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Education and learning to learn

Education and learning to learn

This section is concerned with the knowledge that people need in order to operate within an increasingly complex world, and the means by which they get this. Education - and the capacity to self-educate - is a generic term, but how these sources of information and interpretation are delivered remains an open question.

The text is divided into four sections. First, we outline five challenges for education. Second, we explore the ways in which educational delivery will expand. Third, we dissect the generic term, "education", to see what it entails when it is to be carried out in a longer, deeper and wider manner. Finally, we look at where this collection of activities may develop.

Five challenges for education.

Five challenges for education.

Education should meet five fundamental challenges. First, the longevity of specific information is becoming ever-shorter. The pool of scientific knowledge doubles every 19 months, and that of biology every nine.

Second, the categories of knowledge are merging in unpredictable ways, and the user of knowledge is often a social group, rather than an individual. It has been fashionable to talk of the 'learning company', but genuinely transpersonal decision-taking and understanding seems with us in the best organisations and may soon become general. Indeed, it is here where 'learning to learn' and 'learning to operate' both come to the fore. So-called 'leaderful' organisations see option spotting and direction setting as something done across the organisation, rather than at some hypothetical core. The social skills entailed here and in navigating within a complex society are both critical and hard to teach.

The third challenge is connected with the shift in the 'offer' from supplier push to user pull. There are two facets to this:

In prospect, organisations may well be segmented less through their formal industrial domain than through the knowledge that they use, the scale and time frame within which they operate and the stakeholders whom they have to appease. All of these feature will change, and the range of knowledge and skill that such organisations will need must be expected to alter. Further, the skills pool and its use are often the key to market value, the ability to attract assets or convince others of an idea of policy. It is inevitable that the means to husband and account for these assets will become 'harder' and more rigorous. It follows that whilst a GOSPLAN-like forecast of HR needs is unlikely ever to be attractive, nonetheless we shall be in a position to be far more definitive as to what we need and how we should motivate and reward those involved.

The fourth challenge is concerned with the institutions of learning. It is virtually predetermined that courseware will consolidate around general standards of best practice and around new means of delivery. As a consequence, the role of all but the provider of the most basic skills will be less that of a teacher that that of an interpreter and a guide. Much learning will be de-located in space and time, as fits needs; and coaching may become a continual, but episodic or part-time task, perhaps conducted within a broader job.

The fifth challenge may well be the most difficult to surmount. The key skills are those which grant social competence and confidence. The knowledge economy seems to depend critically upon the ability to work across all manner of boundaries: or ownership, culture, focus and time frame. The social skills that allow participation are most lacking in those least advantaged in society. The lack of these skills, assumptions and habits or interaction has been amply demonstrated to be the key determinants of exclusion in studies conducted in the US, the UK, the Federal Republic, the Netherlands and Australia. Training which involves real-world experience has proven invaluable to prepared minds.

Schooling - in the sense of attending a fixed place - will certainly continue for the younger learner. Our participants noted that the social skills that are currently acquired willy nilly have the potential to be structured; and the user-led styles of education which may be coming on stream may free pupils from class-focused to project-focused work, such that social skills and collaborative habits are acquired in a structured environment. Schools tend to be still in a community, separating the pure spirit of local, normative orthodoxy. Where the milieu is middle class, the orthodoxy is that of the liberal consensus laced with self-help and ambition. Where the milieu is broadly excluded, less constructive norms may flourish. This could be managed and is being managed in those societies less concerned with social embarrassment than the UK.

It was remarked that whilst a financial director or an doctor from 1970 would feel helpless in the equivalent job today, most teachers would barely note the difference. This is worrying, and it implies that the five challenges that we have outlined will drive change in a major sector that has sheltered itself from such forces. It will need to rethink itself. It funding will need to be reconsidered. It will need to change its human resource base.

Three ways in which education may change.

Three ways in which education may change.

We suggest three ways in which education will change. It will become longer, in that it will continue through a life. It will be broader, in that specialist skills will increasingly need to be embedded in social and conceptual contexts that allow their possessor to find their way through life. The will need to be deeper, in the sense of reaching beyond the individual into team and community goals.

These fit neatly with the three principle components of individual cognitive fitness which have been derived from meta-studies of psychometrics and careers. First, we have a bundle of attributes on which we may excel or be weak that support what most mean by academic intelligence: analytical capacity, articulacy, cognitive integrity, holding a stock of knowledge to useful ends. Second and distinctly, we have what might be called 'pragmatic intelligence': we can make things work, solve problems, find our way with people, syntheses ambiguous evidence and display intuition. Third, we have 'social intelligence': we display empathy and deviousness, we enable teams and we manipulate them.

Few people score highly on all of these categories, and the combinations of one or two of them point up some highly recognisable types. Few professionals in today's world absolutely lack any one of the three, and most have a fair measure of all of them. Delivering these takes time - which is at least one reason why professional earnings rise with time and experience, whilst the earning power of the technical expert does not - and it is evidently hard to teach or otherwise transmit these skills save through example, trial and error and the social norms within capable organisations.

