Lifelong Learning
03 January 2019
The 4th Industrial Age has arrived. Driven by Artificial Intelligence and bio-technology,
the changes in the next 15 years will be more than what we have experienced in the
past one thousand years. Such is the awesome rate of change and acceleration
affecting our life and work. In order to be a lifelong learner, we must learn how to
manage change and accept that change is the normal. It is this ability that has enabled
the human species to evolve to where we are today. Human beings will stop evolving
the day they cannot adapt to change. .
The contours of this revolution are clearly visible, and we must brace
ourselves to adapt to change before it is too late.
Artificial intelligence and automation will dominate every aspect of our life,
our work, our bio-chemicals, our genes, our attitudes and even our belief.
About 40 percent of today’s jobs are likely to disappear by 2030. Another
40 percent will undergo plastic surgery to receive a completely new look,
with changes in roles, responsibilities and expectations. For example, we
are already witnessing the diminishing role of mechanical engineers as the
evergreen branch of engineering. Software engineers are predominantly
building drones, robots, electric and driverless cars. And with the
introduction of robot-teachers in classrooms, human teachers will be
required to re-role themselves as learning companions.
Jobs, knowledge and technology obsolescence is tomorrow’s changing
landscape, placing heavy demands on individuals to reskill themselves
continuously. Those who cannot unlearn and relearn will be illiterates -
illiterates who have no political and economic value, and are, therefore,
Most significantly, formal and structured education is depreciating in
importance. First, the need for continuous reskilling because of
obsolescence; and second, the rising importance of application of
knowledge - Knowledge To Do and not Knowledge About. Learning is
doing, and doing is creating. People are no longer interested in your
achievements. They want to know what you have done with those
qualifications and experiences.
Clearly, the 4th Revolution has three implications for lifelong learning:
First, lifelong learning and re-skilling will be the mother-of-all
competencies, for one to survive and be happy. Those who lack this
competency will not be employable. And even those who inherit family
fortunes and businesses, will face hard times.
Second, schools presently prepare students to pass examination and
not prepare them for life. In order to do so, how to learn should become
the #1 pedagogy in schools; thus placing heavy demands on shifting
from the present training culture to a learning culture. As lifelong
learners, students are expected to be their own teachers, and teachers
must become their own students.
Third, the 4th Revolution presents great opportunities - to access our
hearts and minds - to know ourselves - to become self-aware - to be
happy. In a spiritual sense, lifelong learning is learning about oneself,
about self-actualization.
Doctrine of Learnability
To be learnable is to possess an insatiable desire to learn, acquire new
competencies and skills and to innovate. In a philosophical sense, the zest for learning
arises only when there is a deep-seated longing to understand the mysteries of life.
Man in a mystery, and if you spend your entire life trying to puzzle it out, then
do not say you have wasted your time. I occupy myself with this mystery
because I want to be a man.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky
One cannot be a lifelong learner if one is not learnable. The key to learning is
the ability to learn, unlearn and relearn. Way back in 1970, the futurist Alvin Toffler
wrote in Future Shock:
The illiterate of the twenty-first century will not be those who cannot read and
write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”
If this principle or yardstick applied in real earnest, most people would be
illiterate even today. Learnability involves knowing how to learn in the first place.
Without this competency, personalization of learning and self-directed learning cannot
ever happen. Moreover, learning is about doing, about application, and about
possessing competencies to apply knowledge.
The most challenging attribute of learnability is acquiring competencies for
creative solutions to ideas and problems. We may call them as part of capacity-
building for learnability and will include:
The practice of deep reading
Reflection and introspection
Being concept and goal-minded
An honest competency-gap analysis will help one to identify specific
competencies one is short of. Thereafter, developing them will be a long haul.
The next attribute of learnability is to be able to learn on the fly, on the job. In
order to do so, the learner must acquire the habit of reflection-in-action, i.e., processing
information while the event is happening, and drawing upon new insights. Such
capabilities enable one in:
Decision-making, by being sensitive to the environment, and being able
to intuitively recognize patterns and define the problem solving it
thereafter is relatively easy.
Making mid-stream corrections by learning from failures while they are
happening, and seizing new opportunities.
On-the-job learning is the most practical form of learning provided it is done
correctly. The concept and application of 70:20:10 learning model is realistic and
exemplary, and is shown schematically.
I wish to show my learnability model as an example because it exemplifies the
application of the combined capabilities of head, heart and mind. True learning is
endurable as it is driven by intrinsic motivation to unlock one’s potential.
Learning must be inspired and the inspiration arises from will to meaning -
meaning to life and work. It is meaning that motivates a person to unlock one’s
potential and become self-aware in the process. Meaning, followed by deep reading
and technology-mindedness (not being technology-savvy), provide & the foundation
for learnability.
Having developed one’s capacity for lifelong learning; and formed an
unshakable foundation; I am ready to learn. A checklist of this process is shown below:
A Learning Culture
In a VUCA world, no one can ever imagine when personal disaster can strike.
Bereft of entrepreneurial competencies, there is every danger that one will not have
political or economic value; and, therefore, be unemployable. It is, therefore,
imperative we invest time, money and resources in acquiring competencies in order
to re-skill ourselves continuously.
Of the several implications of lifelong learning for leaders, four features stand
One: Learning is experiential - we learn from crucibles, deep reading
and while on-the-job.
Two: Learning is by doing, by application of ideas and concepts.
Mindfulness, learning from failures and goal-setting are essential tools.
Three: Application must eventually lead to innovation, and more often
than not through experimentation.
Four: Acquiring a New Lingua Franca by teachers. This will comprise:
Basic coding and AI programming
Designing content for AI teaching
Deep reading
With proficiency in these four features, we (individuals and organizations) are
ready to shift from a Training to a learning culture. The difference are stack.
For those accustomed to a training culture, shifting to a learning culture is not
easy. It is easy if the culture is introduced at the school level. The key strategies @
school will be:
1. Motivation to learn which arises from will to meaning. This is the most difficult
part, but can be the easiest also. Unless students are intrinsically motivated to
take on the responsibility of their learning, to become their own teachers, the
learning culture is not possible.
2. The motivation may be there; but students should know the process of how to
learn through self-directed learning. How to learn is fast becoming the #1
pedagogical strategy.
3. The most effective form of learning and achieving mastery is by doing, by
application of concepts to creative solutions and innovation. We are still
content-driven. Unless teachers teach competencies - education of the head,
heart and mind - learning by doing will remain a distant mirage.
4. Teachers and students should focus on extracting concepts, and understand
the relevance of why they are learning what they are learning. A special effort
in this direction is required, because text books in school teach children how to
pass examination; and not concepts. In my view, concept understanding is best
understood by deep reading, followed up by reflection.
5. Harnessing the power of collaborative learning, through either design-thinking
process, or project-based learning, helps students in understanding and
simplifying complex and inter-disciplinary problems, and come up with creative