How Is Education Becoming Irrelevant - Education vs Learning

Why is continuous, lifelong learning more important than education?

Posted May 01, 2015

This topic is revisited periodically and needs to be. At this time of transition between an Industrial, Extractive Economy, and a Knowledge-based Information Economy, society has a new sense of urgency. How are we going to build value for society out of this new, intangible asset class, i.e., knowledge? To do this, what tools do we have or do we need to create? Who is going to do this? How are we going to understand what value this represents?

Traditionally, education, especially formal schooling, has been the most important factor in supporting the growth and development of a culture. What is the meaning and value of the process of education as we know it? How can the value be measured? Is the value timeless or contextually defined? How do we, individually and collectively, benefit from education? Who is responsible for education and learning?

How do we think about education? The origin of the word itself is Late Middle English, and comes from a Latin word, educere, which means “to lead out”. A contemporary definition from the Oxford dictionaries is: give intellectual, moral, and social instruction to (someone), typically at a school or university. Was the idea that, by educating the young, we, the older generation, are leading them out of ignorance?

Ahh, there’s the rub. The concept of education comes from a cultural tradition of elders knowing more than the younger generation. Today, technology evolution has so dramatically outpaced societal evolution that this assumption is becoming obsolete and irrelevant. Why? Because the Millennials, our next generation, have knowledge which the older generation doesn’t have and may not be able to comprehend as deeply.

Never before in the history of human civilization has this occurred. Of course, mature adults have more knowledge and experience, in general, than Millennials. A young person is aware of that gap. At the same time, in their hearts and guts, the Millennials are also aware that their understanding, the ease with which they can use the latest technology tools give them a serious advantage over their seniors.

What does this mean in practical terms? Corporations today are already struggling with this dilemma. A mid-level manager has to hire bright young employees to achieve business objectives using tools that the manager him/herself may not understand. How is the manager going to monitor and guide his/her young staff? What metrics of performance will he/she use? The old, familiar metrics are based on outdated methods of working. New tools require new metrics and management strategies.

A common complain about Millennials is that many have an attitude of “entitlement”. Obviously, many factors contribute, but consider this perspective. If you have specialized knowledge, wouldn’t you want the value of that knowledge to be acknowledged, if not appreciated?

In this new Economy, knowledge is power. This is a very different kind of power, however, from traditional power that is based on physical assets: money, tangible resources, i.e., land, physical assets like weapons, structural authority, etc. Knowledge, on the other hand, is meant to be shared. It must be shared if society as a whole is to evolve in positive directions. Can that spread be controlled or managed? The sharing process is irreversible.

In the old Economy, the concept of “ownership” determined power status. In the new Economy, what does “ownership of knowledge” mean? In practical terms, the value of knowledge is in its application. The ability to effect positive change determines value.

What are the consequences to society of the exponential growth in knowledge and new technologies, and the accompanying power shifts? How are we going to benefit from all this new energy being generated, that is driving change in every aspect of our lives?

We must re-frame the discussion around the concept of continuous, lifelong learning, in a 360-degree context. Every one of us must look at each other and every one of our experiences and ask ourselves: What can I learn from this person, and that experience? While maintaining a sense of confidence and personal strength, we must bring an open attitude, accepting the fact that, as the quantity of what we don’t know is growing exponentially, the significance of what we already know is decreasing, also exponentially.

All of us can benefit from this mindset, based on an emphasis on curiosity, a sense of adventure, and excitement to explore what we don’t know. We need to embrace the diversity and richness of life’s experiences. This kind of learning, by the way, is not a particularly efficient process, but it can be very enjoyable as well as rewarding.

The challenge of a Sharing Economy is huge. Are you ready?