This post was originally published on LinkedIn on September 16, 2015.
September officially marks the beginning of the Back-to-School season in the U.S. and many parts of the world. Images on TV show students all over the world boarding school buses, purchasing school supplies and assembling on college campus quads.
But I see another Back-to School scenario, and it looks quite different: adults, at home engaged in the best courses the world has to offer with just a computer and a willingness to learn. Back-to-school should really be for everyone; adults and kids alike. Here are four reasons why, at this time of year, everyone should be headed back to school:
1. We should never stop learning. Period.
Once we believed that education only takes place earlier in life, and when a person begins a dedicated career path, the learning essentially stops. Instead, learning should be thought of as a lifelong pursuit. With a continual demand for professional development–and the personal fulfillment that goes with additional education–there are many reasons to keep on learning.
Research has shown that exercising the brain as we grow older will keep us healthier. A study published last year by the National Institute on Aging Learning looked at 2,800 adults aged 65 and older. After 10 years, 60% of the participants who’d enrolled in training programs showed that they’d either maintained or improved their ability to perform daily tasks, compared with only 50% of the control group.
2. There are now more opportunities for lifelong learning than ever before.
For much of human history, opportunities to study were often few and far between. In more recent centuries, as developed nations instituted public school systems and public libraries, more people have had access to books and the world’s collected knowledge at their fingertips.
Now, with the advent of online learning, open education resources, and MOOCs, we have amazing opportunities to engage in high-quality courses from the best schools around the world, for a very low cost, or for free. Anyone with Internet access can participate in these courses and, ultimately, more minds can be opened than ever before.
3. Even if you’re already IN school, you always need MORE school.
Last month, a new Gallup poll commissioned by Google showed that American schools fail to meet the demand for computer science classwork. In the study, 90% of parents polled felt that computer science instruction would be great for their children, and over 60% believed that CS classes should even be mandatory. Yet 75% of the school principals polled said that their schools offer no CS programming classes whatsoever. The same is true of advanced courses.
The Google/Gallup study sheds light on a problem that members of both the education and tech communities have known for years. Online educational opportunities can help complement students’ in-classroom learning, filling gaps left by under-resourced schools.
4. The working world is changing faster than any time in history. Keeping up is the challenge.
Continuous, lifelong learning is just as important for adults – maybe even more so. Just think in terms of Moore’s Law.
First observed in 1969, Moore’s Law essentially posits that the number of transistors in a microchip doubles every two years. Much of our modern world is driven by this microchip technology and it requires society to continually keep up the pace – and not just in engineering and computer science. The skills gap results as there is a growing mismatch between the qualifications of workers in the economy and the skills demanded by employers.
There is also a ‘middle-skills’ gap in technology that involves the use of more everyday digital tools like spreadsheets or word processors. As these programs have become ubiquitous in modern workplaces, additional training is needed for people to keep up and/or get employment where they couldn’t before.
Similar innovation occurs daily in all fields – medical sciences, chemistry, space exploration, business, finance and far too many others to name here. We must continue to educate ourselves on all the latest findings, techniques, and opportunities. Lifelong learning isn’t a nice-to-have, it’s a must-have for anyone working in a career that encourages innovation.
Traditionally, university systems have been designed around a “learn-then-work” model – a concept that came about in a centuries-old world where change was slower. It has now become antiquated. Universities must retool for this continuous learning world; approaching an unbundled model.
In an unbundled model, students might begin their higher education largely online, perhaps even their entire first year. Then they might have two years of on-campus schooling, followed by in-the-field instruction. For years after that, they would continue learning new skills, potentially again online, throughout their careers. This more flexible, continuous model is better suited for modern times.
Unbundling may also enable learners to obtain the education they need in a pay-as-you-go model, unlike today where you are betting all your effort and dollars on a major at age 18 – much like a roll of the dice.
With many reasons to keep learning and more opportunity to do so than ever before, we should all strive to broaden our minds – for professional development or just for the sheer pleasure of learning something new. With this philosophy, a dedicated season for back-to-school might become a thing of the past – in the best possible way. Every day should be back-to-school day.