Learning Today and Tomorrow

October 9, 2012 by Wally Bock

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”

You can substitute “unemployed” or “unsuccessful” for “illiterate” in that quote and not change the meaning very much. The quote is often attributed to Alvin Toffler, but one thing I learned while researching for this post, was that Toffler didn’t say that. Instead he quoted Herbert Gerjuoy saying something slightly different.

The Fortune article, “A B-school class with 50,000 students? It’s on” kicked off my research. Here’s the opening paragraph.

“When Hess walks into the classroom this January to teach Smart Growth for Private Businesses, however, as many as 50,000 people are expected to have signed up for it — more students than Darden has graduated since its founding nearly 60 years ago and in all probability the largest single audience ever assembled for a business course.”

That’s Professor Ed Hess of the Darden School at the University of Virginia. The course referred to is described as a “MOOC (a massively open online course)” delivered in partnership with Coursera.

Learning is changing, whether you’re talking about basic education or “lifelong learning.” As Harold Jarche points out, today “Work is learning and learning is the work.” That sounds simple enough, but what it means is that those who succeed in this new world will draw on a variety of learning resources.

There will be structured learning. Some will happen in traditional classrooms. Some will be those MOOCs. They represent a comprehensive and focused approach to a fairly large topic. But can also learn in smaller bites, like those offered by the Kahn Academy.  Many sites offer learning on everyday topics like “How to Hang Pictures Right the First Time.”

The network also makes it possible to find out about learning opportunities such as those I described in “Filling the Skills Gap in Blue Collar Talent.” And social networks make it possible to reach out to experts and micro-experts whether we know them already or not.

But the network isn’t the only thing driving changes in the way we learn. Books aren’t what they used to be. Ebooks are searchable and usable in ways that paper books are not.

Whoever said it, “literacy,” employment, and success will depend on learning, unlearning and relearning. We just have to learn to use the resources.

For Additional Reading

Can Free Online Courses Transform the Higher Education Industry?

Today’s World-Class Chief Learning Officer

Wally Bock is a coach, a writer and President of Three Star Leadership.

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