4th Industrial Revolution, Cognitive Enablers

A Foundation of Enablers

James Wheeler

A friend of mine has been reading some of my stuff after we had a good long chat about learning advanced cognitive enablers and asked me some questions that I hadn’t really thought about. He comes from a world of hands-on, concrete work and couldn’t understand how advanced cognitive enablers fit into such a world. They don’t train you to do anything.

I decided to write an article that addressed some of his questions.

He is right when he says that he can’t see what someone is trained to do with the acquisition of advanced cognitive enablers. That is because you aren’t trained to do anything specific. In the same way that learning to read doesn’t train you for any specific job, learning to use advanced cognitive enablers don’t train you for any specific job.

One of the problems is that in the very real concrete world we are transitioning away from, jobs are what you are trained to do. For years now, basic adult educators have been puzzled over the direction of training that they should focus because we don’t know what our graduates will be doing. I remember going to a seminar, at least ten years ago, when I was told that most of our graduates for that year would end up doing jobs that hadn’t even been thought of yet. How do you prepare students for that kind of world?

If we look at the recent past when a manufacturing plant shuts down, what skills do most of the former employees have that prepare them to prosper in today’s world? As the highway trucking industry moves to autonomous, self-driving vehicles, what are the millions of truckers skilled to do in today’s world? We still have the need for welders, but as automation progresses, the number that is needed will be a fraction of what is needed today. Just as millions of farmers were left with no farming to do as farms were consolidated over the years, manual laborers will find it more and more difficult to find work. An automated port doesn’t need very many dockworkers.

The gut-wrenching reality is that the work that will be available for unskilled laborers are considered menial tasks in our world today. We have to be prepared for a massive mental health crisis when we see millions of people who made meaningful contributions to our society suddenly finding themselves competing for jobs against teenagers who are working to make spending money while they are in high school. Regardless of the very real importance of the work, a skilled engineer will become a depressed individual as they work nights emptying wastebaskets in an office complex.

The world where training for work and then a job for life is gone. A world where continual retraining for work is the world of tomorrow.

So, why advanced cognitive enablers? How do they prepare us for the world of tomorrow?

It is not just that the skills most in demand by employers are laid overtop of advanced cognitive enablers. Advanced cognitive enablers change the way people learn.

I never set out to learn a full suite of advanced cognitive enablers. Doing a higher degree gave me a taste of thinking, but circumstances pushed me to expand and develop my thinking for a number of reasons. I’m glad it happened, but it was a difficult process and not one that I had set out to achieve when I returned to higher education as a mature student.

However, now that I have them, there is something that most of us never talk about. I have taken part is a number of training exercises over the years, and I find virtually all of them almost unbearable. Imagine taking a six-week, intensive training course designed for people who couldn’t read. The pace, depth, and level of stimulation would make the event somewhat dull (a gross understatement). This doesn’t mean that this kind of training is unnecessary. What it means is that with a suite of advanced cognitive enablers, training and re-training can be an entirely different experience.

The material that needs to be learned can be pitched at a much higher level. The purpose of training is changed from memorization to understanding. The pace of learning is accelerated. The level of interaction is fundamentally different. This may sound elitist, but it is just the way it is. With a foundation of advanced cognitive enablers, the learning is qualitatively different.

Training people with advanced cognitive enablers informs the training as much as it informs the trainees – or it can in the right environment.

An organization with the majority of their employees having advanced cognitive enablers would enjoy a competitive advantage unimaginable in today’s world. It doesn’t matter the field of work, the advantage would be enormous. The agility and vibrancy of an organization built on a foundation of advanced cognitive enablers would blow away any traditional organization.

This is the future that I am looking forward to.

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