We hear the word “learning” and our knee jerk, often unconscious reaction is to think “education.” But, in reality, learning is not primarily about education. Indeed, formal, teacher-led educational experiences account for only about five percent of the learning we do in life.
No, learning is about much, much more than education. By extension, the Learning Revolution is much, much more than an education revolution. The Learning Revolution is:
First and foremost it is about creative people finding new ways to influence, share, instruct, discover, learn, lead, and yes, possibly even make quite a bit of money doing any or all of these things.
Many of the people I interview on the Learning Revolution podcast, for example, fall into this camp. Michael Stelzner. Alan Weiss. Leo Babauta. You won’t find a lot of the “usual suspects” here. These are people who may not even think of themselves as educators or teachers, but they are tremendous facilitators of learning, and that skill set – and mindset – is at the core of their business success.
And, of course, there has been a boom in edtech in the past several years. We’ve seen companies like Udemy serve millions of learners and provide a powerful new platform for subject matter entrepreneurs. This platform – along with a rapidly growing lists of other platforms for publishing and selling online courses – has effectively disrupted the supply chain that organizations like trade and professional associations rely upon for their educational program.
Meanwhile, Udacity is pioneering nanodegrees, Degreed is “jailbreaking the degree” altogether by providing a platform for highly personalized learning, and Think Olio is breathing new life into the lecture.
The list goes on and on.
Not surprisingly, journalists like Thomas Friedman, author of The World is Flat and Thank You For Being Late have tuned into how critical lifelong learning has become. Indeed, it’s a major focus of Friedman’s message these days, as reflected in the following brief clip from a CNN interview:
Friedman is hardly alone. Lifelong learning has become a focus for the Aspen Institute. A range of business and educational leaders have banded together to create the Consortium for Advancing Adult Learning & Development. And The Economist has declared that lifelong learning is becoming an economic imperative.
One of the early projects of my firm, Tagoras, was working with the Center for Liberty in the Middle East to help train women in that region to organize politically. That initiative – now called the Arabic Activism Institute – was possible largely because of what technology made possible: through the Web, we were able to bring in expert teachers from the United States and facilitate the sharing of resources. The general unrest across the Middle East was a less formal example. The Arab spring was fueled by people connecting and learning from each other, and by the world learning – mostly through a variety of Internet technologies – about the true situation across the region.
We will see this kind of unrest grow. Learning is a great democratizing and disruptive force. Education – particularly higher education – has largely been a privilege enjoyed by those in the “developed” world, and even there, largely by the wealthier levels of society. That changes in the Learning Revolution. The doors to accessing knowledge have been thrown open.
Learning is fundamentally about change – as in no learning, no change. As the above example from the Middle East suggests, the ability to connect, share, expose, influence, and, yes, teach, across broad networks that were formally unreachable is driving massive change.
Social media, of course, is a key factor. Humans have always been social learners, but social media has been like a mega-shot of steroids to our basic human tendencies. This shift doesn’t come without its demands and dangers, of course. Fake news has become a serious issue, and in general we must all be much more aware of the potential to be influence in counterproductive ways by the information that flows through social media channels. Critical thinking is more important than ever.
Still, the possibilities that social technologies open up are astounding and we will only see those possibilities grow now that the floodgates are fully open.
Perhaps the best aspect of the Revolution: we now have more ability than ever before to access information and knowledge, participate in a variety of learning experiences, and teach and influence others.
Of course, this is also the most challenging aspect of the Revolution. How do we filter effectively? How do we make sense and learn effectively? How do we avoid getting caught in an echo chamber? The Learning Revolution brings with it a demand for personal responsibility as well as great opportunities for leading and helping others.
I could go on, but I think you probably get the point. If we think this is primarily about education, we’re missing the point. The Learning Revolution is about way more.
Original version published March 26, 2013.