LIFELONG LEARNING IS NOT YOUR SELLING POINT, BUT AN ESSENTIAL REQUIREMENT
Recently, we discovered that planet pluto is not part of the planetary system any more, and the giant squid does exist. We also know that computer languages/platforms that were used in the 1990s are outdated or improved upon to higher levels now. When such big changes happen over time, it is important for everyone to update with latest developments. As presented in Dr. Mcleod’s “Did you know” series, technology-based flat world also speeds up innovation, and causes disruption in the marketplace much faster than ever before.This fast changing world requires us to be lifelong learners.
When we discuss about lifelong learning, we need to refer to Hermann Ebbinghaus‘s forgetting curve theory. As per Ebbinghaus, human brain has intrinsic limitations to retain knowledge for a long time. Forgetting curve theory also suggests that repetition in learning improves optimum interval for re-learning. Moreover, additional social studies suggest that false memory becomes prominent as we age. In this fast world, this intrinsic limitation of human brain calls for us to be lifelong learners not only to meet the demands of rapidly changing technological landscape, but also to keep our brains healthy and active.
How can we adapt to changing times?
Building a positive attitude to learning early on in our life, I believe, gives confidence to anyone to adapt to changing times, which in turn can make the workplace a great place for everyone. As psychologists have proven with the marshmallow test, our financial behavior during the course of our life can be greatly influenced by our learning during our younger days. It also seems obvious that the steps taken in the younger days will influence our learning behavior.
Does it mean that learning attitude cannot be learnt?
Fortunately, the technological landscape has given us avenues to update with the latest trends in education without having to go to campuses or by spending a lot of money beyond our means. Personally, I have had my own reservations about MOOC, but during the last one year, I have been exploring the courses offered in four different platforms, and also the programming modules by Codecademy. Even for someone with a strong technology and IT background, and having taught Information management before, there were many areas to improve on, and these platforms certainly helped on that front. Moreover, getting back to these platforms allowed me to test the forgetting curve theory. To my surprise, I realized that areas such as, Programming, Web architecture that I had first learned in the 1990’s (I had my diploma in computer applications in the early 1990’s) and excelled in until the mid 2000’s, looked relatively different when I got back to learn the latest version of programming/web architecture courses. My recent learning experience with MOOC courses certainly justified the theory of forgetting curve. Fortunately, having been a continuous learner in some area or the other over the years, it did not take much time to get back my mojo in those areas.
These platforms also provide opportunities to become an even better system thinker. A big admirer of Deming’s work, and Deming’s 14 points on “System of Profound Knowledge”, many times, our decisions are confined to one specific area without looking at the overall system. Though the business or organizational solutions might appear to be working at that moment, we will see the longer-term impact over time. I believe that it is also one of the primary reasons that the life span of US companies has come down from 67 years in the 1920’s to 15 years right now 
(Note: Please refer to the reference list to know more about Prof. Foster's work).
What kind of learning is necessary?
The nature of learning should promote systems thinking. As part of this systems thinking process, the educational system should allow students to learn various facets of education, and not limit to one specific area to evaluate situations from different angles. I would also like to add that there are individuals like Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Mark Zuckerberg, who have been greatly successful without much structured higher-level education, but taking this route may not be a realistic path for many of us. For that reason, having a strong platform in the form of diverse education would lay the framework for future progress.
Having had the opportunity to educate myself in various areas in several quality educational institutions, I would highly recommend students to get a high quality bachelor’s education from an university or college that also provides you the diverse environment to interact with diverse group of students from varying backgrounds and areas. Please note that getting high quality education need not be the same as getting the highly branded education, and please don’t spend beyond your means for education. To further your knowledge, certainly pursuing a Masters degree and/or Doctorate degree would be one direction to take. But, make sure that you have a good idea about where this path will take you post-completion of your advanced degree.
Note: Irrespective of whether you pursue your advanced degrees or not, use avenues such as, MOOCs, to improve in areas away from your comfort zone.
How about verified certificates offered by MOOCs?
At this point in time, I am not a big proponent of verified certificates, and/or certificates offered by MOOCs that make you pay. This suggestion stems from the following reasons:
1. As the employment market appears to be all about connections nowadays, instead of spending that money on verified certificates, it seems better to invest that money to connect with recruiters, other intermediary decision-makers and/or decision-makers of organizations who play an instrumental role in the hiring process (Note: this suggestion is for those individuals similar to me that believes in merit). Moreover, these decision-makers may not even understand or value these credentials.
2. Further, if you were to look at the mission statement of Coursera/EdX, their goal is to improve the lives of people through free and easily accessible education. Going by this mission statement, we know that the quality of education will remain the same irrespective of whether we pay or not.
Note: I would like to mention that this is my viewpoint, which is also somewhat influenced by all the other credentials that I have accrued over the years.
