The Human Side of Automation Pt. 4: Rethinking Education

Last week Lisa Hrabluk joined us in studio to shoot an amazing episode of the Matt George Unsettled podcast. Lisa is part of a group of minds rethinking how we educate our children. As part of this effort she recently released her new series on Medium: School Works and her writing inspired Pt. 4 of The Human Side of Automation.

The title says it all: for many of us school has not worked, but that doesn’t mean it can’t.

In the next 50 years it is likely that our entire education system will pivot in an attempt to produce future-ready learners of all ages. Whether we are in the midst of the third industrial revolution or the fourth, our near-future requires new skills and abilities centered around life-long learning. Every revolution comes with growing pains: the combination of new forms of energy to power the economy, new forms of mobility to move the economy and new forms of communication to coordinate the economy bring with it a thrilling opportunity for learning.

Emphasis must be placed on nourishing creativity, critical thinking and new digital skills, and above all, on supporting the very aspects that make us human. Cultivating empathy, sensitivity, collaboration, and passion are the best way to ensure that we use technology as a tool for mastering our lives and coming into our full potential as a species.

In a recent conversation with David Alston, we discussed how a relevant formula for the 21st-century could be something like: Create & Convince. We’ve built all of the factories and we’ve made all of the stuff; we know how to do that. We’ve extracted the limited resources of the planet because apparently we don’t understand scale; we know how to do that. We’ve built the social media platforms that have hijacked our attention and we were fine with the only metric of success being time-on-site; we know how to do that.

Do we know what comes next? Do we know how to get back to making sense to each other? Do we know how to re-evaluate what we see as productive? Do we know how to re-categorize what a job is and can we take back meaning?

I believe we can. I believe Lisa does too.

The greatest paradox of the education system is that it just doesn’t fit anymore. We don’t have to be malicious towards institutions that genuinely tried to prepare us for an industrial world. We don’t have to ostracize the teachers that did, and continue to do, their best.

The paradox is that in school students are sitting in one place, learning from physical text that is not current and sharing is cheating. What kid that you know learns like that?! As soon as the bell rings young folks are hyper-mobile, learning from digital content that is current to the minute and sharing is the entire point.

So what is it we need to re-think?

Where we learn

Mobility is king. Digital content, distributed teams and the podcast revolution are all symbols of the mobility revolution. We’re realizing that learning happens on the move! It happens on trains, it happens in cafes, it happens in the hills and it happens in our parks. The time of the sedentary and immobile learning is over.

What we learn

The education system as it is worked for the baby-boomers because it fit. In the post-World-War II era supply could not meet demand; there were more jobs than people knew what to do with and they were punch-in, punch-out industrial jobs. It doesn’t fit anymore. Companies are agile, fully tech-enabled, distributed and move incredibly quickly. The risk for those school districts that don’t pivot accordingly is that the skills gap will widen until their future-ready counterparts are nowhere in sight. We need to be preparing students for the skills of a 21st-century workforce.

How we learn

Standardization may be the death of creativity. We may have needed it for a time; it was important to know which students were the best at replication. I would contend this skill is bordering on useless in 2019. We need to pivot from sitting in a chair in silence learning off of paper to students who are hyper-mobile consumers of digital content where collaboration is seen as a skill and not cheating. In fact, it’s so important there should be a grade for the BEST collaborator in the room. Alongside creating and convincing, elevating your peers will be celebrated in the new economy.

Pt. 5 of the Human Side of Automation will deal with how to re-tool. It’s far more complicated than telling young men & women in Appalachia ‘Learn to code.’