In discussing the topic of Information Technology (IT) innovations and its impact on our society with friends and family, one question that is often asked is “Okay, so what should I tell my children / grandchildren to prepare for their futures?” I wish I had a great answer for them, but at this point, I can only offer the following observations:
- The existing higher education business model is under a great deal of stress. The cost for a quality education using the traditional model appears to be unsustainable in the future with more people needing education and less resources to educate them. We will need to identify ways to “do more with less”. I think that many traditional schools will be around for a long time, because there will be those students (families) that can afford the on campus / face-to-face experience. There is a lot of good that happens on campus in a traditional educational environment, but it is not the only way to get an education. There are other parties thinking the same thing. The Minerva project and MOOC’s are just the tip of the iceberg. A dean from MIT has taken leave from her post to create a new type of university (MIT Dean Takes Leave…). I do not think we know today what the educational system of 20 years will look like, but I do think that some serious minds and some serious money are starting to shape that future.
- Digital Age Literacy is important. I am working on research about how IT innovations are stretching the requisite skills that new employees need to add value on day one. In a globally competitive market, few organizations can wait three years for a new employee to acquire enough knowledge, skills, and abilities to be worth the cost of their employment. Companies are looking for people who are a return on the investment on day one. So, what is Digital Age literacy? I found this great web site that has a tremendous amount of resources explaining and exploring Literacies For The Digital Age. Check it out at “Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything“.
- The pace of change is accelerating. One of the problems of being in the middle of a revolution is that hard to realize that you are in one. Today is not that much different than yesterday, and you expect tomorrow will be mostly the same. It is only with the perspective of time can we look back and say “Ah ha!” That was the time interval when everything changed. Some people, myself included, believe we are on the cusp of significant social change brought on by rapid changes in IT, artificial intelligence, robotics, genomics, and energy (creation, storage, and transmission). Soon, we will not have a resource problem; we will have a resource allocation problem. Unfortunately, resource allocation is not just a logistical issue that can be solved with better technology and better algorithms. Resource allocation goes to the root of our economic, political, and religious systems. The existing paradigms and their supporters will not go down without a fight, and it is this issue that cause so much trouble until we have it figured out at the global level. Good luck with that!
So, what to tell my friends and family when they ask how to prepare? My short answer is:
- Stay current on technology – This means more than knowing how to use consumer electronics, become an information age content creator. Learn how to create Internet content, program, install apps, secure your information systems, and keep abreast of new fields like data analytics, and text mining.
- In the Information Age, the ability to communicate is key – Learn how to read, write, speak, and listen effectively. These are skills that can be improved with dedicated effort.
- Learn to think critically – Critical Thinking is worthy of a blog post all by itself. Research, analysis, validation, etc. are all important parts of learning to think critically about the massive amount of information being thrown at you every day. Some information you get will be true, some information will be false. Some information will be useful, some will not. Learning how to think critically about the information you obtain will help you make better decisions, make you a more valuable team member, and help you become a better employee, and global citizen.
There is much more to discuss, but Robert Heinlein has a quote that summarizes my thoughts about the near future:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.
Economists will tell you that specialization has made the abundance of today possible, and they are right. However, I believe that the challenges of tomorrow will require citizens that are adaptable and capable of flexing into many careers and opportunities. They will, in my humble opinion, require a strong foundation in critical thinking, analysis, research, communication, and math and specific training in specialized skills that will be understood to be transitory, requiring lifelong learning and skill upgrades throughout their working career.