6. What happens to formal learning
I recently read a thriller by Robin Cook, Charlatans. As usual he is able to create a plot that is engaging and at the same time makes you think of the unexpected twist brought forward by the evolution of technology. In this (fiction) story one of the character is an anesthesiologist that is hiding a secret (it will be revealed at the very end, of course): she did not graduated from a medical school, never did a medical residency but managed to get hired in a prestigious hospital by doctoring her resume on line and forging all the papers to show that she followed all the required education course. The point, however, is not about the forging, rather about her capability to perform in her role. She proved to be not just good but better that all her colleague, nobody ever had a suspicion she was not adequately trained.
The point that really made me think was the statement she gave when another character discovered that something was not right:
“The Web is providing all the knowledge you need, and you can learn at your own pace, way better than following a course. You have everything at your fingertips it is up to you to decide how much you want to learn and more than that if you embark in this way of learning you’ll discover that you will keep learning every single day, spending time every day to enhance, and update, your knowledge. In addition, there are simulators that will allow you to practice, as long as you need or want, telling you how close you are getting to perfection. There is no need anymore for formal training, you can have it, and have it better, on the web. When you will engage on a job you will be asked to prove that you have the knowledge and the skills, not why type of formal training you have. What really matters is how you can perform, not how you got the needed skills.”
I feel I can subscribe to this. Yet most of our world is still based on formal papers. Possibly because they can provide an a-priori assessment of your skills. However, it is becoming more and more easy to test your skills via software (artificial intelligence in many cases) so that an employer will be able to gauge them first hand on the specific task you will be required to address.
I guess this type of evolution is inevitable, as the number of formal employers will shrink giving space to one shot jobs, possibly requested from the other side of the world.
Take Google. It has started to use AI to screen job applications (they are receiving so many that it has become the only way to consider them all), now they have released Interview Warmup, an AI based software letting applicants to prepare for the real interview. It is a short step from letting AI carrying out the interview at least, in the beginning, to screen applicants but in the future I bet it might be AI to take decision on who to hire for what.
Formal learning remains useful for many people (students and professionals alike) when there is a need to help learning and stimulate learning, what I would call “forced education”. However, also on this side we can expect that by 2050 software will have progressed to mimic a teacher and provide a personalised tutoring experience. We can also expect an evolution of the culture that “forces” people to learn, as a social duty.
The only big hurdle in this evolution is not technical: it is about the millions of teachers that may lose their jobs.
I expect the transition from formal to informal (although reviews) learning will evolve from the expansion of continuous learning focussing professionals. This is going to become an integral part of many professions and it will necessarily have to be customised both in terms of what to learn and how to learn (at that specific person’s pace). This will be evolving becoming more and more sw supported (Cognitive Digital Twins will likely be an important tool) throughout this decade and the following ones it will start contaminating the “formal” learning. By 2050 I expect a significant share of all learning will no longer follow today’s formal channels.