TLO's Front-End/Back-End Approach to Learning

It used to be a good education was the doorway to success. At a minimum, a Bachelor's degree was the key to a good job, if not to a fulfilling career. Graduate degrees would take you even farther. Today we're discovering that neither a B.A. nor an MBA are really enough to assure us of either an executive title or a house in the suburbs, let alone two cars in the garage and a comfortable retirement. Even a Ph.D. isn't enough these days to guarantee you a career and a life that includes a home in the suburbs, college for your kids, and a Sandals vacation in the Bahamas every year. 


Today, we're learning that a formal education will give us the knowledge we need to at least see our world's new challenges. But, we're also discovering that seeing these challenges is not the same thing as having the mindsets and the skillsets that are needed to respond and cope with them. In a world like ours -- one filled with radical complexities and accelerating rates of change — a high-quality liberal education is a necessity. But, by itself, no matter how good it is, a formal education will never be enough to let you master the 21st Century’s newest challenges. At best, a formal education can only be a small part of what, for each of us, must eventually become a lifelong learning journey.

tlo’s Front-End / Back-End Approach To Learning

In our new Mach 2 world, lifelong learning journeys must become for us “the new normal.” For that to be true, each of us needs three essential things:

  • What these days experts know as a “liberal education.”

  • A thorough exposure to the techniques and tools of experiential and transformational learning, especially those skillsets that show us how to make effective use of all the knowledge and experience we’ve acquired since we became an adult.

  • The learning skills that will let us make use of the experiences we’ve had, both good and bad, in ways that deepen our personal and professional development, accelerate our success, and help us settle into pathways that lead us to the careers we want, the relationships we need, and the lives we’re hoping for.

Simply put, if we’re going to cope with the 21st Century’s toughest challenges, we must recognize formal education for what it is — simply the 'Front-End' portion of what must be a lifelong learning journey. And, as well, we must also recognize that the experiences we’ve had, especially those we’ve had since becoming an adult, are just the 'Back End' portion of our learning journeys. Essentially, what we need to recognize is that in the 21st Century learning of any sort is going to be a two-part effort. It’s going to be a process that includes relevant formal front-end educational efforts, and then a well-designed set of back-end experiments aimed at translating our new knowledge into relevant perspectives, insights, and skills. In a real sense, we all are going to have to become intimately familiar with, and exquisitely capable of implementing this learning equation:

A Liberal Education + Self-Directed Learning Experiments = Successful Development

This equation highlights for us the formal educational efforts and the personal learning experiments we need if we're going to both survive and thrive in today’s complex and rapidly changing world. In practical terms, this equation highlights the fact that, as adults, those of us who have personal issues to address and professional goals we're hoping to realize, must learn how to organize for ourselves both the Front-End and the Back-End components of our own self-designed and self-directed learning efforts.