Everything is moving very quickly in the two-thousand-teens. What was once thought of as common convention falls away like yesterday’s news. The ways we think, work, learn and play are all morphing faster than how-to infographics can keep up! And as I process and observe, it occurs to me, that one of the most steadfast practices of the last thousand years is likely to be obsolete in the not-too-distant future. Will studying be a 22nd century skill?
My answer is “No,” and my case begins with technology. At some point in the last quarter-century, we made the decision to no longer require the memorization of math facts, as the emphasis shifted to reasoning and problem-solving. Around the same time, the Internet arrived in homes and classrooms. And from the day we could look up answers to questions using search tools, the need to memorize rote facts has become less and less necessary. Why memorize a fact when you can Google what you need to know just in time? In the blink of a decade, the need to memorize took a back seat to creativity, problem-solving, and the ability to generate new knowledge, products and services.
This paradigm shift is becoming more evident as experience is becoming less valued in the workplace. Managers, supervisors and leaders of organizations are being identified at younger ages, bringing to the job fresh eyes, new energy, and innate skills that do not require years of cutting teeth, paying dues, or making bones. It isn’t so much putting in time anymore as it is being able to demonstrate capability and fill an immediate need in an organization. Millennials and generation X-Y-&-Z-ers learn by doing, and in the doing find upward mobility.
Finally, there are the biomedical innovations under development in research labs around the world. Just this past year, Nicholas Negroponte predicted the ingestion of knowledge; students literally swallowing a pill that deposits information in the brain we have traditionally internalized through reading and listening. Sitting here this morning writing this, the little voice in my head is saying, “Walter, who knows how much of this is science fiction and how much will actually prove to be true?” I can’t say. But the fact that it is part of the dialogue among professionals at the highest levels suggests that it lies within the realm of future possibility.
I see it in my own children, now attending college. Yes they do the readings and study for the exams. But there is a shift in how they perceive it. It’s no longer about the studying. Studying seems incidental to the larger process of learning by doing. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. We have been aspiring to the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy for more than half a century now. The struggle for me is reconciling current reality with the belief systems of my parents and grandparents, always making noise in the back of my mind. Basic skills. Hard work. Earn the grade.
Sure, studying will still occur on the fly next century, as learners want to know concepts and systems that will help them in their work. But imagine if this trend continues and basic factual knowledge is acquired without having to study in the traditional committing-to-memory sense. What a different role education will play!
Wait…WHAT? Aren’t we already seeing the beginning of this shift in teaching and learning? Facilitating? Mentoring? Coaching? We should take pride in the fact that we are responsible for this incredible education metamorphosis, even as we try to fathom its implications. Perhaps the real struggle is within ourselves, as the last generation born in the industrial age. Perhaps there was no way to foresee nor appreciate the seismic change we unleashed when we first embraced our constructivist ideals so many, many decades ago.