Ouch! The Truth Hurts

This would be funny if it was not really happening.

The responsibility for knowledge and know-how is being placed on the learner and not necessarily on the company anymore. I believe there are some huge implications to this trend:

  • The gap between the people who have the ability to be lifelong learners, and those who cannot get out of the more formal feed-me learning mode, will grow wider. Income will follow the ones who can learn on their own not the ones who have the most degrees or letters after their name.
  • Providing certificates for people who are learning all the time through the programs they take, from self-paced to webinars, virtual classes to conferences, will be a necessity in a world in which people want to prove what they learned. “Those outside of companies with skill-building curriculae can’t obtain legitimacy in those skillsets without being an employee. The more people are culling unassociated resources and experiences to learn specific skills, the more urgent it is for there to be a place for them to record their efforts and success, to study with peers, and to present their learning portfolios to future employers or partners in a meaningful way.” Fast Company
  • Independent learning is dependent on technology for reach and currency. Countries with the best, fastest most up-to-date online learning technologies will become the leaders in this hyper-competitive marketplace.
  • The formal school system is a disaster of epic proportions. If you disagree spend some time looking up the statistics on things like
    • drop-out rates from 2000 until today
    • average reading levels at graduation for those who get through the system
    • illiteracy rates from 1900 until today
    • comparisons of math and science test scores with other countries.

When you cross-reference these system failures with other countries you discover a startling fact. The countries that are ahead of us are the ones with the best on-your-own education systems. It’s not the formal school system that is giving them the lead but the system that enables their citizens to learn and continue learning on their own.

  • Teaching-to-the-test is a dumb idea. It does not produce people who can master learning on-your-own. Instead the outcome is a person who can memorize and forget and not really learn anything except how to take a test and move from one grade to another. The teaching-to-the-test approach does no one any favors. At best, it is a band-aid on a broken system. At worst, it is responsible for the dumbing-down of America.
  • The current educational model is ancient. Based on the Industrial Age necessity of churning out good soldiers (literally where it started) it was never designed to produce independent critical learners who were capable of learning on their own or with one another.
  • Teaching people to learn is far more important than teaching them a subject. Mastery never came out of a class anyway, and blended learning that married informal and formal modes of learning always trumped formal-only learning.
  • Khan Academy is one of the more brilliant uses of learning technology that seamlessly blends learning on-your-own with being helped to master a concept with a mentor or facilitator. The flipping of the schoolwork and homework into a more effective model of learning is a revolution in education. It can be used from Pre-K to Lifelong learning.

So the upshot is pretty simple. We need to revamp the educational system to produce great learners. It’s totally possible for several compelling reasons:

  1. People are born, to one degree or another, with the innate capability to be brilliant learners. Study infants in their first 5 years as they master walking, running, eating, talking, and so much more. Thank goodness school does not start during this period of exploration, discovery, trying, failing and succeeding. It’s only when we place them into the formal school system that they learn to be stupid.
  2. There already are great new approaches that are succeeding. I mentioned Khan Academy. There are others. So there is no longer any excuse for not replacing the outdated failed dysfunctional model of education with a new, better, brighter and more functional model of learning.

No reason that is except for a mountain of resistance: entrenched stakeholders in the old system; the politics of hold-the-line; stubborn inertia; “teachers” unions; teachers themselves; bureaucrats and their selfish bureaucracies; Boreds of Education; lots of people who hold the old dear and the fear the new; well-intentioned people without a desire to really see the system change … and more.

But despair not, change will come to the educational system, it will just take time. Planks Principle about the way science changes is worth repeating here. In his autobiography, Planck remarks that a “new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

It’s no wonder that a visionary like Sal Kahn literally started his brilliant game-changing program in a closet …


  1. Will Marlow · March 13, 2012

    Interesting post. It seems like a problem that certificates of achievement will proliferate, but that teaching to the test is dumb. Obviously, certificates require teaching to the test. (I actually just got certification from Google as a Google Analytics Qualified Individual, so I relate to this firsthand.)

    I’m going to read some more of your posts soon, but wanted to ask, are you trying to improve education generally, or education in the context of corporate environments?


    • davidgrebow13 · March 14, 2012

      Will, Thanks for you comments. If I judge by the number of comments I’m getting, this post seemed to strike a nerve.

      To answer your questions, I have been involved with education from Pre-K to Corporate to Lifelong Learner. I have always been trying to improve education in general and corporate or adult education in particular. These days I’m most interested in the relationship between education and the future of the work in the US. That’s what prompted my post.

      Very interesting observation about ‘certificates require teaching’. I disagree. Learning – including knowledge know-how – can be independent of teaching, teaching being narrowly defined as a person who knows imparting that knowledge and know-how to the people who need to learn. Certificates and even certifications are modeled on an old system of learning-testing-passing/failing. The new model is facilitator or even peer-to-peer competency or performance-based assessments. The only way to really prove you learned anything is to employ that knowledge or show you know-how to do it. With faster connectivity speeds, grater bandwidth and more sophisticated virtual classroom software, even labs and/or human interactions can be simulated for the assessment of the level of learning, i.e. knowing and doing.

      Please do not get me wrong. I love teaching. I just believe that it was – and will be – an ineffective model. The proof is in the statistics on the efficacy of teaching. The numbers are pretty poor and the exceptions are not the rule. I want to see 21st century technology employed as pervasively here as it is in other countries with whom we compete. And I also want the ‘teachers’ to be more effective with their time and talents, to be facilitators and mentors, and flip the equation so schoolwork (@ school or @ work) becomes homework done independently, and homework becomes learning during the time people can share.

      If you have a moment take a look at this site from TLM (The Learning Machine) in the EU – . They are moving ahead with a certificate process for students that has the blessing of the European Qualification Framework and the INGOT program. From what I learned, they are offering a more competence-based assessment program for what we would consider a GED – in the EU it’s a GCSE equivalence, and that’s for ALL the eligible students in the EU. I especially recommend the example of a Gold Certificate that you can also view here –

      So in the future we can have certificates / certification that does not need a schoolroom or proctored exam and instead relies upon a peer or facilitator-led review of how you put that knowledge or know-how to work. I think that’s what Google really wants at the end of the day anyway.


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