Transforming New Knowledge Into New Skills

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It used to be a college 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. Today we know better; neither a B.A. nor an MBA are enough to assure you of either an executive title or a house in the suburbs, two cars in the garage, and a comfortable retirement. Even a Ph.D. isn't enough 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, no formal education program can guarantee you sufficient knowledge, perspective, and skills to assure your comfort and safety. In a world like ours, filled with radical complexities and accelerating rates of change, as well as other contemporary challenges and opportunities, high-quality formal education and training is a necessity. But college degrees and advanced training by themselves will never be enough to give you the knowledge and experience you need to respond to today's transformational challenges. At best, the knowledge you develop through formal classroom education and training can only be the "Front End" portion of what for each of us must become a very serious pursuit of experience-based learning efforts.


Today, in addition to formal education, each of us needs to know how to design and implement our own experience-based, self-directed learning programs. We need to know how to take the knowledge, perspectives, and insights our educational opportunities give us and use them as tools to leverage our everyday real-world experiences into effective self-directed learning opportunities. Formal education must become the "Front-End" of all our learning efforts, and self-directed experiential learning experiments the "Back-End." 

Today, the learning equation we all need to be intimately familiar with and exquisitely capable of implementing is this: 

"Formal Education + Self-Directed Learning Experiments = Successful Personal and Professional Development."


This equation highlights both the educational knowledge and the personal learning skills we need to succeed in today’s complex and rapidly changing world. In practical terms, this equation highlights the fact that those of us who have personal and professional issues to address must learn how to organize and integrate our Front-End educational training and our Back-End learning experiments so that together they help us do three critical things:

  1. Improve the essential personal and professional skills we already have,
  2. Develop the new personal and professional skills we need to succeed at work and in our lives, and
  3. Reframe the outmoded modes of thinking we have about ourselves, others, our work, and our lives in ways that help us respond more effectively to the toughest, most complex 21st Century challenges we face. 

TLO's Front-end/back-end approach to Learning

Forty years ago, Herbert Simon offered us what has become a famous learning proposition. In Skill in Chess, Simon wrote, "There are no instant experts in chess." No chess player on record "has ever reached the grandmaster level with less than a decade’s worth of intense preoccupation with the game." Simon continued, " We estimate, very roughly, that a grandmaster must spend 10,000 to 50,000 hours staring at chess positions if they're going to reach the grandmaster level."

Simon's assertion has, over time, been both validated and pared down. His assertion that “There are no instant experts in chess...” has been reframed so extensively that today it reads, "It takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice for any individual to become world class in any field." Today, we know how and why Simon's insights apply not only to chess masters in the making but also to those of us who are interested in developing new personal and professional competencies and skills. Simon's insights about chess were our first early hints that there is such a thing as Back-End learning skills 

Today, we know a lot about Back-End learning skills like "deliberate practice," "focused attention," and "transformative learning," especially the way that they, when integrated together into the Front-End/Back-End learning equation outlined just above, can create comprehensive and flexible self-directed approaches to learning. And we know the ways in which this equation can be tailored in specific ways to make it easy for you to leverage any new knowledge you've acquired into new modes of thinking and improved ways of acting.   

So, while we here at TLO believe that high-quality education and training programs can clearly provide important information, we also know there’s no way that alone these kinds of programs can ever be enough to help its participants master the kinds complex new skills needed in today's transformational world. No amount of classroom training or education can guarantee you the experience, perspective, and skills needed to assure your 21st Century competencies. In a world like ours, filled with radical complexities and accelerating rates of change, as well as other contemporary challenges and opportunities, high-quality formal education is necessary. But formal education and off-site training alone will never be enough to let you build the complex skills and new competencies that are needed today. At best, formal education training can only be a Front-End lead to your Back-End real-world experiments

Today, in addition to acquiring formal Front-End knowledge, each of us also needs to know how to create the experientially based Back-End portion of our learning efforts. If we want to improve the skills we already have, develop the new skills needed to succeed at work or in our lives, and/or reframe outdated modes of thinking in ways that more effectively respond to today's challenges and opportunities, then we will need to know how to design and implement full-fledged knowledge- and experience-based, self-directed learning programs. Knowing how to use our new knowlege to organize and launch integrated Front-End/Back-End learning journeys is going to be key.