Informal Learning for a Flat World

A flattened world is one where skilled workers compete with each other, no matter where they live. With the opening of China, India and Russia to the world economy, the world is becoming flatter. Thomas Friedman, in The World is Flat says that there are four categories of workers who will prosper in a flattened global economy – special workers, specialized workers, anchored workers and really adaptable workers. Learning how to learn will be the critical skill for this last group; who in my opinion will be the largest. In 1998 I noted in my thesis that learning how to learn would be the critical job skill for the future. It’s now becoming reality.

Given the huge diversity of learning needs for these adaptable workers, we need to move away from a one size fits all educational approach. One of the answers is informal learning (see Jay Cross), which can be likened to mass customisation. It allows the learner to co-design the learning process.

This means that informal learning environments have to be loose structures that can accommodate as many different learning needs as possible. Instructional systems design (ISD) was developed to train soldiers for war so that everyone would have the same skills. In a global, networked world the last thing you want are the same skills as everyone else, as you will then be an interchangeable commodity.

Therefore in an economy that needs adaptable learners, the type of learning environment that they will demand will be an adaptable one as well. A single course, with established learning objectives that all students must achieve, just won’t cut it.

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