The Role of Education in the Workplace

Work today requires constant education, but of a very different sort than we’re used to. Transitioning from the old style of education to the new means we first have to understand their differences.

Traditional Education

Think back to school. Unless you were a lucky Montessori student, you probably sat in rows, in a closed room, with people your own age. Instructors, specialized by topic, lectured to the room.

At fixed intervals and batched by age, we moved from one classroom to another — science, English, math — like raw materials through a factory, tested to ensure quality before finally being wrapped in a diploma and put up for sale.

Generating knowledge with fellow students was considered cheating. Our value was determined by our ability to repeat information on a test. This closed loop creates an environment of certainty — listen closely, read the book, repeat the information and you’ll be great.

School grooms us to:

  1. Be directed by others
  2. Work alone
  3. Strive for certainty

These are great skills in a factory, where hierarchies provide direction, team interaction is closely managed, and conditions of certainty — being paid to do what we’re told — abound.

Education Today

In a digitizing economy, those skills are a liability. Everything is changing fast, and the rule books of yesterday’s analog world can’t address tomorrow’s digital problems. Organizations compensate by being more responsive to new challenges and opportunities, meaning they move faster.

This change gives rise to a new framework:

In this framework, we connect as much with our peers as we do with a centralized director. We don’t always have time to wait for directives from above, so we actively educate ourselves about a given challenge or opportunity via:

  1. Self-direction: What don’t I know and how can I learn it?
  2. Working in teams: Who’s involved, and what do they think and need?
  3. Thriving in uncertainty: I don’t have all of the right answers and that’s OK.

Let’s compare these two education frameworks:


  1. Directed
  2. Alone
  3. Certain


  1. Self-directed
  2. Teams
  3. Uncertain

Surface this knowledge

Letting the people around you — team members, employers, and people in your network — know that you embrace new education tells to them that you’re ready for the challenges of today’s workplace. And if you get nervous, just remember #3: uncertainty is part of the process.

Originally published at