How to study in the age of technological disruption
All my life I have been studying the wrong way. I wish I had a mentor who would have shined a light dispelling the darkness of my ignorance. I needed someone to explain to me how to deal with the world that is dysfunctional on so many levels. When I was young, I was overwhelmed because life seemed like chaos, many things that people occupy themselves with I found absurd. My biggest problem was that I had no idea what to do with all this mess.
In this section, I want to share with you the knowledge that would have saved me precious time back in the school days. There are many things that I learned the hard way. You do not have to. Even if you are not a schooler anymore you might still find something of value. Regardless of the stage of our education, if we foster the right attitude, we remain students our whole life.
The first thing I wish I understood much earlier is
Education is a must. You are the one who needs it.
Not your parents, not your teachers. You.
Regardless of how you define the word “success”, in order to master the world and master your life you will require a deep thorough understanding of how this world operates and what laws govern the events occurring in it.
A good teacher will give you tools, a great teacher will inspire you, but no one except you is able to give you an inherent reason to study hard. Inquisitiveness is not something that can be transplanted. It has to be self-cultivated.
Conventional education comprises several circles of education — school, Bachelor's degree, Master's degree, and Ph.D. The current status of education implies following these stages in order to attain accreditation and improve professional qualification. This is the way things are right now and apparently, they will stay this way for a while, but there is one thing that the status quo made clear:
The conventional education system is obsolete.
The education system as it exists right now was designed in the era of industrialism. At that time, the primary objective of the education was to train a person so he could acquire skills that would help him to secure a job that he would carry on throughout his life gaining further experience and growing in professionalism. It was possible because technological progress was not exponential.
Things changed with the proliferation of computers. We live in the era of the Digital Revolution. Technological innovations transform every single aspect of our life. New tech will disrupt the hell out of us if we do not prepare ourselves. This process has already started.
- 60% of students in Australia are studying for jobs that will not exist in 10 years.
- Automated cars will leave millions of people jobless in the next 10 years.
- In November 2017 the world witnessed how the robot did a backflip. Think about it. A robot. Did. A backflip. Can you do a backflip? I can’t. The time of clumsy “Wall-Es” has passed. Robots now can learn how to walk from scratch within hours. That’s faster than any human being.
These robots and overall industrial automation already massively substitute manual workers leaving people behind. The future is here. It is official.
The starting point in the understanding of your place in the world of tomorrow lies in the acceptance of the fact that the world is changing at a pace that is underestimated and remains unfathomable for many. We will perish if we fail to clearly visualize the future ahead of us.
The choice of a future-proof occupation must be a top priority.
We all need to embrace the fact that many of the things that are taught in a conventional education system and the ways we educate ourselves and our children became archaic.
The implementation of new technologies alone is not enough for the revolution of education. The real revolution lies in the minds, specifically, in the cultivation of the following mindset.
Education is what others do to you.
Learning is what you do to yourself.
Starting from a very young age the educators should inculcate into the young minds of the students the idea that a gradual increase of the responsibility for the knowledge they attain must be their personal goal. Children should feel confident and competent at the moment when they are released into the real world. By using the term “real world” I do not implicate that the school days are not real. I just want to emphasize that current teaching practices are often disconnected from reality.
I recommend you to watch two TED talks: “Let’s teach for mastery — not test scores” by Sal Khan and “Do schools kill creativity?” by Sir Ken Robinson. Their message is clear. We need to rethink what we teach and, most importantly, how we teach our youth.
The conventional education system is designed as follows: students study for several weeks and then take a test. One student would pass the test with a grade of 95%, another one would pass with 60%. Regardless of the grade, after the test is completed, all students move on to learn concepts of higher complexity on top of the not-digested previous material. And this is the major flaw of such a system.
Building up knowledge is like constructing a building. What would happen if you possessed only 60% of the material to build the first floor? How stable would your construction be if it had 40% of gaps and you proceeded with building additional levels on top? It is obvious that at some point, your building would collapse, and that is exactly what happens when a student who was taught in an above-mentioned way finds himself facing the complexity of real-life problems.
Education should be highly personalized to the needs and capabilities of an individual student. You can’t teach everyone at the same pace. And that is why projects like Khan Academy, Lynda, Udemy, Udacity proliferate. The tools that have the potential to disrupt conventional education by making it personalized are available and keep constantly improving. We just need to start implementing them.
Don’t get me wrong. Schools are still the best system that we have. In particular, schools are still effective in:
- Training memory.
- Training processing large amounts of information.
- Teaching basic research skills.
- Teaching social skills and human interaction.
- Cultivating a sense of community.
- Cultivating a sense of healthy competition.
We can still use conventional schooling in a smart way but also reap the benefits of technology integration.
