Tag Archives: Economy

Lifelong Learning is a Life Skill not a Buzz Word

Working in education, I have seen my share of buzz words (and concepts) come and go. Often they are rebrandings of past, failed initiatives or great ideas that simply don’t work among the established cogs of the modern educational machine. However, one “buzzword” that I believe has been unfairly branded as such is “lifelong learning.” Lifelong learning is “the “ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge for either personal or professional reasons.” In other words, it’s a self-driven desire to continue to learn and grown in all areas of our lives well after we leave a classroom. I have attended numerous educational conferences and events that highlight the need for educators to inspire “lifelong learning” in their students. In the world of educational buzzwords, it’s easy to roll one’s eyes and get back to the classroom. However, what I have learned in my world of education and technology is that lifelong learning is not the latest flash in the pan. Rather, it is now a necessary life and career skill.

In the past, job changes were few and far between and career changes (barring going back to school for a degree) were practically unheard of. Now, with automation and technology putting more people out of work and a shifting landscape in the economy, job-hopping and career shifts are becoming more prevalent. Forbes highlights that job hopping (moving to a new job every 2-4 years) is becoming a career necessity, often leading to higher salaries, more opportunity for advancement, and a better “cultural fit” at your place of employment.

But besides the fact that job hopping can lead to better opportunity, the reality is that job hopping and career shifts is not just an “acceptable practice” but becoming a necessary one, thus the need for self motivated learning. In his almost dystopian non-fiction work Rise of Robots, Martin Ford argues convincingly that automation and technology will not only be displacing factory workers and manual laborers, but traditionally “safe” jobs that require high levels of (often expensive) education–think lawyers, doctors, and even writers. If the trends that Ford highlights continue, unemployment and (more commonly) under-employment by even the highly educated will persist and grow. The Economist made a similar argument, stating that the solution to these trends is continued education throughout the life of one’s career (whether it stays within a single trajectory or takes a radical shift):

A college degree at the start of a working career does not answer the need for the continuous acquisition of new skills, especially as career spans are lengthening. Vocational training is good at giving people job-specific skills, but those, too, will need to be updated over and over again during a career lasting decades.

In their article “School and the Economy,” economists Murnane and Levy argued that the answer to helping students (and adults) be prepared for the new, shifting economy is to emphasize softer skills: expert thinking and complex communication, primarily “…the ability to solve new problems that cannot be solved by applying rules. (If the problem could be solved by rules, a computer could do it.)”

Lifelong learning empowers individuals to adapt to a variety of new jobs and career paths in the unforeseeable future. Levy and Murnane have a less apocalyptic view of future employment. While they argue that many traditional careers will shrink and even disappear, they view this shifting landscape as one that will open up new avenues and jobs. However, preparing for those jobs requires greater emotional and intellectual agility; a desire and passion to learn new skills and information.

Whatever the future holds for careers, lifelong learning is now a critical component for success. Your current job or position may downsize or all together disappear. New opportunities may be a better fit for your skill set and passions. Whatever the the future holds, being prepared and skilled at adapting to it through continuous learning is vital for success.

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The 3 Most Important Words: “I Don’t Know”

I love listening to podcasts! In fact, I hardly listen to the radio any more. Instead, I plug in my SmartPhone and cruise listening to an episode about comedy, literature, history, technology, and the broader world at large. Most recently, I listened to this week’s Freakonomics Podcast (published for free). If you are unfamiliar with Freakonomics, it was a a popular book in 2009 “Freakonomics: A Rogue Economists Explores the Hidden Side to Everything.”

Which is more dangerous, a gun or a swimming pool?

What do schoolteachers and sumo wrestlers have in common?

How much do parents really matter?

These may not sound like typical questions for an economist to ask. But Steven D. Levitt is not a typical economist. He studies the riddles of everyday life—from cheating and crime to parenting and sports—and reaches conclusions that turn conventional wisdom on its head. 

Freakonomics is a groundbreaking collaboration between Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, an award-winning author and journalist. They set out to explore the inner workings of a crack gang, the truth about real estate agents, the secrets of the Ku Klux Klan, and much more.

Through forceful storytelling and wry insight, they show that economics is, at root, the study of incentives—how people get what they want or need, especially when other people want or need the same thing.

The popular book resulted in a lot of conversation about how the world around us works and resulted in several more book as well as a popular website, blog,

Freakonomics, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Freakonomics, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

and radio show. What I love about it is that it’s not just about money (although I’m sure I could use that advice as well), but it explores hidden cause and effect. As a historian, this is my bread and butter.

This week’s topic focused on the power and our inherent fear of “I don’t know.” In fact, they argued that these three words are the most difficult words for people to say. In fact, in our own world we stigmatize a lack of knowledge and, as such, people are hesitant to admit when they do not know information – even when confronted with an unanswerable question! This behavior starts in childhood.

In the world of learning, we know that exploration, challenge, and even failure are our most important tools. As Levitt says, “There’s only one way to learn, and that’s through feedback.” If you think you already have the answers, then you don’t go looking for them. Instead, you must admit when you don’t know something and then work to find the answer! In fact, if you refuse to admit your own lack of knowledge, the consequences can be both financially and emotionally expensive. By refusing to acknowledge a lack of knowledge, we then forgo the process of exploration and learning.

You can listen to the podcast below:

Check out the podcast here or subscribe via the iTunes store here. Next, admit when you don’t know and encourage your students to do the same. After that, “work like a dog to learn.”

Is College Worth the Cost?

It’s that time of year when many high school seniors are donning silly hats and listening to clichéd speeches about the future. They are also making decisions about whether or not to attend college. A recent survey released by PEW Research Center and the Chronicle of Higher Education has revealed some alarming information about the state of America’s colleges and the prohibitive costs of accessing the American Dream. Anyone who has gone to college in the last few decades understands the crippling cost that can accompany higher education (I for one will be paying off my loans for many, many years to come). The cost continues to rise and there is no ceiling in site. With the state of the economy, and fewer than 25% of college grads finding full-time work after graduation, legitimate questions are being raised about the cost/benefit of a college education.

Public anxiety over college costs is at an all-time high. And low-income college graduates or those burdened by student-loan debt are questioning the value of their degrees, or saying the cost of college has delayed other life decisions.

While most people cite the role of a University education is to provide a greater competitive edge in the market (with a college degree holder making on average $20,000/year). However, when questioned, most college administrators cite its role in personal and intellectual growth. A wonderful ideal, but is it worth a six figure price-tag?

There is no doubt that the American educational system is in crisis. During a budget crunch year, destroyed economy, and rising global pressures, we must re-examin the American Educational system.

Read more about about this survey and its implications via this article at PEW and the Chronicle of Higher Education.