Learning from the very edge

Learning from the very edge

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Just over two years ago, I saw an image that transformed my thinking on education and altered the course of my life. It was a picture of an 8 year old girl teaching a Biotech class to adults.

The reason she could teach it is because she started learning about the subject 6 months beforehand. Biotech is moving so fast (around 6 times faster than the Moore’s Law driven computer, mobile and internet industries) that earlier information is rendered irrelevant or out of date.

It doesn’t matter how old you are when you start to learn. All that matters is starting with the very latest knowledge.

Looking at a 3 year university degree in Biotech, what you learned at the start of the course is out of date by the end of the course. If one assumes that you are given the latest content in the first case.

Because of the way traditional education is structured, it is becoming increasingly irrelevant. It used to have a competitive advantage but  is now rapidly falling behind.

Yet the outlier technology institution Singularity University can’t become an official university. Why? Because you have to fix a curriculum, and their curriculum changes by 80% a year, which is the only way to stay current. Consequently it is not possible to get a qualification for attendance.

And yet spending 3 days immersed in their content is far more valuable than 3 years at a traditional university with a teaching curriculum about technology that may be 5 to 10 years old.

The School of Communication Arts 2.0 also delivers far more in 1 year than a traditional university can deliver in 3. They do this by using a live, flexible curriculum and hundreds of mentors from current industry, rather than a handful of lecturers regurgitating old content. Again, students leave without qualifications, but have far better job prospects because of their up-to-the-minute industry experience. Their ‘qualified’ counterparts with out-of-date knowledge have to be retrained at work, which is far less attractive to an employer.

Malcolm Gladwell claims it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to become world class at anything. I don’t agree that this is necessary in all cases. You can now get to be world class at some things with just 100s of hours of learning and practice. All that matters really is that you are learning from the edge and that you get to the edge earlier than everyone else.

We live in an exponentially changing world. Old disciplines are disappearing all the time and new ones are coming up faster and faster. What really matters is how quick you are to start learning an emerging discipline relative to everyone else.

Most large companies that exist today will not exist in 10 years time. Most jobs that exist today will not exist in 15 years time. There can be a strong argument to say that many of the countries today may not even exist in 20 years time.

This may be extraordinarily hard to fathom for our linearly hardwired minds but it is happening. If your focus is down in the day-to-day, you are missing the tsunami of change that is approaching us. You are the metaphorical boiling frog.

Those who adapt to this change soonest will have the most opportunities available to them.

To survive and thrive, we need to somehow permanently go back to school. Whether we are 5 or 85, we have to make learning from the edge a part of day-to-day life.

Qualifications are losing their value every day. ‘Currency’ in terms of current knowledge is becoming the new educational currency. It is wise to consider investing in it.

Share your experiences about learning from the edge in the comments section below. It would be great to hear from you.


P.S. For 4 days in March, I take a small group of people to the very edge of what is possible. If you want to get ahead of everyone else and use this knowledge to make a real difference in the world, find out more at http://www.10tothe9.org

P.P.S. I am still working on an education project to reinvent education by giving kids access to the very edge of what is possible. For more information, visit http://www.bornlimitless.com

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  1. Marc,
    This is so spot on! We are constantly using the analogy of “if it takes a year or longer to write and print a new textbook, it’s outdated before it gets into the hands of a high schooler.” Let alone that schools don’t update their textbooks very often, rarely more than every 5 years. We are limiting our entire population in their most formative years!
    Thanks for writing about this so gracefully.

  2. I have studied physics and medicine in university and many other topics for myself. And I can partially agree. Besides the basics, what I was taught in med school was already outdated, and I often managed to befudle the profs with current studies.

    I also believe that the concepts of lectures is inefficient and outdated (I comes from a time where there was only one book for the whole class, so they handcopied it).

    But the basics of science, especially math and physics, the scientific way to thick, have stood up to the test of time. Their knowledge will be useful, no matter what technological path the world will take.

    But if I could do it again, I would skip the lectures, learn the basics from the best books, do the exercises that peak my interest at the moment and compare with other students. Then I would quickly move to real world applications, looking into current research whenever I don’t fully understand something.
    You always need a burning question, when you study something!

  3. Very much agreed. The edge is where learning and action occur. And agreed with a previous comment about certain disciplines – math and sciences – standing up to the test of time. No shortcuts for learning those basics. That said – staying within the math/science paradigm – once those are foundational, and firmly rooted, it appears best to utilize those in real-world applications to best stay on the learning edge.

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