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To know or to learn...?

Updated: Sep 3, 2020

In the world before the internet, smart phones and tablets, knowledge was power. Knowing ‘stuff’ used to be important. People who ‘knew stuff’ were perceived as clever and commanded respect. Teachers knew things that we needed to learn; libraries held millions of pieces of knowledge that we had to physically trawl through in order to discover; our parents knew more than we could comprehend.

In today’s technologically driven world, knowing ‘stuff’ is no longer so important. Anyone with a smart phone or tablet can find out anything at the click of the button. The words ‘I’ll Google it’ are now common place in our language and we can find the answer to any question in an instant. People who ‘know stuff’ no longer command the respect that they used to as anyone can find out anything. Knowledge is no longer power.

Instead, those who can make sense or meaning out of what they know are the ones who prosper and succeed. Individuals who can find ‘stuff’ out and work out what to do with it to create ‘meaning’ are the ones who stand out, because anyone can ‘Google it’ but not everyone really makes sense of what Google tells them. Individuals who can analyse and evaluate what they find out in order to work out whether it is useful or not are now the ones who will thrive. Those who can work out which pieces of information and knowledge are trustworthy, and which pieces are simply ‘made up’ are more likely to find a good place in the world.

But who, and what, do you believe? Do you believe the personal website of the researcher who has one side of a story to tell? Or do you believe what is written on the Wikipedia page by random individuals (and then edited by the person in question)? Do you believe that there is only ever 'one version of the truth'? Or do you read a whole host of ‘stuff’ and make your own mind up with a rationale judgement?

Times have changed and even more crucially; times will keep on changing…and ever more quickly.

Technology has changed the way we live our lives and the way we learn. The very nature of learning has changed. It is no longer about learning ‘stuff’ and building knowledge; it is about the ability to critical analyse and think about ‘stuff’. Technology has also opened the doors to new ways of delivery and assessment of learning. Technology is everywhere and with everyone…and we do everything differently as a result.

So what does all this mean for us as L&D professionals?

Let’s think about what we are trying to achieve. We are seeking to develop curious, self-aware and dynamic learners, leaders and human beings, who are able to uncover their own solutions, their own potential in pursuit of their dreams. We have to develop their ability to ‘do stuff’ and not simply to ‘know stuff’. We need our learning programmes to inspire their desire to learn and to motivate them to work out what it all means…and how they can put ‘stuff’ into practice. And we have to use technology and what we ‘know’ about learning to apply and assess this all differently and in the right context.

If we are to truly achieve this, and more, we have to transform the way we work. In a world where it is not just possible, but probable, that with one click of a button, learners have the potential to know more than their learning facilitators, and where knowledge is no longer power, we cannot continue to rely on programmes built around delivering knowledge. We have to consider how we develop critical thinking and analysis skills so that learners can find out their own ‘stuff’ and work out what they trust and what they are going to do with that knowledge. We still need to provide some ‘knowledge’ but have to be aware that knowledge is the start and not the end.

Learning in the 21st century at this point in time needs to be blended, available, empowering and socially constructed if it is to have any chance of succeeding in motivating and inspiring individuals.

So, how are we going to evolve our approaches? Being an ‘expert knower’ is no longer enough. We need creativity, innovation and the ability to think differently. And as knowledge is no longer enough…what are you going to do differently (or at least think about doing differently) having read this?

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