The 2019–20 school year is upon us, and it’s a busy time. Everyone is prepping and planning and putting together the framework of the coming year. Amidst the busyness, it can be hard to think past next week. And yet the reality is that what we are teaching young people today will have an impact on the rest of their lives.
You may have heard the headlines from sources like the World Economic Forum, that say that when today’s kindergarteners enter the world of work, many will be performing jobs that don’t even exist yet. For our field of education and workforce development, dedicated to preparing young people for productive and fulfilled lives, this can be a worrying thought. How can we equip them for a fast-approaching career when we may not even know what that career will look like?
And yet educators and trainers have always taken their best guess at what the future will be as they prepare their learners to navigate it successfully. Today, automation, AI, and other technological advances are rapidly morphing the face of our workforce. While we are right to adapt our curriculum to changing academic and technical requirements, I believe one of the greatest skills we can impart is one that is often taken for granted: the skill of how to learn.
The Skill of How to Learn
If it’s true that many skills taught today may be obsolete by the time our young people enter the workforce, we must also teach them how to gain new skills. We shouldn’t assume that young people enter our classrooms possessing that ability, because it must be learned like any other skill.
Continuous learning is more than a buzzword in the education and training world. Many believe that lifelong learning will become essential for almost every industry as technologies continue to advance. In a changing landscape where artificial intelligence, globalization, and technological explosions are transforming the way that people work, young people who have learned how to learn will thrive.
In recent years there has been significant interest in how human beings learn, retain, and master information. In her fascinating TEDx Talk, professor Barbara Oakley talks about two modes of learning, focus and diffuse. In another article I recently read, teacher Patricia Bain shares the research in her classroom that uncovered the importance of feedback driven-metacognition and retrieval skills. It’s clear that learning itself is a skill. Being mindful of this research alongside our traditional subjects can help many young people reach their true learning potential.
It’s Not Passive
Learning how to learn is not a passive process. Students who experience their education through hands-on learning, rather than just receiving that knowledge passively, will gain more than just experience. They will grasp how to learn and build confidence in their own ability to master new skills as needed in their future careers. And that’s what success will look like as the world continues to change.
If you’re a teacher or trainer, thank you for all you do to equip the next generation of learners and leaders. As you head into this school year and prepare to teach your specific subject, remember that that is not all that you teach. You are imparting the crucial skill of how to learn, and in today’s rapidly changing world, that is one skill that will never go out of date.