

It makes you wonder: if this is the new way of learning – not going to school or university but reading and studying as much as you can online – how do we measure the results? Should we measure it? How do you proof you are capable of something that was not followed by any form of examination? 

One thing is clear: continuous learning is very important to stay tuned with the latest developments and corresponding new businesses and job opportunities. For the current school systems it is very difficult to offer content that is adjusted to the latest requirements. 

How do we measure the outcome of Continuous Learning?

It is clear that there seems to be a shift from long lasting studies to quicker and shorter learning opportunities.
A talented young student recently literally said: “I study at University but actually it’s a waste of time. I know the materials already since I read about it, however I need the diploma to show the outside world I am capable enough.” That triggered me. Why would young people consider a longer study a waste of time? Or is it a logical consequence of the changes we see at a broader scale? The technical developments and new business and job opportunities are changing so fast, that it doesn’t make sense to study for so many years. When you finish such a study it is already outdated. As the World Economic Forum states 27% of the roles will be new roles by 2022. But still, how do you prepare for such new roles and how do you proof that you are the right person for the job?

Skills versus Knowledge. 

In many articles we read about ‘the skills of the 21st century, referring to the framework that was set up in the US in 2002 between partners in the public and private sector. Already at that time people saw the importance of these skills, needed in order to be successful in work, life and citizenship. 

Although knowledge and facts can redundantly be found on the internet, the way we use that information is more of a skill set. Therefor the four C’s play an important role in this framework: Critical analysis & Problem solving, Communication, Creativity & Innovation and Collaboration. 

If these skills become almost more important than knowledge, do we still need to go to school or can we just learn how to find and apply available knowledge? How can we learn these important skills? And what if robots have those required skills, what is left for us as human beings? 

Even at Universities we see shorter studies. Where it used to be four years at least, we now see studies of two years. During these two years you’ll get educated not to become a professor but to become an entrepreneur or any other more practical profession. And it makes sense: where knowledge used to be equal to power, today there is an abundance of knowledge and facts. You can find almost everything on the internet.
This development is amplified by the fact that even academic reports, software and books are made available online, often for free.

Since it’s not anymore about where you went to school, what you studied and what diploma’s you can show, but more about how you actually collaborate in a team, how do you adjust to ever changing environments and what you can offer in terms of new skills and relevant experiences, it is all depending on your ability to learn and your learning strategy whether your services will stay in demand.
In other words, what are your learning skills?

Entrepreneurship versus Employeeship

Today we see many young people preferring to start their own businesses rather than becoming or staying an employee in an established organisation. Many people start their own businesses offering new business models based on new technology. This is known for many years as Disruptive Innovation, it is needed in order to create opportunities for economic growth. 

Nothing new so far. However, the speed at which this process is happening now is unprecedented. It is triggered by the digitalisation of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Not only should individuals develop themselves. Also existing organisations are looking how to close the skill gap of a big part of their work force, because the existing work force has outdated skills. Roughly more than half of the work force should upskill or reskill by 2022 according to the WEF report.

As soon as the new company or startup becomes successful and enters the scaling phase it starts to look for more talent, competing with the existing organisations. This leads to an even increased demand for modern skills. 

Both the startups and the existing organisations are looking to hire the latest technical skills from people who are entrepreneurial minded. In that sense they are competitors.
In order to solve this issue so it will not block whole nations from innovation and economic growth we need collaborative initiatives between the public and the private sector and train people in the most demanded skills.
Some good examples in this space are the MoU** signed between StartupDelta and the representatives of universities of applied sciences in the Netherlands. They agreed to teach more entrepreneurial skills at the universities and to facilitate an entrance to the right network so the young startups can learn fast. But also the three programmes of Climate kic, are focussing on entrepreneurs, corporates and students in order to provide access to the right network, funding and education.
Next to this also commercial organisations are filling the gap. Like the Talent Institute at Startupbootcamp, where many people are trained in the latest skills, tools and mindset in order to be able to act and think like a startup.
So people now do have access to the right education and network in order to learn faster. However learning is more than just knowing theories and facts. Today it is at least as important to have the right skills. How do you teach skills?

