We Learn from All Our Life
As we embrace the evolving landscape that is our technology driven lives, adult learning has come back into vogue through the approach of lifelong learning. While encouraging all of us to be lifelong learners and giving us access to informal learning is a step in the right direction, I think we run the risk of not seeing the bigger picture. Why? Because the current iteration of lifelong learning is not only centered on a narrow band of skills, those predominantly needed for knowledge-based industries, but also delivered in a manner that resembles the traditional formal education system – teaching specific subjects.
Lifelong Learning Rapidly Becoming a Narrow Approach
What Lifelong Learning was meant to be, and where it has “landed,” is worth understanding. It first came into being in 1970 when it was taken up as a central organizing idea by UNESCO — The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization — with the goal of developing learning societies. However, over the years it waned as an idea until the late 1990s when technology advances began to directly affect everyday life and there was a growing recognition that jobs would change as technology advanced. Today’s version of lifelong learning is a direct result of the move toward knowledge-based industries that are revolutionizing the workplace.
Lifelong Learning has become the mantra of companies seeing the advantages of investing in human capital, the rise of a knowledge workforce who expect companies they work for to invest in their continued “education”, and a growing market for re-training and training programs in predominantly knowledge based skills. And, online learning and so called “boot camps” have grown exponentially – think Coursera, General Assembly, and Udacity.
And, all for good reason. The past reality of going to college, studying a subject, getting a job using that specific knowledge and being in that industry for 30+ years no longer exists for most of us. In fact, The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports the average worker will cycle through 10 different jobs before they are 40. And, Forrester Research predicts that our youngest generation of workers will hold 12 to 15 jobs in their lifetime. Finally, current data shows that the half-life of our skills is 5 years. So, continually advancing, or rebooting, the skills that enable us to get or keep a job is a must. But, lifelong learning’s current focus does not go far enough. It misses the big picture of all the other skills we need to navigate life and work. Skills that the current formal education system and its continued focus on testing doesn’t teach us.
“All of Life is Learning.” Eduard C. Lindeman
My father taught me that learning opportunities outside of the classroom were as important as those inside it. He instilled in me the understanding that our everyday experiences and how we dealt with them – family, social, cultural, and community — were all part of my learning and to pay attention. In my work, as Co-Founder of TCOY: The Culture of You, we focus on the importance of concepts such as: Hidden funds of knowledge, Auto-ethnographic experiences, Creative and Artistic processes, Social-emotional learning, and Cultural Safety. Both lead to the same conclusion, aptly summed up by Eduard C. Lindeman, in his book, The Meaning of Adult Learning, published in 1926, “All of life is learning.” And for me, this is where our current lifelong learning philosophy comes up short. It doesn’t teach us “how to learn” from all our experiences — situations. Instead it focuses on teaching us “what to learn” — subjects.
Lindeman’s view of a more complete education united and integrated formal education with learners’ own attempts to develop themselves through their lifewide experiences. This approach to “education” leads to personal enrichment, civic participation, and social capital development – a learning society.
Rethinking Essential Skills
As technology rapidly takes over many of what might be considered “the mundane tasks” of our everyday lives and work, we need to rethink which learned skills are essential to keep us engaged, aware, thriving, and, of course, working. I believe lifewide learning is a more relevant approach as it includes life and higher-order skills which now become key to our success.
Life and higher-order skills are those that enable us to deal effectively with the demands and challenges of an ever-changing landscape. They allow us to adapt to change, be flexible, and open to new ideas. They include: Focus and self-control, perspective, communication, social intelligence, resilience, creative and critical thinking, problem solving and decision making, and making connections (or as Richard Branson says A-B-C-D, always be connecting the dots).
Don’t misunderstand me here; continuously evolving and adding to our functionally-based work skills is important. But so is knowing how to learn from all our experiences, learning by doing, learning from (and with) others, everyday — situational learning that builds our uniquely human skills. It is not an either or, it is yes and.
About TCOY: The Culture of You. https://tcoy.co
TCOY is an interdisciplinary team of creatives with expertise in entertainment, media, and youth studies. We design and curate interactive curriculum and content for high schools and the workplace, to help people navigate life’s big transitions, become their authentic selves, and our next generation of leaders.