I look forward to this mode of education growing with healthy competition rather than monopolization. If the growth results in global consortia of educational institutions, it certainly has the potential to address the 1 trillion dollar + debt issue in US, and multi-trillion dollars across the globe.
If this were to be the current situation, then why do we need to educate further at a quality university/college?
I believe that managing and extracting information from large data has become highly viable now. It is a matter of time before there will be a more structured human resource management process in organizations, where merit will matter (at least, it will become a realistic possibility). Moreover, with forgetting curve impacting our learning behavior, reducing the optimum interval of learning can help us in the future. Most importantly, by expanding our knowledge in new areas, we might gain the confidence to become entrepreneurs.
Added (12/22/2014 - 12/31/2014)
After completing and/or screening close to 200 different courses, and exploring several different MOOCs, I am working on my findings that will come out either as another article here or potentially as a detailed report/book. Right now, just the fact that EdX appears to be for non-profit educational purpose tilts me towards EdX over Coursera. At the same time, I would like to point out the level of quality that came out of many Coursera courses made the learning process enjoyable.
I would also not take anything away from Novoed and Udemy. The major concern that I have with Udemy is the credibility of the educators offering those courses. As Udemy appears to have taken a different approach, and has opened up the platform to anyone, the one suggestion that I would like to make would be to bring in educators, who have proven track record in the real world with the ability to train and lead students, and have also gone through the process of implementing or utilizing those technologies in a big way.
Note: We need successful and profitable businesses. If that were the case, why am I opting for non-profit organization here?
1. The area of focus here being, education. The social good that can come out of educated masses (with right and relevant education) would outweigh the profit coming out of education. Moreover, 21st century is going to be knowledge economy where individuals would be able to compete with mighty giants with right education, skills/talent and attitude.
2. Considering the mission statements of Coursera and EdX namely to make free education available to everyone, profit appears to be not a priority for either of these platforms.
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3. The trend in educational cost over the years makes me wonder whether for-profit Coursera would tilt their focus towards generating maximum ROI in the long run. Please note non-profit does not imply that the organization is revenue less.
Concerns about verified/signature track:
I am concerned whether the verified/signature tracks offered by some of the educators/educational institutions in these MOOCs are more for monetization purposes rather than the claimed purpose namely, to promote merit. It is not about the monetizing part that concerns me, but the way it is being done. At the same time, it is too early to make a judgement call as this process is evolving, and we will know the real value and objective of these tracks in the future. I hope the providers of education who talk about ethics will be ethical about their long-term goals.
Further, the platform, most probably, is already utilizing various different ways to track the user (IP addresses, Session cookies, Log trails, Browser & Computer information to name a few).
Moreover, the quality of certificate courses and current tracking system available through Coursera/EdX appears to be better or on-par with the verification process in place for traditional, blended and online degree programs and certificates offered right now.
If the signature/verified track is to reduce cheating, I am certain that there would still be students' who would figure out a way or the other to cheat. Most importantly, this platform was started to promote learning, and with all these levels of layerings, it might keep out a section of students from learning new areas away from their comfort zone.
I am also concerned how generating 100's of millions of certificates would play a role in the long-term on the value of education, compensation structure and organizational strategies to align with the unprecedented number of certificates being issued in addition to number of degrees. For example, one of the course instructors had shared the information that experience in a particular area fetches an average salary of $87500/year. But, the information lacked details -
---> Where were those individuals getting that kind of salary?
---> What is the current need in that area - how many jobs are available and future forecast on job growth in that area?
---> What will happen to supply/demand dynamics when hundreds of thousands of students complete those courses - Would it help the employers or the employees?
Only time will tell -
It appears that MOOC is here to stay. Instead of relying on for-profit MOOC organizations, which might digress over time to reap maximum return on investment rather than focusing on utility of their service, universities can form global consortia to work out a collaborative platform to offer similar such course offerings. Moreover, while scanning through the forums, it appeared that many had joined there for the university and/or for the professor teaching the course, and were utilizing the MOOC platform to connect with those established schools/educators. Therefore, forming consortia of universities/colleges can still meet the needs of the students, and universities still can retain its place in the educational world.
To expand on this consortia idea, please form consortia between Universities within a region or involving Universities that had prior collaboration (preferably, inside the country and then expand further to global scale).
It will be difficult for one University to be successful on its own in the 21st century. Moreover, with more far-reaching impact on volume, the reduction in cost of education will be more than outweighed by the volume of students enrolling in those network of consortia, and students' will be able to save money while getting quality education.
By the way, all these channels of education are hunky-dory and looks humanistic, but the part that concerns me the most boils down to simple supply/demand equation with all these different channels of education. Is it going to be the same old story where majority of senior administrators and executives prosper, and whether there will be more widening in compensation structure over time?
Let's wait and see.
TROUBLED YOUTHS DATA:
Added on 1/26/2016
Note: These findings on the life of US organizations were shared by Prof. Foster : http://som.yale.edu/richard-n-foster