Ask the Futurist: In a rapidly changing world, teach your child how to learn, unlearn, relearn

As a futurist, it is my job to understand trends coming in the next few years and provide guidance to leaders around the world. It’s more about strategy and less about prediction: “Those who live by the crystal ball, eat glass.” While I’m traveling the world to guide executives, a frequent question comes up: “My kid just got into college, I think they should do something with computers. What should they do?” To answer that, you need to understand how education is fundamentally changing... and what’s causing it.

We’re in a big moment of change - the World Economic Forum calls this the “4th Industrial Revolution” and like every revolution before it (steam, electricity, digital), the world is going to go through a bumpy ride. At the center of this moment is artificial intelligence - but there is a lot of misunderstanding and bias in those two words. Hollywood trained us to fear those famously evil human robots, while the reality is we’re using a whole lot of data to answer simple questions or do simple tasks like booking a restaurant or scheduling a meeting. This capability, called machine learning, is the true advancement behind all this change and is creating new industries, new jobs, and raising the right questions for our future.

“The illiterate of the 21st Century will not be those who cannot read or write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.”

— - Alvin Toffler

When the world pivots and changes at a dizzying pace, it is your ability to learn that becomes your most important asset. Most people spend a very small fraction of their work-life on learning and yet studies show you need to be spending 20-30 percent on keeping up. The assumption that you’ll be doing the same job requiring the same skills for 30+ years until you retire has disappeared. To combat this need and supply the workforce with any-collar workers, the education system is evolving:

FILE - students sit in a lecture hall during a lecture. (Photo by Patrick Seeger/picture alliance via Getty Images)

First is the pivot to the dual education system model that has seen success in Europe - combining your schooling directly with a company, so you already have the skills and a job when you graduate (hopefully helping a little with the $1.5 trillion school debt crisis). In the U.S., this is popularized with college summer internships but their importance has escalated - not only should it be done every year, a lot of students are doing paid internships during the school year and are choosing the schools that have these ecosystems in place. Don’t wait!

Second is the importance of a global influence in your education - learning how to adapt to a different environment and seeing problems from new angles is key. A great example of this is the highly acclaimed Minerva college, where in your four years the entire class of students will move and live in seven major cities around the world. You can take online classes now from MIT to Cambridge or enroll a year abroad but the most important aspect is gaining perspective.

“For the next 10, 20 years, every human being, country, government should focus on reforming the education system, making sure our kids can find a job...”

— - Jack Ma, Alibaba

Third, we’re seeing corporations and governments double down on education - Amazon is spending $700 million to retrain its work force and Chinese company Huawei is giving $300 million per year to universities with no strings attached. The simple fact is in the race of technology we need more skilled workers and the education system isn’t producing them fast enough. The US is ranked 27th in the world for education and we need to raise the bar - China definitely is.

Lastly, the importance of exposure to ethics and philosophy are vital in a new age of technology. Technoethics, or research into the ethical choices and impacts of the technology we develop, give guidance no matter the tool. With the use of machine learning and eventually artificial intelligence, the ‘why’ and ‘how’ are becoming more important than the ‘what’. The next generation of workers will be an increasingly important decider into how we should approach these new problems.

So... back to the top, what should you advise your kid learn if they are headed to college?

  • Find the school that has a solid internship pipeline and line up that job starting day 1 (it’s not necessarily the top schools)
  • Focus on how to learn over what to learn
  • Take some ethics classes
  • Learn about artificial intelligence (there are AI classes in every subject/major: math, art, computer science, sociology, teaching, medicine, etc)
  • Keep the end goal in mind - here’s a good list of majors with higher than normal unemployment.

With all that said, I will highlight that college is not always the answer and there other routes to success - trade skills are becomingly increasingly in demand (electricians are doubling in growth) and skilled labor is the backbone for society’s acceleration. I could double the length of this article alone on this topic, but I’ll leave it to one of the best to speak on the subject: Mike Rowe (from Dirty Jobs) on TED.

Hopefully that helps! As a parent, consider being a mentor to kids in this journey through the Fulfillment Fund and pave the way for a better future. If you’ve got a question or topic you want tackled next in Ask the Futurist, reach out!

Twitter: @slippingsand

Jonathan Miranda is a strategist that has been an expert in the field for over fifteen years with a technical background as a product owner and software architect. Through his work at Salesforce as Emerging Strategy Principal, Jonathan engages with corporations, governments, and institutions to create alternative perspectives on the future and develops robust strategies for Salesforce and its top customers in a changing and uncertain world.