We are already cyborgs, whether we like it or not — hybrid creatures whose human capacities are augmented by technology.
Let me explain why and what this means for learning in a digital age.
Last week, I was at an event and the dinner conversation turned to Uber and Lyft. The people at the table were all antitrust experts. They were discussing the recent legal difficulties of ride-sharing companies.
I wanted to be actively involved in the discussion. Mostly, because I see such talks as a learning opportunity.
In the past, before the Internet and smartphones, the best strategy would be to change the topic — to gently nudge the conversation towards a subject I know more about. Alternatively, keep quiet and hope that someone else shifted the topic onto more familiar terrain.
How the Textbook Industry has Finally Been Disrupted and Will Continue to Change | Data Driven…
The textbook industry has had a long history in the United States, and the world, for that matter. Indeed, they've…
But in a digital age, we are all transformed into cyborg learners. While listening to the others, I was simultaneously using my smartphone to “Google” some information about the ride-sharing companies, their drivers, and recent allegations of collusion.
I was enhancing my human capacities — in realtime — through the use of technology. And although this technology is not yet implanted, it might as well be. After all, smartphones are seamlessly integrated into the flow of our everyday lives.
The results were amazing. Within minutes, I was able to follow the conversation but also to contribute significantly to the discussion.
And this isn’t an isolated example. We are all using a similar “augmentation strategies” all the time.
We are all familiar with the different situations where our smartphones provide us with relevant information that allows us to navigate the challenges of everyday life:
- We can take a picture of something (for instance, a plant or flower), and our smartphone tells us what we are seeing.
- If we hear a piece of music that we like, we can use our phones, and Soundcloud will instantly identify it for us. Thirty seconds later (with Spotify), I am listening to that music on my phone.
- And, whenever we are lost, Google Maps will get us back on track.
We might not like what’s next, but it seems inevitable — wearable devices that offer us instant access to the “wisdom of the crowd” through machine-mind interfacing.
Do we still need to learn in an age of instant expertise?
Recently, this question keeps me awake at night. Do we need to learn anything if information and knowledge are so readily available to us?
I am a teacher myself. And of course, I need to know what to teach the next generation. But, focusing on building knowledge doesn’t seem smart in a world of instant knowledge and expertise.
So, does this mean the end of teachers? No, of course not, but we must start changing the content of our courses and also the way we teach. It makes no sense to put the emphasis on sharing information anymore. We need to be honest with ourselves — better sources of information are available to everyone on almost any topic.
All this is, of course, not surprising. Just go online (using our cyborg capabilities) and look at what is needed in the future. You will find lots of articles about the need for soft and human skills. Networking. Teamwork. Creative thinking. Problem-solving. To mention just a few.
And I fully agree that we shouldn’t be teaching things that computers and artificial intelligence applications can do better. We must learn how to work with AI and understand the human capacities that we can bring to the table.
All of this seems true. But there is another skill that we must learn.
We must learn how to learn and unlearn!
And again, this isn’t so much about accumulating relevant knowledge (and forgetting experience that is no longer useful). It’s about continually reinventing yourself. It’s about understanding what your role is in the world dominated by emerging technologies. But it’s also about understanding how your role will keep changing and evolving.
I was giving training to in-house legal consultants earlier this week. We talked about change and transformation. And the experience scared me. Some participants had the idea that understanding AI and other emerging technology was a waste of time. Legal work will never change, they told me.
Then there was the group that had a genuine interest in new developments. But they thought that they don’t have time to look into it and get up to speed with the latest technologies.
Both groups are wrong. According to a World Economic Forum report, we will all need 101 days on average for reskilling and upskilling up to 2022. And my experience so far is that this estimate is pretty accurate.
Since the capacity for “reinventing yourself” will be an essential skill in the 2020s, the way you learn must also change. Formal and structured “in class” training will become less important. Where “on the job” training is viewed as the most critical learning component these days, it is expected that “social and peer to peer learning” will be the dominant learning of the future.
Companies seem to realize the change in learning sources and start implementing learning platforms where employees can exchange ideas and curate and share interesting articles, podcasts, videos, etc.
And, the art of “unlearning?”
And then there is unlearning.
In an age of reinvention, a dose of coordinated chaos — some call it an open mind — is essential. This means that you must be willing to give up some of the certainties that give us comfort and security. You must be willing to give up the processes and procedures that structure our lives.
Dropping familiar routines is never easy. I can see this all the time when I give training courses. Participants are reluctant to accept the idea that old processes and procedures are facing an existential threat. Too many people are too comfortable in their settled ways of operating.
But everyone must be ready to embrace the new without being hindered by the old. We must “learn how to unlearn.”
I believe that the more we learn about the new world, the easier it is to let go of the old ways of thinking and operating. In a world of frictionless information, we are liberated from any one version of ourselves, and offered the unique opportunity to do and be whatever and whoever we choose. And this ability to customize our cyborg selves is one of the defining features of the digital revolution.