Advent and Acceleration of a hyper-learning era

| Jul 27, 2020 | Blogs

An end to education as we knew it, and beginning of self-directed, non-linear, and asynchronous learning enabled by a digital ecosystem

The pandemic has set us socially apart but will go a long way in bringing us together cognitively. This marks an acceleration for the era of asynchronous and social learning. A few things will need to now, better change permanently. One of those is our learning infrastructure and the way we educate ourselves.

While social learning has been around (Bandura, 1986) since 1963, the power of observational learning is yet to be fully utilized by both the pedagogical and andragogical experts. Most learning professionals, teachers and “gatekeepers” of knowledge think of human mind as a constant dumping ground for their ideas and “teachings”. For long education, has been limited to this kind of brain-training. Focused on operant conditioning, teaching machines (Skinner, 1938) and a whole host of brain programming, further aided by a serial Montessori system of education, has all but reduced a few human generations into “learning challenged” yet “highly educated” professionals.

If this is to change, right now is the best time. We may well investigate the learning systems of the past from both Oriental as well as Aristotelian era, where learning and growing went on together, that brought people closer to the nature, and made observation a critical input to learning. Although ironical but the digital infrastructure may end up bringing people a lot closer to each other, and with the nature. How will that happen? As people recede from the artificial air-conditioned workplaces, and spend a lot more time on reflection, in an individual setting (or home work conditions), as well as mingle more with the local society around them (akin to a rural ecosystem), there may be opportunities of more observational behaviors, then the politics and competition of a corporate set-up. And hyper-learning is more about reflection, than teaching.

A 300 Bn USD corporate learning industry, powered by such biggies as Microsoft, Google and a host of other e-learning and learning experience players have brought together a lot of learning opportunities that no more require a standard classroom environment. If there is one thing, that is missing though, is that most e-learning is conversion of courses as it is, into an e-learning flow. That is one of the reasons why such solutions find little adoption from their users, the corporate learner. A college student still goes through that content painfully at times, however, that not because of learning, but because of the grades, that can land them a better job later. So, the e-learning industry has largely copied the bad practices (or best practices) of their predecessor, the great grand classroom. And sometimes, opening them up as MOOC’s or open learning platforms, seldom desired or used by any. In his book, How People Learn, Nick Shackleton-Jones (Shackleton-Jones, 2019) has done a detailed analysis of such a phenomenon, and how it is failing the learning industry.

But this can change fast, and who is changing it? The learner, whether a school or college-going student or a corporate learner. The greatest of revolutions do not come from the corporate or educational institutions, but from the people outside of it, like Einstein brought his Theory of Relativity from a cranky government office. And that is what is happening to the learning industry today. It is moving away from the shackles of education and typified serial learning. So, what is it transitioning into?

People do not need lectures, they need skills. They need skills to find a better job, to have a better social status, or to pursue their interests based on their hierarchy of needs and cognitive social standing. A few smart organizations like Microsoft and LinkedIn understand this need and investing a good deal in providing skills to people, and a lot many free resources, that help them become smarter at work (Bersin, 2020).

So how is hyper-learning going to change the game for the modern learner? It’s a little bit like the herd immunity, that may be one of the single most common objective for us, as a global community today – to succeed against the virus and build antibodies, that would not let the virus affect anyone in the herd (the community). No-one knows the mechanism of herd-immunity, but it happens and multiplies rapidly, faster than the virus itself, to protect lives. All this happens in quite an asynchronous manner. Why do human bodies and immune systems learn asynchronously, and not our minds? Ultimately immune systems are also controlled by the brain (read, mind). This proves the point in a way, that humans and any other organisms learn in an asynchronous and not a serial manner. Possibly, humans and all other organisms are not wired to learn serially, but they have been “taught” through the operant conditioning methods to do so, in the last 200 years or so. That points to the great industrial revolution conspiracy, of why that teaching method was adopted. May be to robotize the workforce, to repeat the same activity, every day, for their entire working life.

In his celebrated, and highly criticized work, The Morphic Resonance, Rupert Sheldrake talks about the mental phenomenon, that extends mind as a field (not as an object), and that extends to connect with other fields asynchronously (Sheldrake, 1981). The morphic fields are asynchronous, and help people learn in ways, that may not be serially explained. Many of the high reliability organizations use these methods of learning (Weick, 1995) and training that allow people to learn from the morphic fields, or through a method of attention, away from the regular five senses. 

