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We have no clue what to teach


When a teacher gets slightly tipsy on Prosecco, you might hear those words. “We have no clue what to teach”. Education is a vital area of human existence. That’s how we succeeded as species - by passing knowledge from one another. And doing it faster than any individual can learn on their own. We’ve built amazing tools to educate, such as language, books, the internet. We’ve built specialised institutions for education. They served us so well, but perhaps it’s time to reconsider. 

Education is a hugely complex topic and I will not even pretend to know how to fix it. Not everyone even agrees it is broken. But it continuously hard to pretend everything is fine when so many people never work in the profession they studied for. And even when they are, it makes them quite a lot of on the job training before they could be really productive. That’s not even mentioning the financials involved: some student loans might “cripple” a person for decades. 

We ask a lot of young people very early. We ask them to choose what they want to do for the rest of their lives even before their brains are finished developing. We ask them to memorize numerous data points pretending Google or Wikipedia don't exist. We think it will help young people to develop critical thinking and develop their information management skills, but instead, our approach demotivates students and develop their disgust towards learning. 

And then they graduate and enter the workforce. Only to quickly discover their knowledge already outdated. Most of them will need to forget almost all they've studied and learn “the real thing” by doing. Some of the young professionals might start questioning the reasons they studied in the first place if they could have just started learning by doing a while ago and be way ahead by the time their peers graduated. 

Learning by doing has many advantages, one of the most important - it's continuous. Even industry veterans with decades of experience can learn something new about the job if their brains remain open. 
Continuous learning or life-long learning is the most important skill of a modern worker. The demands of work are rapidly changing, so as economies. With that acceleration, we need a new type of workers with new skillsets. We can't afford to teach someone for years only to find out that their knowledge is no longer valid and their skills are not necessary. What a shame it is to see bright people, disillusioned and hating their jobs. It's not their fault, it's our education system that sucked all the natural curiosity from them. Continuously we produce a legion of people who perceive education like an unavoidable hassle, like something one needs to endure or survive. The system develops allergic reactions to learning in people and demotivates them to future educational endeavours.  

Instead, we need open-minded, curious individuals who seek knowledge on their own and find pleasure in reinventing themselves professionally when it's needed. We need workers who not only can take a task and perform it to a great effect. We also need professionals who will define the tasks that need to be done. Who will anticipate the future needs and will act proactively to prepare for them. And this becomes harder every day. 

Another big advantage of learning by doing method is rapid feedback loops. Formal education offers only one traditional feedback loop - grades. Students get evaluated by their teachers and very rarely by their peers. At a job, instead, feedback loops are plenty. You get feedback from your colleagues, your manager, various stakeholders, your customers, your competitors and so on. Learning could go much quicker with the abundance of feedback. Moreover, when it’s continuous feedback loops. You do something - you get feedback - you reflect and learn - you do something again. Agility, that's so valuable to modern business, lives and breathes by rapid feedback loops so knowing how to use those to your advantage is a vital skill of a successful professional. 

How do we achieve this? We probably don't know. However, it's reasonable to suggest we need to reconsider our entire education system and help our educators to teach and motivate our students on how to learn, at any time, at all times.

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