Learning: An Idea Who's Time Has Come
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Rick Dove, Paradigm Shift International, www.parshift.com,

All around us human knowledge is changing faster than ever, and now faster than we as people and we as organizations know how to cope with. This has created the need for all humans to be more effective at learning. And that need is making itself felt strongly in both economic and social arenas.
    In the last decade most people in the United States, young and old, have been touched by the wave of downsizing - whether personally, with a family relation, or with a neighbor. Many lessons are being learned from this - but one of the most poignant is that finding another job often requires the learning of new skills - because the old ones are obsolete. And that learning is not a pleasant concept for most who have put that period of life behind them. Among an already large and growing percentage of the population, young people entering the workforce are aware that they will need to be life long learners. Young and old alike see the differences in how each denies, copes with, or masters the new technologies entering every day life.
    Globally, the business world today is awakening to the fact that knowledge management and organizational learning are the new frontier for both competitive leadership and for sustainable viability. Individually, this awareness doesn’t come from foresight or from innovative strategists - but rather from a demonstrated inability to keep up with the furious pace of changing knowledge - knowledge that the business is based upon. What to do about it is the question. There are some pioneering organizations today that are aggressively experimenting with new concepts, but most are confused with, or incapable of, dealing with what is considered a soft and social aspect of business. Though the majority are not yet players, economic reality is rearing its head.
    The very knowledge explosion that is creating the need is also creating the means to respond. Biology, psychology, and cognitive sciences are generating knowledge about how the human brain learns; and have shown us that we can use this knowledge to intervene effectively in the learning process of virtually any and all humans. At the same time, technology is bringing us new concepts of distance learning, new access to the world’s storehouse of knowledge, and new ubiquitous communication capabilities.
    Educators for some time have understood that traditional teaching techniques do not succeed in creating learned and learning individuals from most who enter traditional educational institutions - either in the K-12 or University systems. It was common in the past to pass this off as the population’s bell-shaped intelligence curve, or in many cases, considered a useful fact to be used as an early weeding-out process of students that teachers should not waste time with. Today most educators are aware that different people learn differently, that there are multiple intelligence types, and that the brain is a natural learning organ whose functional mechanisms we are beginning to understand. Many see hope, some are even working miracles with this new knowledge, but most are caught in, and even part of, the institutional inertia of the public sector. Nevertheless, the experimental employment of emerging brain-based learning models is beginning to show irrefutable results. Though these new ideas are uncomfortable for the entrenched traditionalists, the results can not be denied.
    So there exists a major need and there exists the means to fill it.
    Michael Milken’s new company, Knowledge Universe, is testament to the growing general and already significant interest in education. This start-up company has its eye on the $665 Billion annual education market in the United States. "Milken told Fortune [Magazine] as long ago as 1996 that his next big idea was to view education -- everything from preschools for 2-year-olds and CD-ROM-based math tutorials for high school students to executive training and continuing education for retirees -- as one vast market, with individual companies integrating these diverse businesses [Life Long Learning Spells Earnings, Fortune Magazine, July 6, 1998]."
   Knowledge Universe has already passed the $1 billion dollar revenue mark, achieving this size through an aggressive acquisition program. The original $500 Million investment is now reputed to be worth eight times that amount. Though Milken and his executives are closed mouthed about their business strategy, they do not appear to be strategically interested at this time in the new knowledge about effective brain-based learning. Their tight lips are attributed to their belief that others will follow in their path and they do not wish to educate potential competitors.
   The Fortune article goes on to say: "...polls show that that the public considers much of this [$650 Billion] spending wasted. American corporations are forced to deal with the consequences in lost productivity and costly worker training. The need for skilled employees has never been keener, yet one in ten information technology jobs sits
unfilled, and companies are almost as hungry for workers adept at so-called soft skills such as team building and other forms of managing. Such inadequacy spells opportunity on Wall Street. Many analysts believe that education, broadly defined, will emerge as one of the leading investment sectors over the next 20 years."
   What if you could cut learning time considerably? What if you could guarantee that learning would occur for everybody? What if you could make the learning process enjoyable? Milken’s company is not yet interested in these concepts - but there will come a time soon when competitive pressures in the emerging business of education will put the focus on process and employable results - on quality rather than test scores.

