Friday, January 13, 2012

Why Learning Is the Next Big Thing.


If it wasn't evident before, it will soon be very apparent: learning is the center of our economy.

Why? Capitalism is about change. Karl Marx said it. Capitalism requires:
constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society....Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish [Marx's] epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air....
Very poetic. Now we call it "innovation," and we have a love affair with it.

Change has been the norm since we were "modern." Call it The Enlightenment. Call it the Age of Revolutions. But for a rather long time, we have been innovating: making things new. Brighter minds than mine have written about this.

And these changes drive the economy. This is very clear in the case of personal computers, the internet and mobile computing.

In the past, it was claimed that computers drove the economy by making us "more efficient." In fact, it always seemed to me more likely that people were simply forced to buy computers, to buy more computers, to buy new computers, to buy computers more often.

And to buy routers and IT personnel and web site builders.

The effect seems to be intensifying. Jobs are outsourced. Economic cycles of boom and bust, once thought "tamed" by a Great Moderation, are still with us. The recent downturn is one of the sharpest of the last 100 years.

Companies change. They come and go. Now it seems that an American company cannot make money selling photographic film, paper and equipment.

We all know very well of the impact of all this change on our lives: the suffering, those sidelined, the destruction of goods, the disappearance of whole careers and ways of living.

But we need also to recognize that change demands learning.

Hardware changes. Software changes. Business methods change. Product lineups change. So change demands training and re-training: training on the new tools, the new software, the new methods, to sell the new products, to give new services.

In business, change is now the norm, not the exception.

Normal Change means that every single person who wants to work must be constantly learning. We can never be "done" with learning. It is not enough to know our times tables and that "i" goes before "e" except after "c" (etcetera). If you cannot change, you can no longer work. Many of us have seen this up close & personal.

  • Has anyone reading this not changed jobs in the last ten years?  
  • Even if you have the same job, do you perform the same tasks? 
  • Don't you know at least one person who changed careers
  • Businesses that are gone
  • Or did not exist before but do now?

We are not only outsourced and downsized: we are old-sourced and new-sized.

All this suggests that the single most important industry of the future is learning.

Everyone will be constantly learning new skills. Some of this learning will take place in the workplace--where it used to be called "training."

Some will be done by universities. But universities are already seeing their role under fire. Businesses, employers and managers realize that learning cannot stop at college, and work cannot magically pause to wait for people to earn advanced degrees. It's not hard to see what will happen.

  • Universities and colleges will be downsized. 
  • Learning will replace training. 
  • Learning will take place everywhere. Learning will be in strip malls and in community centers and in the workplace and on websites and on e-readers and on smart phones and tablets.
Whoever finds a way to make learning quick, effective, efficient, enjoyable and cheap will dominate the future.  Because our future is learning.

--Edward R. O'Neill

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