Jul 1, 2020

We should all be life-long learners

To take on the new age of work

This is a subject that is close to my heart. I believe that learning, in all its forms, is for everyone and that it has the power to transform any and every aspect of the human experience; it’s just a matter of how you apply it. Learning means something different to every person and, for me, it’s been a discipline, a hobby, an interest, a necessity, and a vehicle all at the same time. It’s not just a means to an end (a job, a qualification, or a skill), it’s also how we navigate the world — especially the world of work.

The case for learning

I love learning just for the sake of it, but I know that’s not the case for everyone. However, we can all agree that what you know affects your career. As far as I am concerned the debate about whether different generations (baby boomers, Gen X, Gen Y) value job security more or less is still inconclusive, but what I do know is that job security is not a given in a world where disruption is a constant. We are living in the gig-economy where a person will likely switch companies once every two years, and change job role or title many more times than that. We are living in an age of rapid change that is driven by advancements in technology, constant market changes, and globalization to mention a few. The brutal fact is that if we wait to see if the knowledge and skills we acquired in school, university, or wherever you get your training, are still relevant in the future, we will undoubtedly be left behind. Therefore, it is a necessity for businesses and individuals to become life-long learners so that they can navigate and succeed within, and across, industries.

An article by members of the Tehran University of Medical Sciences says this:

“The knowledge-based economy, new technologies, the growing speed of technological changes and globalization all influence the need to improve the population’s skills and competences.”

Their answer to this need is life-long learning, and I agree. Most people in the global workforce have their learning foundations in traditional schools and universities, but this kind of theoretical education can only take you so far in a world that requires competencies in a wide variety of subject areas and, often, specialised practical skills. Unless continuous, ever-relevant learning content is made available, there will be a significant gap between what a person knows and what they must be able to do in reality. This idea is explored in the four pillars of learning, described by Jacques Delors in his 1996 report for UNESCO. The third pillar in particular (Learning to do) details that people need to continuously acquire new knowledge and skills to effectively participate in the global economy and society.

And it is not just about filling the competency gap but doing it quickly. The faster we acquire new knowledge and skills, the faster we can start using it to create renewed efficiency and innovation within the subject area.

We all have access

If we talk about life-long learning we must also talk about access to learning content. There are companies and individuals who are digitizing content faster than we can imagine. There are countless ‘off the shelf’ online courses brought to you by hundreds of online course providers, and formal institutions are spending big money to digitize their prized content. Not to mention all the free material sitting on social platforms like Youtube and others (I’m a big fan of Crash Course). If anything, the challenge is not accessing content, but being able to curate it to your needs. Having access to quality, specialised learning content dramatically speeds up the learning process. Unfortunately, many in the working world swear by the ‘sink or swim’ method of learning which posits that people will pick up the necessary lessons as they go, but I would argue that this form of learning is short-sighted and necessitates a lot of failures before success is reached. And there is simply no need to fumble around in the dark when there is SO MUCH useful content out there.

While it is anxiety-inducing to live in a working society that constantly requires us to be learning, we should also recognise that we live in a time that gives us information on tap, whenever and wherever we want it. We have the ability to consume learning content from a plethora of media channels all the time, and it’s constantly being updated! That comes with its own challenges which we can discuss in another article, but I am convinced that this unprecedented access to learning content opens up opportunities and can fast-track growth.

So what’s next?

The growing online learning industry has evolved in response to this opportunity and has provided unparalleled accessibility and scalability of learning content. Digital transformation is infiltrating every aspect of life, and the key to enabling life-long learning lies in our ability to meaningfully leverage these emerging technologies. I am looking forward to watching how the e-learning industry adapts and changes over time, especially as user-generated learning content grows into something that challenges traditional educational ivory towers. It is exciting to watch traditional education providers, both offline and online, respond to digital transformation. For example, I love what LabXchange is doing to allow learning content to be broken down and reconfigured based on people’s needs. Businesses and academia must be a part of the transformation that allows people to be life-long learners or be left behind because of their inability to learn.