Learning is the new literacy. Personal computers are just one example. We buy new ones every few years. Operating systems change. Programs change, get replaced, or become obsolete. But we often continue with the same habits until something goes wrong. Few of us do the equivalent of ‘looking under the hood’. We learn enough to get our work done, but often do not take time to understand the underlying systems and logic.
By not being active learners we lose the agility to react quickly to changing situations. We have to take the time to keep learning. It’s an effort that too many of us avoid. When was the last time you learned a new computer program? How many books do you read? When did you try to master a new skill? These are things we need to make a priority. If not, we risk becoming obsolete before our time. Aiming for retirement is not a bad thing, but what happens when it is forced on us and we are not ready?
“Statistics Canada estimates 158,400 people aged 55 to 64 were handed permanent layoffs in 2015. Is there any hope of a comfortable retirement for those folks?” – CBC News
When our son was in junior high school he came home one afternoon and said, “There seem to be two types of people, Dad.”. “What are they?” I asked. “Gamers, and non-gamers”, he responded. As an active computer gamer, he was comfortable being given a problem with no evident solution. Most computer games do not come with instructions, as learning how to master the game is part of the game. He said that other students who were not gamers did not have any strategies on how to look at the problem they were given, as there was no set-step method provided by the teacher.
How do gamers learn? They try things out and usually fail: lots of times. They learn from these mistakes and look for patterns. If they get stuck, they check out what others have shared, in online forums. They may ask a friend for help. Sometimes they will look for a ‘hack’, or a way around an impasse. Once they learn something, they might record it and share it, so others can learn. What they do not do is look for the rule book.
There are similarities in learning how to participate on the Internet or the Web. Some people just want a formula or procedure so they can get on with their business. Facebook makes this very easy. Others want to have more control. Twitter provides a bit more. But there are others who really want to understand what they are doing. They might set up their own online community using open source software and their own servers. While we cannot all be computer geeks, we live in a computer-driven network age. We ignore automation, the Cloud, the Internet of Things, and surveillance technologies at our peril.
Learning is the only literacy that will enable us to counter the negative effects of digital technologies. This literacy is also social. It is learning through communities of practice and knowledge networks, which we have to engage with to make collective sense. How many of those permanently laid-off workers over 55 have external professional networks that can help them find work or get support? Over the years I have met many people in their 40’s or 50’s who suddenly find themselves without work. Most of them do not have a professional network beyond their organization where they may have worked for a decade or more. Once outside the company, they are adrift.
Being an active learner by connecting with others outside our everyday lives can expose us to a diversity of skills, knowledge, and perspectives. In a creative economy we are only as good as our networks. An effective network encourages us to keep learning. A good community of practice changes our practice. The more often we change, the better we get at it. For example, my PKM framework was developed from the necessity to develop skills to be competitive in the consulting market. PKM is one way to push ourselves to keep on learning. There are many other ways to keep up, but active learning in social networks is no longer a luxury.
Further reading: principles of networked management