Lifelong Learning - Udacity - U2

If you’d asked us last month whether we expected to be mentioning Thomas L. Friedman, Bono, and Forbes in the same breath with the term lifelong learning, we might have briefly gazed quizzically into the distance, contemplated the possibility, then likely just returned to the daily reality of trying to deliver the best learning experience on the planet.

However, as it turns out, you’d have been the prophetic one if you’d proposed the idea, because Thomas L. Friedman and Bono are indeed together in Forbes discussing lifelong learning, and while the pairing may seem unusual, the insights throughout are laser-precise, and together they present a clear exhortation to embrace the path of lifelong learning.

Readers of the article, entitled Bono And Thomas Friedman Reveal Three Skills American Workers Need Today, should prepare for some alarmist prose in the article’s introduction, along the lines of, “The idea that you can go to college and receive a two-year or four-year degree and then be equipped to work at a job for the next 30 years is not true anymore.” But, you can also rest assured that by the conclusion, the advice proves sound, and the vision positive:

“The best advice for American workers is to continue to make learning a priority. Constantly upgrade your skills and keep your finger on the pulse of the world, because this will help you adapt to any changes in the business that affect you.”

The article’s discussion of lifelong learning revolves around “three traits workers should possess to help them quickly adapt to changes in business and set themselves apart as a leader in the workplace”:

  1. Embrace a lifelong passion for learning.
  2. Boost creativity by understanding the importance of pausing.
  3. Focus on developing soft skills.

The first of these is something you’ve certainly heard espoused by Udacity as well, and in fact, Udacity’s partnership with AT&T is discussed in the article:

“By encouraging its staff members to embrace learning and grow their skills, AT&T is equipping the company with the tools it needs to remain a powerhouse in the industry.”

The third point is also something we’ve discussed at length (for example, Soft Skills Make Firm Foundations: Building Your Candidate Brand), and we in particular loved seeing the following from the article’s author:

“Interpersonal skills and understanding how to connect disconnected people is something that machines cannot take over.”

In light of all the irresponsible fear-mongering being disseminated across media outlets today, it is refreshing to see language like this reminding us that for every one task a smart machine automates, a new opportunity arises where we are freed to pursue something creative and vital. For more on the actual impact of automation and technology on employment rates, consider the influential work of Boston economist James Bessen, whose studies show us that a) we needn’t heed the fear-mongering, but also b) we definitely DO need to embrace lifelong learning:

“Occupations that use computers grow faster, not slower. This is true even for highly routine and mid-wage occupations. Estimates reject computers as a source of significant net technological unemployment or job polarization. But computerized occupations substitute for other occupations, shifting employment and requiring new skills.”

You can access Bessen’s full paper, entitled How Computer Automation Affects Occupations: Technology, Jobs, and Skills, here.

The number two item of the three traits enumerated above is perhaps the most eye-opening of the trio—it’s not often, in the context of being urged to embrace lifelong learning, that we’re told to slow down, even to pause. But this is exactly what Friedman and Bono combine to recommend. At the heart of their idea here is a quote by Dov Seidman:

“When you press the pause button on a computer, it stops. But when you press the pause button on a human being, it starts. It starts to rethink, reimagine, reflect.”

This theme of rethinking, reimagining, and reflecting, echoes something Friedman speaks to earlier in the article:

“People are adapting to a world with cloud computing, artificial intelligence and big data. These changes have created a business environment where you can analyze, optimize, prophesize, customize and digitize anything.”

Analyze, optimize, prophesize, customize, digitize. Rethink, reimagine, reflect.

These words and ideas are the clarion calls of our modern age, and to successfully move forward, organizations and individuals alike need to understand them. If there is one simple word a reader can take away, it should be this one: Dynamic.

dy·nam·ic

dīˈnamik/

adjective

  1. (of a process or system) characterized by constant change, activity, or progress. “a dynamic economy”

noun

  1. a force that stimulates change or progress within a system or process. “evaluation is part of the basic dynamic of the project”

Organizations must be dynamic. Workers must be dynamic. Learners must be dynamic. Even learning providers must be dynamic! For Udacity, curricular dynamism is in fact mandatory. We can’t possibly fulfill our promise to students to leach the most valuable, the most cutting-edge skills, through static curriculum offerings. This is why our partnerships and collaborations with industry are such a critical part of our model—they enable us to continually upgrade and enhance our course materials to ensure the best learning experience possible.

So in saying that you, too, need to embrace lifelong learning, we certainly direct the exhortation towards ourselves as well, because we must all must embrace lifelong learning!