Transferability is a problem in every area of learning. One of the primary goals of any training or education is transferability. To paraphrase Bjork, we have is the need to produce and have available a mental representation of the knowledge or skill that allows for flexible access to that information in different settings. The problem is that we don’t accomplish this central goal with traditional teaching methods – learning does not transfer between contexts. What does this have to do with the future of work/learning?
As we move into a time when people will move seamlessly from work to learning and back again, learning new skills will become the norm. However, the problem of transferability means that skills that are learned to accomplish work in one context may not be recognized as similar to skills that are needed for some work in the future. Transferability plagues education and is unlikely to disappear just because we don’t want it to be there.
Why do I see this as a central problem for the future of work/learning? Because the methods used and the goals and aims of education are not changing. As I wrote last week, companies are using exactly the same methods for training that they have always used and are producing workers who can carry out the tasks that are of immediate need for continued production.
As the pace of change in the workplace increases, more and more training will be needed to keep workers in place to take advantage of these changes. What will really be happening will be the training happening after a change in the needs of a company as a reaction to the needs and changes that are happening in the sector. The companies that will outcompete their rivals will be the companies that have a workforce trained to adapt to the as they come along with a minimal amount of training. The ability to foresee change and have a “mental representation of the knowledge or skill that allows for flexible access to that information in different settings” relies on an advanced cognitive enabler – higher metacognition.
Higher metacognition is the abstract cognitive enabler that gives a person deep insight into their knowledge and skills. Because of this, it allows a person to recognize and anticipate changes in their workplace before and as they are happening, providing them with an opportunity to adapt to the changes as they emerge. I’m not just talking about the “enlightened” management – like the ones who led the largest photography company in the world into bankruptcy, but the rank and file workers in a real enlightened workplace. These workers will not only recognize change, but will anticipate change and work out the skillset needed to take advantage of change. Not just as individuals, but as a workforce.
This lack of insight (metacognition) is apparent today when we look at the economic sectors that are preparing for automation. Even though we know that basic computing can carry out rule-based algorithms in a routine manner, the sector that has the greatest expectancy for a massive impact by automation is the sector that relies on a Bachelors of Finance. About 40% of those with this training expect jobs in their sector to be replaced by automation. What about the other 60%? Their lack of insight is amazing. The one area of economic activity that is likely to see the greatest disruption in the near term has 60% of those trained in that area thinking that they will not be effected by automation. Where is the metacognition? On the marketing pages of their various universities.
Of greatest concern is the almost complete absence of people who can train others with this skill. I was recently approached by a group of medical practitioners who deal with difficult addictions and asked if I would consider working with patients with addictions to gain insight by teaching them some metacognitive skills. Where are the businesses who need their workforces to have metacognition in order to gain a competitive edge over their rivals.
What competitive edge? Not only the insight that will allow workers to see and anticipate change, but the competitive edge that will allow workers to recognize skills and training that they have gained in other contexts that can be used or adapted to meet the new challenges.
We know how these abstract cognitive enablers are learned. We know how to foster the learning needed to acquire these skills. Formal education has rejected the opportunity to embrace this obligation to teach these kind of skills in favour of the prestige accrued by focussing on research. The losers are not only the individuals who haven’t been taught but the companies who think they are getting what they need, but aren’t.
Give us a call if you are really looking for that competitive edge.