'Education' as a portmanteau word.

'Education' as a portmanteau word.

It may be a mistake to see 'education' as a unity, any more than other portmanteau words - environment, defence - mean only one thing in all circumstances. This text has made a number of 'cuts' through the issue of how knowledge needs are identified, given priority, satisfied. We have looked at five major challenges and we have thought about three major styles of knowledge exchange and, indeed, of effective cognition. The intensity with which these consideration apply vary considerably with age, aptitude, challenge and motivation.

Roles for the educationalists
Longer learning/ academic intelligence
Broader learning/ pragmatic intelligence
Deeper learning/ social intelligence
Maintaining foundation knowledge
Classical model build-integrate-extend-update.
Integrate experiential, formal learning
A major void: define the gaps, fill them: how?
Learning to learn in the context of daily life
Back-integrate from higher education
Key role for clear motives and tools
The machinery of feedback is key; also milieu
Active interaction with the learning that is on offer
Near-complete re-invention; new partners
As left; trainers do not under-stand e.g. SMEs
As with 'maintaining': a major void
The role of the teacher-trainer-coach-facilitator
New roles, new goals, new staff developed anew
As left; real experience as a key attribute
As left, as above: who and how?
Acquisition of life skills for multiple roles and goals
Largely new terrain, with political issues
As above; and as left but less political
Intensely political issues: whose criteria?

These issues vary in their intensity with life stage. The very young need huge amounts of structured information before they can usefully browse and self-select. They need this information in the context of all three columns, however: in terms of structured thinking and thoughts, with regard to structured approaches to real-world messy problems and - often of the highest importance - in respect of a helpful, enabling set of social assumptions and reflexes.

The first blossomings of independence may best be served with problem centred, learner-centred approaches, as discussed above. Higher education may well take on this as a 'flavour' but may also add to it the value of real-world experience in applying what has been learned. First work experience may invert this: extended learning may be layered in sensible, modular ways over practical experience. Mature counselling or coaching can be an immodest help; and IT is particularly suited to deliver this. The growing cadre of the educated retired offers great potential in this regard.

"Further" learning may well have much to say to income planning, career management and personal goal setting. All of these can be evidence based, enabled by advice and interaction between trainers, organisational HR staff and independent service providers, such as career managers.

Models for the future.

Models for the future.

The goal of education - however segmented - seems to be to deliver three things. First, it must create the foundations, the building materials and the architectural abilities such that distributed learning (self-actualisation, local optimisation) can be carried out. We cannot achieve a top-down definition of what is needed, in the manner of the C19th, so we must fit people to develop themselves, give them the tools to find what is needed and the means by which to take advantage of this.

Second, a very important goal of education must be to create socially- and emotionally-intelligent people, who can both work together and also adapt themselves to complex and changing situations. There needs to be a civic sense, in that the way in which a society works has to be seen as a relatively fragile system, rather than a set of givens. There must be a developing 'discourse' around the technical and often complex and distressing issues that modernity makes the substance of public policy. Political correctness and sentimentality, populism and sound bites are no substitute for rational debate around painful social issues. We need to learn how to talk amongst ourselves.

Third, education has been the traditional path out of exclusion and poverty. It will remain so. Two additional points must be made, for the future will be different from the present. First, the term 'exclusion' implies and excluder. All too often, however, it is the norms of a milieu which traps its members, not the walls erected by those beyond. Educational processes can offer insight and a broader perspective. Such a project would, however, set out to breach the many inhibitions that the educational community has erected around the value of 'pluralism', ethnic and other forms of local identity. These would be less devalued, however, than set in their proper context.

Second, there are many drivers towards increased levels of exclusion. Outsourcing that reaches to world markets places the locally-unproductive into direct competition with low wage areas. Strongly developed, general learning-to-learn may well amplify existing innate distinctions. The knowledge economy will differentially reward the knowledgeable. Those with social skills will navigate better, find stronger options, build further networks; whilst those who lack these capabilities will also lack this entré. A learning society could, therefore, become increasingly divided. The solutions to this are evidently complex but the elements of them are, perhaps, outlined above.

K-commerce E-commerce
Depends on getting people to pool what they know, often working across organisational boundaries. Key skill consists of getting from generalisations to the specific.
There are many nuances, and value comes from finesse. Solutions are not replicable, and do not scale easily.
Depends on having a detailed specification of what is to be done. Key skill lies in starting from an established, agreed clear idea.
Huge economies of scale, such that value comes from standardisation. Solutions must be replicable, anywhere and by any contractor.

The "just-in-time" approach to manufacture allowed substantial cuts to be made in working capital. The means by which this was done usually involved computers and always required telecommunications, but owed much more to conceptual analysis, practical implementation and managerial determination than it did to technology. The technology enabled the change, but did not enforce it. Railway timetables could not have been implemented without the telegraph and related IT, but the organising principles needed to be created in addition to the technology. Knowledge (of "how" to do something, and of "what" to do) are what transform raw potential into an integrated whole.

