No, you don't need to adjust your dial . . .

How Do We Learn in the 21st Century?

Kathy has an interesting post on why the U.S. is falling behind in preparing math and science workers for the future. Her point is that the educational system we've set up doesn't teach people the skills that they actually use as mathematicians, scientists and engineers.  There's a focus on a rote/drill and kill, problem-solving by recipe approach that has nothing to do with the kinds of right-brained, holistic, design and intuition skills that are necessary for true success in the field.

Technology_2_1 I think that what she has identified is a problem that's applicable to all workers in all fields. As she points out:

Our educational institutions--at every level--need drastic changes or we're all screwed. The generation of students we're turning out today need skills nobody really cared about 50, 40, even 20 years ago. Where we used to prepare students for a "job for life", now we must prepare students to be jobless. We must prepare them to think fast, learn faster, and unlearn even faster("yes, that drug was the appropriate way to treat the XYZ disease, but that was so last week. THIS week we now realize it'll kill you.")

The Waterfall Model of education is failing like never before. We need Agile Learning.

This is where I think nonprofits need to be thinking differently about how they're preparing their own workforce for the future and how they use technology to do this. Reality is that we need structures in place that support knowledge management and "just-in-time" learning. Speed and adaptability are of the essence. We must be unlearning and re-learning on an almost daily basis. But the question is, how do we do create the right kinds of learning opportunities?

According to Jerry Wind and David Reibstein of the Wharton School of Business, in the new world of work, organizations must adapt their training strategies to:

  • Provide learning opportunities that are tailored to the backgrounds, interests, learning styles and motivation of individual learners.
  • Create learning that is active, experiential and based on the real-life contexts in which workers will use their skills.
  • Use mechanisms for delivering learning that staff can use anytime, anywhere as the need for that learning arises.

So times have changed. How do we adapt? While I think that nonprofits have been at a disadvantage in the training arena for years, this is where Web 2.0 technologies can finally put nonprofits on equal footing with their private sector counterparts.

Tools such as wikis and blogs are now ridiculously inexpensive to access. A Typepad account is $15 a month.  Some wikis can be had for free.

Audio and video options are equally accessible. With a $13 microphone and free recording software, I can create "just-in-time" learning podcasts that can be stored on the web and made easily accessible to staff anytime, anywhere.  Decent video cameras can be had for around $200 and through free video hosting services like YouTube and VideoEgg , I can easily and quickly create simple training/learning videos that can again, be accessible to staff as they need the information.

The real issue that we're dealing with here is the paradigm shift in our thinking about learning that we need to make in order to operate in a world like this. We aren't used to thinking that we could create and share audio and video on a dime. We're not accustomed to the idea of having a wiki where staff could collaboratively create knowledge and problem-solve around their learning needs. We simply have not adjusted to the fact that we must be constantly alert to where learning needs to be happening and then considering how we can use technology tools to provide those learning opportunities as workers need them.

Our other problem is that most nonprofits and their staff have not had experience in designing effective learning experiences. Having grown up in the "drill and kill" days, they don't necessarily have the background and skills to design learning experiences that will have the most impact. But again, this is where Web 2.0 technology can step in.

The community aspects of being able to share and access solid knowledge about training and learning ACROSS nonprofit organizations is a huge opportunity for leverage that we're simply not accessing. Yes, it can be expensive to design good learning for a single organization. But why do we have to design it for just one anyway? Why can't nonprofits create learning consortia that allow them to share knowledge and skill development opportunities among many different agencies? Why, for example, can't they share a "learning consultant" who designs learning experiences and manages the tools for delivering that learning for a group of agencies that share similar skill development needs?

I think there is a lot of untapped potential that is just waiting for us to find it. The challenge we're facing, though, is less about learning the technologies and more about changing our thinking about how we use them.



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