There exists a major need and there exists a means to fill it.

   Forces that make the learning society inevitable are already unleashed. Milken’s company and others like it are forming the foundation of a business-based distribution system that will deliver education and learning - and they are doing this because there is a real and growing demand. Meanwhile the educational community is testing and experimenting with the science that will dramatically change the effectiveness of education and learning. And some clear, early successes are already being implemented in larger scale.
   For example, "While writing a school restructuring grant, administrators and members of the [Altimira, CA middle school] staff attended a workshop ... One focus of the workshop was current advances in brain research and creating a brain-compatible environment ... The information on brain research was a major ‘aha’ for us ... It made sense to us that just as a heart surgeon needs to understand how a heart works, a teacher must understand how the brain functions." Marilyn Kelly and Geraldine Rosemurgy [Transformations: Leadership For Brain-Compatible Learning, McGeehan, 1998] go on to say that this focused the restructuring on brain research and creating a brain-compatible environment. Kelly is now the superintendent of the Sonoma Valley School District and has integrated these concepts throughout the district. Rosemurgy was the district project manager responsible for the restructuring, and, interestingly enough, won the University of San Francisco Graduate Research Award for her thesis on the use of brain research in the private sector and its implications for training and development.
   The Age of Learning, a vision painted in a recent essay [here, July 98], is an idea who’s time has come.
   The transition to a global learning society has started. Much like the transition from the agrarian society to the industrial society, this will not happen overnight. Nor will it be a painless transition. Again we will see major economic changes on a global scale, this time triggered by countries that become populated with agile learners before others. Within countries a region or race or class that cultivates agile learners will become dramatically advantaged over those that haven’t moved as quickly. Economic gaps that exist now will get even wider. This is what happens when societal transitions of this magnitude occur. And in times of such dramatic transition not all enticing paths reach the same end.
   Though we as a society may know roughly where we are going, how we will get there is not something that can be understood with any certainty. New knowledge developed as humanity travels the path will alter the course and the pace of progress.
   Could we do something to accelerate society’s passage into the Age of Learning? If we could, we would reduce the time and magnitude of both societal upheaval and economic restructuring, and bring an earlier end to much of the societal ills caused by ignorance, intolerance, and disenfranchisement. Accomplishing this, however, would require the willing involvement of much of society - it would require a faster rate of institutional change then would otherwise occur - and it would require a focused vision and a clear road map that can inspire involvement, reduce directional confusion, and provide an action plan for anyone ready to participate.
   Could we actually do something? We have a vision. Now we have a mission. What would an effective mission fulfillment strategy have to address? For starters, how about the ingredients in the table below?.

Ingredients of a Strategy
That Would Hasten the Arrival of the Learning Age

#1: An idea who’s time has come. When natural forces are aligned to support the vision and mission, the realization strategy is leveraged with a tail wind.

#2: Selective outreach and pervasive communications. Active recruitment that conveys a value understanding of vision and mission is necessary to gain sufficient and committed involvement; while broadly communicated values and examples will nurture the environment for success.

#3: An underpinning of credibility and principles. Scientific theories and confirmations, coupled with experiential facts and fundamental tools must support the vision, and permit creative and innovative application.

#4: Broad cross-sectional grass-roots involvement. People expected to be part of the vision must participate in, and own, its intent and celebrate its realization.

#5: A continually evolving roadmap. Cartography and navigation are strategic, and must be ongoing activities whose results are owned collectively.

#6: Examples of success. Identifying early examples inspire the innovative, encourage the timid, provide proof for the skeptical, and offer role models for the followers.

#7: An implementation procedure. Many of those involved will seek leadership and direction, and make good use of situational analysis, guidance and reassurance.

1998 RKDove - Attributed Copies Permitted
Essay #044 - Originally Published 8/98 at www.parshift.com, revised 9/98
Published 10/98 in Automotive Manufacturing & Production, Gardner Publications

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