So, how do we tap into hyper-learning, both as learning facilitators and as learners? At the outset, it is about the learner, and not the teacher. Learning is always a property of the learner, and the external entity, including the nature and the teacher alike, may at best influence it. And, there are three important conditions to start a hyper-learning culture:

Focus on the Learner’s Need

Learning Academy

The learner’s need is the first important conditions. “You cannot teach a learner, what she does not want to learn.” To further add, this also is largely self-driven. The individual needs the learning at the time they need it, and in the manner, that will challenge them optimally to acquire it. The need and its self-driven nature are the single most important factor. It may happen either due to cognitive laziness (last minute learning for an urgent task) or even heightened awareness (viz. social distancing in pandemic times), but nevertheless is the reality. In a recent study, an overwhelming 80% people agreed that they would like to learn at the instance of their need. This behavior is interesting, given the age-old belief, that we can take students through a system of Montessori education for 23 years, including the college degree and school systems, when from the very beginning, we could have actually tapped on their need and triggered them to learning in the direction of their need, quite early on. It is time that we shift the learning resources creation, in such a way, as to make it need driven than driven by an educational framework requiring learners to work through a hierarchy of topics and learning objects.

The Heightened Emotions

The Heightened Emotions

The emotional (read neuro-cognitive) state of individuals draw them to learning something new. Most of the times mental rigidity is due to previous experiences, that causes the mind to act in a certain way to the stimulus it receives. However, this may be changed, in a heightened emotional situation, people tend to drop the previous learning and learn new behaviors, that are required for new and changed realities. For example, following a diet program and leaving your staple eating habits to lose weight or due to certain illnesses. People learn when they are emotionally drawn to it. This is a great opportunity for the learning professionals, as the learnings that you require your learners to take, must emotionally appeal to them. In fact, emotional skills, will be much in demand, in addition to higher cognitive and technological skills, as we look forward to the future. This is quite counter-intuitive; however, digital transformation and the changes in industry underway today, are going to change the range of human skills, that would be required in the future.

Social Learning, Observation and Experience

Social Learning, Observation and Experience

People learn from the observation and direct experiences. They look at others, consciously or sub-consciously to imitate behaviors. Social learning and observation are our most ancient ability, in the world where learning quickly was also key to survival. More novel the experiences the better. Research suggests that 90% of the people will prefer learning on the job, and 83% through mentors or coaches. Despite a whole host of technologies available today, this result may be surprising, but it is not. This is the greatest indicator of the fact that we “learn by doing”. Learning is not just cramming objects in the brain, but also the muscle memory, that recalls the same, when an application of the learning for a task is required. The high reliability organizations, detective agencies and even some of the industry has been aware of this fact for a long time. Just that the educators seem to ignore it. They continue to dump the content in one form or the other, which in reality no one ever consumes. So, one should stop creating content, but start listening to learner’s need.

Reflecting on my own consulting work over the last one year, we have seen technology transforming the workplace at an extremely high speed and pace. In fact, digital transformation, is not only a differentiator, but by far the one most important factor for sustainability. Cloud and AI technologies are no more part of the board-room discussion but actual shop floor implementation.

In such a scenario, a right hyper-learning strategy is key to driving the hyper-learning engine – as rapid unlearning and re-learning will be a requisite need of the future. A hyper-learning system is built by bringing right resources to the learners at a high speed in the simplest format, that help them on their real work tasks.

At this instance, it is also important to know that learning is a social phenomenon. Communities are key to learning and therefore learning must be a social challenge, where people are willing to invest in learning. Collective intelligence and mind-fields help everyone in the commune learn faster and attain a required degree of expertise. Enabling collective intelligence is the strategy, that organizations would need to draw from. It is not in vain, that in the search of wisdom, the monks took to commune (the “Sangha, in Pali, and Buddhist language). The community helps achieve two distinct objectives – one keeps the constituents in flow, by keeping them cognitively challenged and emotionally stable. Secondly, it brings right resources, through influencers, which is key to knowledge continuity in the community (Hess, 2018). Much like the collective and herd immunity.

We are going to see an acceleration in the hyper-learning adoption and shedding of the existing educational and training methodologies. And the next stage of evolution in learning is going to be through learners, not by trainers or educationists.

Bibliography

Bandura, A. (1986). Social Foundations of Thought and Action.

Bersin, J. (2020, June 30). Microsoft Gets Serious About Skills: Major New Anouncements. Enterprise Learning.

Hess, E. D. (2018). Becoming a Hyper-learning Community: The Future of Business. UVA Darden Ideas to Action.

Shackleton-Jones, N. (2019). How People Learn.

Sheldrake, R. (1981). A New Science of Life.

Skinner, B. (1938). Behavior of Organisms.

Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in Organizations.

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