Peer to Peer learning

Peer to peer learning stands for the old method where a newbie learns from an expert. Although the concept exists for a very long time, it is not so common to see it being implemented in a school system. With the fast changing demand for the latest skills we now see it coming back in the latest school systems.

In Amsterdam a new school has started, Codam. It’s coming from Paris where it has been running successfully since 2013. On their website they say ‘coding is a skill unlike any other’. You learn how to code from peers. This school has no teachers and is open 24×7 during the whole year.

It makes sense. Skills are difficult to learn from a book and easier learned by looking at experts. 

If these trends continue society will become very skilled and we will be learning all the time. But how profound will our knowledge and skills be? 

Are schools disrupted by Continuous Learning and Digital Transformation?

The awareness that it is extremely important to keep up with the latest digital developments might have caused the shift in believes amongst the younger generation about the usefulness of going to school. Also the news about startups getting lots of funding in a very short time gives the impression that starting your own business is equal to access to money. While focussing on long time education looks like an old fashioned concept and not very applicable to the current job requirements. 

Developments go with light speed and there is an abundance of information and knowledge to read. Why would you go to school?
Dedicating your time to a long lasting study almost feels like a waste of time: during the time you are studying, many new developments and news items are posted somewhere. And you just missed it!

Continuous Learning is very important, however it can also lead to less profound knowledge and less skills.
It would be good to realise that we cannot only live from Continuous Learning. We should treat ourselves and take some time off from the hasty live where we constantly fear to be missing out. It’s great to focus on short readings, but even better when combined with more profound training and education. The WEF expects the reskill and upskill requirements to take between 1 month to over a year. So we cannot leave schools and only read online.

Reading this all one thing stands out: we need a different kind of teacher. Teachers who have done work before, teachers with practical experiences. A more peer 2 peer system, where the teacher is the expert, and not only passing on theoretical knowledge and facts. 

We now have the opportunity to make a tighter connection between experts from the field, students & educational institutes. By bringing field experts and theoretical institutes together they can both learn from each other: the experts from the field learn theoretical models and get more understanding of what they are practising already, while the students can learn from real life experience and learn things that are hard to get from a book.

FOMO versus FOLE

While governments save costs on education by shortening the number of years for the same study materials, the students often feel burned out.
Recently I was speaking to a young student. She told me she felt burned out because of the feeling she had to be present everywhere: study, work and social activities. It burned all her energy and she felt exhausted. When we listed all of the weekly activities it showed a long list with an impressive number of hours that would never fit in one week. She was very brave and took the immediate decision to scrap some activities to get a more balanced filling of the week. You have to be very strong to do this, it can give you the feeling of missing things all the time.

You see the same phenomenon with Continuous Learning: this FOMO feeling almost makes us addicted to read every article there is. If we don’t do it ourselves, we get ‘interesting articles’ through the many different communication channels. In one occasion I heard colleagues were sending each other several interesting articles per hour. How can you do your work when you are flooded with articles every hout? We need to make time to reflect on what we are doing, where we want to improve and more importantly, where we want to deepen our knowledge.

The student, teacher and the school system should adjust to today’s requirements, while the field experts need to take time to share their experience. 

By doing this we can have both, profound knowledge and experience and skills. Also a better relationship between the students and the teachers can emerge. The skills and experiences can come from both the students and the teachers.
Schools will not be disrupted, but will be a market place where knowledge and experiences are exchanged.

The magic word as always seems to be ‘Balance’. A balance between Continuously Learning and Deep Learning. 

And about FOMO, Fear Of Missing Out. Let’s change that from now on into FOLE, Fun Of Learning Experience.
At least you didn’t miss this new word today.

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