Unintended consequences, mindset and biases

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Today’s article looks at learning, specifically learning systems, how changing work affects learning and the importance of understanding thought processes such as unintended consequences and biases – we’ve also included the usual series of questions to provoke thought and discussion in classrooms and around dinner tables.

We start with a comparison via https://www.weforum.org of two education systems almost as far apart as it’s possible to be. One the one hand, we have Finland, widely hailed as a (the?) global leader in learning, redesigning every school according to open plan principles, with flexibility in timetable, programme, use of space, interdisciplinary learning across all years (phenomenon-based learning), no external testing or evaluations, well-resourced, respected teachers – the list goes on. Arguably, this represents a mature, forward-thinking and innovative education system that is the gold standard for many economies globally.

On the other, we have Liberia. Ravaged by years of poverty and civil war, Liberia is seeking to more efficiently use the little money it does have per student (about US$100 per year) by forming private/public partnerships with established education providers. In a national trial, attendance has improved, ‘ghost teachers’ have been eliminated, the school day has lengthened and class sizes have been reduced. Other benefits include reducing dependence on foreign aid, the opportunity to modernise and become sustainable whilst retaining control of the curriculum and learning.

By comparison to Finland, these are small steps that address basic fundamentals, but they are significant. The work in Liberia is attracting interest from across Africa, and we look forward to following Liberia’s progress as it starts to address teacher pedagogy and resourcing. Liberian children deserve exactly the same opportunities for learning as those in Finland.

What type of learning system development pathway might Liberia follow? Can its education system leap forward, or does it need to move through a series of phases, with each being subsumed into the next?

From the World Economic Forum (WEF) in consultation with The Boston Consulting Group, this report examines projected structural changes in the US job market by 2026, identifies ‘good fit’ transition opportunities for workers and potential pathways as jobs become disrupted. The change is significant, but the opportunities will exist for those who are prepared:

“… what will be required is nothing less than a societal mindset shift for people to become creative, curious, agile lifelong learners, comfortable with continuous change.”

We have to change the way students learn in schools. People’s jobs will depend on it. It’s that simple.

This is a powerful report from McKinsey & Company using interactive graphics to demonstrate how automation and AI will improve productivity (on a 2030 timeframe), but lead to widespread job losses along with repositioning of work. The potential impact varies by occupation, sector and location, with some sectors not projected to lose jobs due to humans being re-trained for new roles once machines take over.

The report concludes by noting that despite the upcoming shift, investment to support the workforce and the change that is coming is decreasing, stating that “Educational models have not fundamentally changed in 100 years. It is now critical to reverse these trends, with governments making workforce transitions and job creation a more urgent priority.”

Should we rely on governments to make this change, or should it start with us? Is education and learning ripe for disruption?

With the Netflix experience as one example, this article (also from the WEF) examines how growth and business complexity have been transformed in the age of rapid disruption. Traditional top-down management structures, methods and incremental improvements have no place when dealing with the volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA) of the modern business world.

Dealing with uncertainty, design thinking, contextual awareness, a multidisciplinary approach – this is the new language and reality of business and work. Does the way our children learn currently reflect and prepare them for this?

Our next article looks at how machine learning might disrupt the world of work in areas that were once deemed too complex to be automated, and explores how AI and humans can and do work in harmony. The article also discusses likely job and skills susceptible to disruption, touches on the growing gig economy (up to 50% of American workers in coming years, but there are problems) and concludes with sharing how the digital skills gap might be closed, which does and doesn’t appear to be working.

It was interesting to note that even well-designed training programmes “… might not be sufficient to ensure success in the world of digital work.” Digital skills themselves are not enough – what other knowledge, skills. attitudes and values do people need to thrive in the emerging world of work? How might they learn them?

Further, the article states that “Although robots and AI are unlikely to replace humans entirely, these and other rapidly evolving technologies do promise to revolutionise the workplace in the near future. “

Here’s an interesting article via Farnam Street with a discussion about unintended consequences. Providing several examples of well-intended human actions resulting in disastrous outcomes (animal releases, banning substances, cobra breeding), the article argues that “Most unintended consequences are just unanticipated consequences. And in the world of consequences, intentions often don’t matter.”

Unanticipated consequences arise from a failure to think systemically, ignorance about how the world works, failure to change thinking in light of new information and failure to consider long-term consequences. Humans must think critically to avoid unintended consequences. They need to recognise biases, be open to new information and ideas, invite discussion, be curious, and understand where we are competent and where we are not. These are skills that need to be practiced, and we argue that the benefits of this will be seen not only in lives and careers, but in schools, communities and societies.

Do our children practice these skills in their learning at school? Do they have the opportunity to engage critically with themselves and the world around them? If so, what does it look like?

Why is it easier to make decisions for other people? It’s all to do with mindset. When it comes to thinking for ourselves, we tend to be cautious, uncertain, and avoid risk. With others though, our perspective is different, we focus on the ‘big picture’ and overall impressions. When making decisions for ourselves, every detail matters and has significance, when looking at others, not so much.

What does this mean for our learners, and indeed ourselves? It means that we all need a mentor, someone who we trust who tells you what you need to hear. We also need to practice acting as our own advisors, and adopting a ‘fly on the wall’ perspective when viewing our own problems. Not an easy thing to do, and something that requires learning and practice.

It’s either that or let someone else make our decisions for us.

Cognitive biases – so crucial for us to recognise, and so few appear to be aware of them – just read any Twitter flame war. As aspirational human beings, it’s easy to make simple mistakes when we process information and try to make sense of the world around us, however many of us do not appear to realise this – our perception of reality is Truth, and Truth can be a problem. It’s crucial that we understand the mistakes that we can make when receiving and interpreting information and why they happen.

We consider this to be essential for any human being to engage with, discuss, reflect on and recognise. Let’s at least start the conversation, and if you’re interested, have a look at School of Thought. What biases am I personally sensitive to? It’s a long list, but the dunning-kruger effect, just world hypothesis, curse of knowledge, group think and optimism bias are good starting points for me. I have a poster of them on my office wall – I need to be constantly reminded of them, as we all do.

A short share from Yudu to finish, with a list of now-common jobs that didn’t exist at all 20 years ago. While the creation of new job types has happened for as long as humans have worked, what’s changing now is the rate, especially during the period of Covid-19. It’s advancing rapidly, and chances are it will continue to accelerate as technology changes and improves ever more rapidly.

Are schools having conversations with their communities about this? How are young people becoming aware of new opportunities in the world of work? How can they position and prepare for them while still at school?

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.

Interested in transforming your school? Let’s start a conversation.

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