The industrial economies are being transformed into a toolbox of potential, some of it drawn from IT and much more of it from other capabilities. Information technology can be harnessed to help with the exploitation of this potential, but does not of itself point to either the 'what' or the 'how'. This relies upon human ingenuity. Unprecedented numbers of better informed, better inter-linked and better-educated people are now considering a toolkit of huge and growing potential. It is to this that we must look for the 'new economy'.

All change! New possibilities and rapid erosion.

Many existing industries are about to face precipitate change. For example, television and the advertising that often supports it are based around the idea of channels. Wide band width to the home implies that the user can schedule their own viewing, or have someone else do this for them. How advertising is to cope with this is less than sure. New technology already allows broadcast TV to be recorded on a local drive in a selective manner, with the advertising edited out and the content organised to reflect user preference. It may be that advertisers pay to access specific viewers in specific states of mind by, for example, dynamic product placement in video streams. Viewers will be able to stop a program, examine a part of it - for example, a product - and perhaps branch out to buy this, index it to some preference list that they may have or in other ways react to such placement. One could buy a dinner 'just like that one' or the makeup on a star's face, the design skills that created a set or access to a service that will help to fund such a purchase.

Later, we may see even more startling possibilities as the content that is being viewed itself becomes open to customisation. (The 'story engine' in a current games machine, which accepts input and drives the 'rendering engine' to show the consequences of this on the screen hints at what may be possible. As we have seen earlier, local 'decompression' of data allows very powerful things to be done once the capability is installed. Whole new industries can and will be grown from this base. One thought, with early practical applications, has been developed by various science fiction writers as 'partials' or 'betas': representations of oneself that are sufficiently faithful that they can be allowed to act as an intermediary. Early versions may act as a screen for telephone calls, a scheduling tool and as a search agent for ideas and entertainment.

Broad band will offer other features, such as contextual live help with everything from balky software to life's more general problems. The helper will certainly be in a remote location, but may - as time goes by - be less a person that a synthetic structure, a simulation, with humans in the background should the simple responses fail. The complexity of life may well make a what appears as an individualised, universal helper a very attractive service.

The future is going to appear complex and to be complex. The speed with which events will occur will increase. This will be coupled to a wider range of options and choices which can be exercised, with real penalties being paid for poor choices and inaction. Systems which can reduce this complexity will be welcomed, whether they be driven chiefly by people or by software. Elsewhere, we review the changing nature of public institutions and the governance of companies. It is clear, however, that both are challenged by the complexity which they face. At one level, therefore, the must be a ready welcome for the means to represent these complex systems, to establish the facts that are available about them and to estimate the consequences of taking certain actions within them. The tools by which to do this are being developed in areas as distinct as consumer marketing, military hardware and computer games.

One absolutely fundamental step beyond this will be the development of systems which appear to be aware. (The philosophical problems of what going beyond 'appear' may mean are not a proper thread for this section.) Artificial intelligence (AI) has promised much and delivered little, to date. However, it is now evident that not only are we on the verge of a revolution in the understanding of biological cognition, but that we may have been looking in the wrong place for artificial intelligence. We have been looking at computers and software when we should have been looking at social phenomena, institutions and companies.

In brief, three points can be made:

How quickly will all this happen?

The pace of change is set by the realisation of potential, not by the creation of its constituent parts. Social acceptance and the design of appropriate interfaces may be the slowest feature, as we observe in business-to-customer e-commerce.

Figure 5 shows the speed with which a range of information-intense products and services have penetrated households in what is today regarded as the industrial world. It took the mail around 100 years to access 90% of such households. Other, more recent developments have occurred in an environment with more disposable wealth, yet the pace remains relatively slow. Internet access, as a cheap add-on the ownership of a PC, has gone more rapidly, whilst broadband access (cable and satellite) follows historical rates.

Such trends are far from infallible. Nevertheless, products which show surprising mass penetration are extremely unusual in anything but FMCG. Even in the world of entertainment and short-life information, however, the conduit remains durable and slow to change, despite the ephemeral life of its typical content. Pop music may have a short shelf life, but the shelves themselves endure.

Figure 6: the rate at which previous information systems have penetrated.

The complex chart which follows, Figure 7, sets a time frame for the likely installation of the key components from which major change will be built. These are divided into three major categories: economic integration (what companies do), consumer offerings and the fundamental infrastructure itself.

Figure 7: Estimated time frame for the many dependencies to mature.

Only a few of the many topics which have been raised in this section are included. Readers may anyway have their own views on what matters and the time that it will take to install. This said, the time when fastest penetration can be expected seems to bracket the year 2010, with the more exciting issues coming to a head a little later.

Events may move more quickly, or they - as history has often shown us to be the case - may lag behind their technical potential. However one sees this, those investing now do so in a framework of major uncertainty. Investors are, perhaps, trying to buy a mixture of insight - so as better to pick winners - and potential market share. However, discounted at a rate which is standard for very safe projects - 12% real - a $100 earning in 2010 is worth a third of that today. Development will, therefore, continue to follow local, immediate goals and the grand structures will emerge, as we have already discussed, in a form that none of us can fully anticipate.

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