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The Future of Learning: Experience

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

A 1997 report from Idaho claimed that thousands of Americans have died from accidental ingestion of dihydrogen monoxide (DHMO), a chemical compound that can cause severe burns and other unpleasant side effects. Asking what can be done about this dangerous substance, a 14-year-old student distributed the report to classmates, prompting a vote which resulted in overwhelming agreement to ban DHMO.

The punch line? None of the students stopped to consider what dihydrogen monoxide was. Ironically enough, they chose to ban something that is critical to our survival! Turns out, DHMO is simply two molecules of hydrogen to one molecule of oxygen, also known as H2O or water (which can, of course, cause death from drowning, dehydration, or scalds!)

The lesson? Trust, but verify. In the age of misinformation, social media overload, and an onslaught of endless news, people need more time, space, and increasingly sophisticated ‘thinking’ capabilities to critically consider the information they’re consuming. And, with AI bots generating content, creating deep fakes, and learning people’s behavior patterns, the noise we experience is only going to get louder.

What can be done to help? Develop higher cognitive skills.

The World Economic Forum (WEF) recognizes these skills as the most important for individuals to learn. L&Ds can play a crucial role in the essential upskilling of workers by prioritizing capability development and enabling individuals to better navigate the complexities of the future. And let's face it, the pressure to keep up with the latest skills and deliver value is not going away anytime soon.

World Economic Forum Skills
World Economic Forum

In today’s environment, focusing on developing higher cognitive skills is vital for two reasons. First, reasoning and decision-making are currently the least automated workplace tasks, accounting for just 26% of task automation. Second, higher cognitive skills help individuals cut through the noise of information overload.

Noise refers to the constant influx of information and distractions that can cloud our judgment and hinder our ability to think and communicate clearly. In both our personal and professional lives, this can be observed in countless situations, whether it be overwhelm by choice at a supermarket, being bombarded by Slack messages, or mindlessly scrolling social media. By developing higher cognitive skills, we can be more discriminating, elevate decision-making, and better navigate this noisy world.

Here comes the harsh reality…As AI advancement intensifies, so does the noise, stress, and pressure.

Did you know that according to Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, our brain operates using two distinct systems? System 1 is like a fast and automatic brain, responsible for making quick judgments and decisions, while System 2 is like a slower and more analytical brain, which analyzes information and considers solutions. We tend to rely more on System 1 thinking, which can lead us to accept information at face value without much critical thinking. It's important to be aware of this tendency and to consciously engage, develop, and enhance our System 2 thinking so that we are prepared to make important decisions or evaluate information critically.

Here comes a glimmer of hope. Decades of research in mental models have shown that the most effective way to cultivate higher cognitive skills is through practice and reflection.

We can enhance our innate System 2 thinking abilities by practicing in a practical context that allows us to apply what we have learned. This helps craft new neural pathways and refine our abilities. Plus, it exposes us to different scenarios and challenges, enabling us to adapt and improve our problem-solving skills. And, when we take the time to reflect on our experiences, we gain valuable insights into what worked well and what needs improvement. Reflection enables us to analyze our performance, identify patterns, and recognize opportunities to enhance our understanding or approach, but it also helps us connect the dots, integrate new information, and extract meaningful lessons from our experiences.

And, here comes the great news! Experiential learning provides an ideal framework for the practice and reflection individuals need to stay ahead of the game.

By engaging directly in real-world experiences, learners apply their knowledge and skills, receive immediate feedback, and reflect on their actions. The combination of hands-on experience with thoughtful reflection maximizes the effectiveness of the learning process, promotes more profound understanding, and enhances the transferability of knowledge and skills to real-life situations.

With experiential learning, education’s future is bright, and the key to giving individuals the skills they need to quiet the noise. And you, my L&D friends, play a vital role in making practice and reflection an everyday reality.

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