The transformation of the education system as we know it today will be sluggish. There are certain rules that have been established and they won’t easily expire. People have created a system of operation and this system is predominantly ruled by paperwork. If you are being interviewed for a job or moving on to the next level of education, you will be asked to present your credentials. The truth is — you have to collect your credentials. You cannot drop out of school unless you are a genius like Mr. Gates or Mr. Zuckerberg. If you plan to build your career within the employer-employee framework you will have to study hard and build up a portfolio of your academic work, diplomas, certifications, attestations, and other educational evidence. Another option is to become an entrepreneur or a freelancer but let’s be honest these are not career choices that would suit anyone.
You cannot quit school but what you can do is hack schooling.
#1. Study well.
Building up your credentials starts from primary school. Choose to study well and see education as your personal quest. It is really not that hard to keep up the good grades. Make your parents proud. Let it be your contribution to the peace in your family. Study well at least for the sake of it.
#2. Identify the destination point.
Identify your values, your academic interests, and a potential vision of the way you will deliver your value to the world that will also make you wealthy along the way. Life is short. It only makes sense to do things that truly ignite you.
If you are absolutely sure that you do not learn anything useful in the conventional classroom find a way to read books on the sly, or study computer skills on your laptop. Do not waste time reading fiction literature or playing computer games. The best game you will ever play is called “Life”. It has the best graphics and a highly unpredictable scenario. If you want to become good at it, remember, that the rules of this game can only be found in self-development books or learned in practice.
If the school feels like torture but attendance is a must, think of it as a special training program to build your resilience and self-control. Some of the knowledge we learn within the school walls is indeed inessential but mental toughness to sit it through is never impractical. Grit is a quality that will define the course of your life.
#5. Rethink school.
The time after school is equally if not more important as the time in school. Remember — learning is what you do to yourself. Deploy this mindset. Consider that the hours after school is the block of time when the “official” training is finished and you finally have a luxury to truly invest in your personal growth. This is the most important part of your day.
#6. Design your study.
Start with developing a system. Identify your goals, make a spreadsheet, display your progress so that you could measure it. Do not try to tackle many things or many subjects at once. Make your education systematic. Chaotic study and lack of organization will not only slow down your progress but can also kill the desire to study.
#7. Find a mentor.
Find a person who is older than you, more experienced and possesses the expertise you strive to acquire. Seek the person who is already at the point where you want to be. Be ready to sacrifice your resources when you ask him to teach you because what you can learn from a mentor is wisdom in a condensed form. Your mentor will challenge you and change you.
Be mindful of the way you see your mentors. Do not idolize and idealize people whose work you admire. “Never meet your heroes”.
Be proactive. Seek guidance. Stay hungry. Ask stupid questions. Give stupid answers. Make mistakes. Learn. Fix. Repeat.
This is a short must-know list.
Basic science: mathematics, physics, chemistry, biology, anatomy, etc.
Remember the analogy with the building? Solid fundamental knowledge is your foundation, your basis, your foothold. Master the basics, and other more specific subjects will be smoothly learned on top. Fundamental sciences are the most important part of education you should focus on.
#2. Problem-solving skill.
The real world doesn’t consist of lectures. It consists of problems. Keep it in mind during your studies. In the real world, no one cares how many classes you have taken and how many tests you have passed. The only criterion of your professionalism is the level of problems that you are able to solve.
#3. Critical thinking.
The world is observing closely the genius of Elon Musk. One of the tools that he uses for engineering and design of his products is taken from philosophy and is called reasoning from “First Principles”.
A first principle is a basic, foundational proposition that cannot be deduced any further. Thus, applying the first principles approach, innovative solutions to a problem can be found through the following steps:
- Identification and definition of current assumptions.
- Breaking down the problem to its fundamental principles.
- Creating new solutions from scratch.
Don’t be satisfied with the answers given to you by your teachers. Use the “First Principles”. Doubt everything that is served to you labeled as an “Ultimate Truth”. Find primary sources. Check your references. Double-check. Triple-check. Collect your information on the matter and come up with conclusions yourself.
In school, they call it “cheating”. In real life, it is called “collaboration”.
Strive to understand how to work with other people. Learn not just how to get along but how to solve problems together. Always initiate your partnerships, not with an assessment of benefits that you can potentially gain from your collaborators but instead how they will benefit from a collaboration with you. An efficient collaboration is always a win-win relationship.
#5. Hard skills.
Hard science, research, coding, composing/editing content, marketing, writing, reading, engineering, building things, working with data and programs — these are the high-income, high-value skills. Hard skills will keep you relevant anytime, anywhere.
#6. Soft skills.
Public speaking, self-esteem, emotional intelligence, practical intelligence, personal philosophy, practical and interpersonal psychology — these skills are hard to develop but they make life way easier upon application.
#7. Deep work.
Get a skill of deep intense work for long periods of time without giving in to distractions. This skill is a life-changer. Everything profound that you will learn in your life you will learn through this skill. You will learn more about the concept of deep work later on in a dedicated section.
Study, study, study!
Study extremely hard. Study as if your life depends on it because indeed it does.
Thank you for reading my book “Meditations of the Millennial”.
If you want to support me on my mission, please, share this book with someone you love. Maybe they will find what they seek on its pages.