Learning Again

I received quite a response to last week’s blog. So I thought I’d add some more context. The topic is learning: continuous learning has been a widely heralded organizational and personal mantra. It is hard to argue against it. Why wouldn’t anyone not continuously look for ways to learn? We’re living in a flattened world with fewer barriers to knowledge, other people, other communities, and other experiences. It has been argued that those who learn best in a knowledge economy are modern-day gladiators who will withstand and profit from the fast-changing world.

I essentially argued last week that continuous learning was an incomplete model. Prior to the last twenty years (when knowledge was inaccessible, and we did not have the communication devices we presently have) it made sense to be satisfied with merely providing ourselves, our employees, and our students with knowledge. Where else were they going to get it from if not from the workplace learning programs, conferences, seminars, colleges, and universities? Learning allowed us to go from Not Knowing to Knowing through these channels. It was rare to then go from Knowing to Transformation – the state where the previous learning has been applied continuously resulting in higher state of performing and living.

The paradigm of learning has flipped entirely. Knowledge and opportunities to go from Not Knowing to Knowing are countless, practically free, and accessible to all those who consider themselves a 21st Century working professional. This societal transformation did not translate into the world of corporate and higher academic learning that are still stuck in transferring knowledge (some genuinely create it in research) and charging for it.

The continuous learning mantra needs to diminish itself and transform to a continuous application. In others words, I am arguing that though it is still very necessary to get from Not Knowing to Knowing, this step is happening cheaper, faster, and more organically (as a survival mechanism) and what is really needed is a great focus on providing learners with a structure and place to test and apply what they are learning in a continuum modality.

In Corporate America, this means changing the way leaders are developed and the way new skills are taught. In higher education, it means faculty spending part of their time in the same workforce where their students will end up in and for colleges and universities to transform themselves into four-year institutions of continuous application. Upon sharing this last week, a college professor asked me, “I teach History. What are you proposing I do with a topic where content will never change?” My answer? “Make the content relevant in a way that the student will know how to use it in a job interview, in a team project, in a presentation, a conflict situation… the things that the student will likely do several times over in his career.”

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