The January 14-20th, 2017 issue of The Economist featured a special report on Lifelong Learning: How to Survive in the Age of Automation, and as I read this article, I began to think about gifted and talented kids and adults.
The gist of the article was that companies are embracing learning as a core skill, and are embracing “design thinking” as a core competency. Design thinking is described as “a problem-solving methodology rooted in observation of successful innovators. It emphasises action over planning and encourages its followers to look at problems through the eyes of people affected.” Design thinking acknowledges that there will always be a need for technical and specific job-embedded skills, but that creativity, problem-solving, social skills, cooperation, and empathy will be the most critical of skills, and that humans who wish to survive in an increasingly automated age will need to continually upgrade their personal skills in these areas. In essence, the ability to become a “better learner,” and to increase “learning velocity,” (the ability to learn quickly, change course quickly, adapt, be flexible and fluent) will be expected and rewarded.
Some companies, including, for example, United Technologies (UTC), actually pay employees to study for part-time degrees while on the job. Although some employees might take their newly found skills and move to another company, UTC believes that the additional training afforded their employees makes them more intellectually curious, and an asset to the company.
At Microsoft, the work of Dr. Carol Dweck has informed the culture. The firm is emphasizing a “growth mindset,” where lifelong learning is rewarded. Performance reviews utilize criteria including “how employees have learned from others and then applied that knowledge.”
AT&T, in the ever-competitive quest to remain on the cutting edge, has chosen to reskill its own people. Employees maintain a “career profile,” which contains records of their skills and their training. This career profile can be matched with job opportunities within the company as jobs emerge. Employees are offered “nannodegrees,” and there is generous help with tuition. Conversely, there are negative appraisal ratings for those who “show no interest.”
Manpower, a human resources consultancy, is currently running trials on an app that will score individuals on their “learn-ability.” Algorithms score data-points as an individual completes tasks, and compares the responses with scores/aptitudes of others.
Ostensibly, at the root of this quest for learning is curiosity, and scientists are wondering if curiosity can be taught, or learned. Though it is too early to answer this question, MIT, Harvard, and Open University (a British distance learning institution) researchers, among others, are exploring the possibilities.
As an educator, parent, and grandparent, I am keenly aware that most young children are intensely curious. Some of them remain curious; others do not. If we can “fan the spark” of early curiosity, and keep the flame burning brightly, perhaps this is the biggest gift we can give our gifted learners -- to help them survive and thrive in the age of automation.
In closing, I’d like to share one of my favorite quotes about curiosity, courtesy of Alice Parker: “The cure for boredom is curiosity; there is no cure for curiosity.” May we all be “afflicted with the curse of curiosity.”
As always, I hope that this foray into other ideas, and then linking them to the gifted perspective, has made you think. I welcome hearing from you!
Past President, WATG