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.
EDUCATION IS NOT ENOUGH
Today, no amount of formal education can guarantee us sufficient knowledge, perspective, and skills to assure our 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 is a necessity. But degrees and certificates alone will never be enough to let us build the careers or lives we aspire to. At best, a formal education will only be the "Front End" portion of what, must become for each of us a lifelong learning journey
THE 21ST CENTURY’S NEW LEARNING EQUATION
Today, in addition to our 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 accomplishments give us and use them as tools to leverage our everyday experiences into effective self-directed learning opportunities. Formal education is the Front End of all our learning efforts, and self-directed experiential learning experiments are 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, it highlights the fact that those of us who have personal issues to address or professional goals to reach must learn how to organize our Front End educational curricula and our Back End learning experiments so that together they help us do three critical things:
- Improve the essential personal and professional skills we already have,
- Develop the new personal and professional skills we need to succeed at work and in our lives, and
- 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 challenges we face.
AN IMPORTANT FINAL WORD
Forty years ago, In Skill in Chess, Herb Simon offered us what is now one of the most famous learning propositions ever published: “There are no instant experts in chess--certainly no instant masters or grandmasters. There appears not to be on record any case (including Bobby Fischer) where a person has reached grandmaster level with less than about a decade's participation with the game." "We," Simon said, "would estimate, very roughly, that a master might spend perhaps 10,000 to 50,000 hours...staring at chess positions…"
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 and chess masters were early hints that there is such a thing as Back-End learning skills
In 1984, David Kolb published, Experiential Learning: Experience as the Source of Learning and Development. In his book, Kolb described a four-phased learning process that identified the specific Back-End steps you must take to implement the kind of experience-based learning processes that Simon had hinted at in Skill in Chess. These Back-End learning skills are the ones, Kolb said, that are essential if you want to advance your skill-building efforts in the face of the 21st Century's newest, most complex challenges and opportunities.
In 2016, K. Anders Ericsson published, Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. In this book, Ericsson confirmed that, for most adults, mastering a complex set of new skills does in fact take 10,000+ hours. Ericsson's insights about deliberate practice -- along with Simon's discoveries about focused attention, Kolb's insights about experiential learning, and Mezirow's propositions about transformational learning -- show us how to accelerate the pace and effectiveness of an individual's Back-End learning efforts. In fact, the effective integration of Simon, Ericsson, Kegan, and Mezirow into one developmental program seems to dramatically reduce the time it takes for an adult learner to successfully translate their formal Front-End educational efforts into Back-End experiential learning experiments that let them master complex new skills in much fewer than the 10,000 hours that Simon proscribed.
All together, what we know about focused attention, deliberate practice, experiential learning, and transformative learning shows us that these four elements, when integrated, can create a comprehensive and flexible self-directed approach to learning. And that this approach can be tailored in specific ways that make it easy for you to implement valid Back-End learning experiments that complement any Front-End educational accomplishments you already own, as well as any new Front-End educational effort you may be contemplating.
Finally, let me say that this blog is just the first in a series of four short articles that will explore the ways in which formal Front-End educational efforts can be, and should be, tied to relevant Back-End experiential and transformational learning programs. Intense, emotionally charged educational programs plus trust-based, self-directed learning efforts are the equation that lets you translate all your learning efforts into successful personal or professional development, especially when these two components are well designed, fully integrated, and appropriately supported. The next articles I publish will be all about many of the issues and ideas central to these kinds of learning efforts.