From education to employment

Challenging traditional educational institutions and questioning the gatekeepers of knowledge and credentials

Patrick Cootes, Chief Learning Officer of Mindstone

Beyond the expiry date: Traditional education is failing to equip us for the jobs of tomorrow 

The world has changed dramatically over the last 40 years, and despite numerous attempted reforms our education system has been left behind. 

By adhering to traditional education methods, we are setting learners up for failure, because our learning institutions were built for a world that no longer exists.

The gatekeepers of knowledge and qualifications, which place value on certification rather than the learning itself, play an outsized role in the education landscape.

As new generations of learners grow up with more information at their fingertips than ever before, we need to equip them with the skills for success. It’s time to radically rethink education.

Modern education is historically rooted in institutions and traditions: the lecture theatre has its origins in the scarcity of books and low levels of literacy in the Middle Ages. Many institutions work from a central curriculum and a one-size-fits-all approach diminishes the learning experience.

This structure promotes passive learning with a lack of interaction, discussion and engagement. Students then ‘cram’ for final exams where little of the information learnt is retained for long term use. This emphasis on formal examination devalues collaboration, critical thinking, and the development of original ideas.

Equally concerning is the fact that in fast-moving disciplines such as cybersecurity, course materials can be out of date by the time they reach the hands of students.

In an age where information is so readily and easily available through the internet, why aren’t we taking greater advantage of this phenomenal resource?

Take it online

The world of online learning is evolving fast. The supply of high-quality learning resources is growing exponentially and the technology to gather and distill this information continues to advance. We aren’t arguing for traditional education institutions and their teachers to be replaced, just that there is space for new learning environments to thrive.

We must place a greater value in the curation of these online learning resources. What learners need are experts to help navigate these online learning experiences that help to filter the credible information, and assess understanding based on discussion, rather than just benchmarked tests and certificates.

We must focus not only on where we learn, but also from whom we are learning. The internet’s innate capacity to forge connections between anyone, anywhere, has the power to become a democratising force. The power to teach no longer rests solely with those who stand at the front of the classroom.

Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates didn’t follow traditional paths through education – quitting school or dropping out of degrees – but nobody would deny that these brilliant minds wouldn’t have a thing or two to teach others. Other less high-profile but equally insightful teachers are out there, they may just not be in mainstream education.

Experts in every field are already using the internet to share their passion and impart their knowledge. Whether it’s how to write code or how to understand investment risk, quality resources are constantly being curated from a diverse array of creators.

Success in the workplace

Existing learning institutions are also setting us up for failure in the workplace. The reality is that degrees serve as a proxy that would-be employers use to assess whether someone has a base level of knowledge. For university degrees with final examinations, work completed in the closing weeks and months can often be the difference between attaining a degree or not. A degree certificate serves as a piece of proof someone has the self-discipline to complete a degree – not what they actually know.

A few years ago, a Pew Research Centre survey found that 87% of workers believe it will be essential for them to get training and develop new job skills throughout their working life in order to keep up with changes in the workplace.

While some employers may step up and invest in their employees with training and improving their skills, it is those that seek self-teaching opportunities who will be best placed to succeed in the workplace. Being taught to be a lifelong learner will help future workers navigate the challenges of continually changing workplaces, whether due to automation, AI or any other existential workplace risk.

My own personal background in education – eighteen years as a teacher, of which thirteen were spent as head of sixth form at a secondary school in London – may strike some as at odds with the central thesis of this article, challenging traditional educational institutions and questioning the gatekeepers of knowledge and credentials.

But we must all realise that learners are more than just passive recipients of information, and we must create platforms that democratise education and which attach value to lifelong learning.

Patrick Cootes, Chief Learning Officer of Mindstone

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