3 reasons why lifelong learning is essential

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Why is a habit of lifelong learning a ‘must’ for workers wanting to thrive in the new economy? Why is low-skilled work starting to disappear, and what will take its place? Does augmented and virtual reality have a place in learning? How can people make the most of their learning and work time?

We’ve been thinking about lifelong learning recently, and why it is a habit that is becoming essential for anyone seeking to thrive in this new era of exponential technology and disruptive innovation. Questions that have guided our thinking are:

1. What trends are emerging in the world of work as a result of exponential technologies and disruptive innovation?

2. Which trends are likely to continue and accelerate, and how will work be disrupted?

3. What knowledge, skills and competencies will people need to thrive in this new era of work?

4. What are the implications for learning?

With up to 75% of American workers worried that their jobs will be lost to automation, it’s understandable that people are feeling slightly anxious about what will happen to the work they perform in the future. This is ‘automation anxiety’, and although real, it can be managed.

Robert E. Litan argues that as with past technological leaps, new jobs will likely be created and there will be enough work for everyone. The danger, he argues, is that wages will be ‘skills biased’ to a large extent, meaning highly skilled workers will be paid a lot more, and the existing inequality gap will grow ever larger. Four potential cures for this (and automation anxiety) have been identified:

1. Maintain a high pressure economy

2. Insure wages

3. Finance lifetime learning

4. Target distressed places

In other articles, we’ve looked at who might pay the costs of the life-long learning that will probably be necessary for workers to remain skilled and well paid in the new economy. Litan argues it will be the workers, with each having a loan account that pays for training that is repaid according to a fixed percent of income up to a certain ceiling. Developing the right mindset around learning will be crucial for the workers of the future, and instilling a habit of lifelong learning starts in the early years.

Are we having these conversations in our schools and communities? Do today’s ten year old students have opportunities to have conversations about what the world will look like for them in their early twenties? If not, how can we start this process?

As we see consistently in our research, opportunities for automation, worker shortages and low per unit costs are resulting in industrial robot sales increasing markedly – a trend that’s likely to continue and accelerate.

As human workers’ tasks are augmented by automation, the skills required by people in the workplace will change, and therefore what people need to learn and learn about will also change. Every routine cognitive and manual work task is at risk of automation, and even traditionally simple workers’ roles will change from the routine to the complex: solving problems, identifying delays in workflow, collaborating with others, thinking critically and possessing a strong technical capacity.

The change in work has already started, and will accelerate. The opportunities will be there, but will people have the capacity to perform the required roles? Are people learning the skills and competencies that they need to learn? Are they developing a habit of lifelong learning?

If what we read is to be believed, augmented and virtual reality (AR, VR) are poised to become the next big thing in learning. Both AR and VR are now in the hands of consumers through apps like Pokemon Go and gaming headsets like Oculus, and the idea is that powerful, immersive learning experiences for students can happen without leaving the classroom. Google Cardboard is a simple and low-cost method for exploring the beginnings of VR in learning, and there are free or low-cost ways to explore this with students. However as with other technology roll-outs since the 2000s, challenges await:

1. Infrastructure – this technology needs fast and robust Internet access, trained teachers and on-point technical support.

2. Cost – it’s expensive to develop and build this technology, and budgets are tight. A couple of units per school will not suffice. The technology is following Moore’s law and costs will come down, but will it be enough?

3. Obsolescence – modern high-quality tech. or virtual environments may be out of date and even non-functional 2 or 3 years from now. “Old enough to be covered in dust, and new enough to still be wrapped in plastic.”

4. Privacy – who own, controls and has access to the student data that’s generated, and what is the data used for?

It’s likely that AR and VR will become a bigger part of our lives over the coming years, and we’re keeping an open mind about how this technology will be applied in the learning space. We like the cheap, tinkering, curiosity-building model of Google Cardboard, but the jury is out on what AR and VR might look like in years to come.

What are your thoughts? Given your experiences as a parents / teacher / educator / human being, do you think that AR and VR have the potential to make a meaningful impact on learning?  Does it have the potential to make learning more accessible and efficient? Could this technology help facilitate a habit of lifelong learning?

To conclude, we ask: what makes some people vastly more productive than others? Answer: a relentless focus on a few key goals, and the ignoring of all other distractions. This is not an easy thing to do, and Farnam Street offers these insights in what allows others to achieve so much more with their time than the majority do. The steps are:

1. Break your week down in 15 minute blocks – a week has 672 blocks, or 96 blocks per day.

2. Now block out the time for sleep, family, friends, commute, exercise etc.

3. Write down all of the personal and professional goals that you want to achieve.

4. Choose the 3 most important.

5. Eliminate all other goals.

6. Schedule these into your remaining blocks per day (about 30-32 blocks, or 7 1/2 to 8 hours).

7. Use the 30-32 blocks to focus on your three goals, and those ones only.

It’s an interesting way to manage time, and apparently high performers such as Warren Buffet use this method. Although it looks simple, it’s certainly not easy.

Should daily learning be blocked as a non-negotiable? Do students have the opportunity to discuss these ideas with their peers and teachers? Is there room in the curriculum to investigate methods of operating such as this? If not, why not?

The research conducted and insights gained during the writing of this article have inspired the Indigo Schools Framework, the details of which can found in the Primer on our Resources Page. Send us an email at info@indigoschools.net or complete the form below if you’d like to learn more about how the Indigo Schools Framework can be successfully applied within your school. Also be sure to follow us on Facebook and Linkedin for our latest updates.

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