Cultures of Perpetual Learning

Over the years, we’ve heard a lot of predictions about what the future of work holds for all of us, not just our kids. It’s interesting now to see some of those predictions actually playing out.

Case in point is this post in the Harvard Business Review that summarizes the Herculean change initiative now underway at AT&T. It’s a fascinating read on it’s own, but it’s even more interesting when you start to align some of the findings to the work of schools. Or maybe more daunting.

The biggest takeaway for me? Professional learning is now the responsibility of the learner. I’ve harped on that for a while now, but AT&T pushes that idea in spades. For instance:

From the outset, AT&T was clear that employees interested in new roles would be required to use their own time for — and in some cases invest their own money in — their reeducation.


Once employees have identified skill gaps through the self-service platform and in conversations with their managers, they take it upon themselves to fill them through online courses, certifications, and degree programs developed through a partnership between AT&T, Udacity, and Georgia Tech. Most employees spend five to 10 hours a week on retraining.

All of this works within a “culture of perpetual learning.” AT&T employees know that their roles will change, on average, every four years. In other words, if you’re not constantly learning, you’re toast.


Some of that learning is focused on skills like coding, data science, and cloud-based computing. But “many of these fields are advancing so quickly that traditional methods of training and development cannot keep up.” That’s where on demand courses, badges, nanodegrees, and even master’s programs come in. Perpetual learning is supported by the company, but the learners are self-determined (with the help of surveys and evaluations.)

Finally, the whole organizational structure is shifting as well. Instead of a corporate ladder, the new metaphor is the “corporate lattice” which supports “supports lateral, diagonal, and both ascending and descending career moves.” Which leads to this:

Essential to lattice thinking is the principle that individuals actively own their development, which fundamentally changes the social contract between employer and employee. AT&T is working to instill a mindset in which each individual becomes CEO of his or her own career, empowered to seek out new skills, roles, and experiences.

As always, I urge you to read the whole thing.

The implications of this for education are many.

Are we building cultures of “perpetual learning?”

Is there an expectation (supported by the union, as in the case at AT&T) that professional learning is owned by the educator?

Do educators in our systems see themselves as the CEOs of their own careers?

And, maybe most importantly, are we working to help our students understand what it means to be the CEOs of their own learning?

I see this all happening more and more in the places I visit and work, but in all honesty, most schools seem no where near to creating these types of cultures or framing their practice through these types of lenses.

(Image credit: Denise Krebs)

Originally published at Will

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