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Building Continuous Learners

Building Continuous Learners

I started my career around the turn of this millennium, having done my post-graduation in management from a reputed management school in Delhi. Little did I know getting a job did not mean the end of learning.

Marketing, the profession I am engaged in has changed much during these years. Digital Marketing was little known during my academic years. Now, Marketing has transformed to Digital Marketing. Similar is the case with other professions. The computer languages I learned during my engineering days are mostly extinct.

Why should we learn continuously?

So, how do I manage to stay relevant and hence employed when the skills required in my job have changed? By being a continuous learner. This will remain the secret sauce for anyone whether she is an engineer, lawyer or doctor to stay relevant in the age of artificial intelligence, big data and automation.

Many corporates are building continuous learning into their culture by ensuring that everyone in the organization completed a minimum number of learning-hours every year. Some organizations even have reverse mentoring of senior employees, pairing them with millennials to help gain the digital and social media knowledge.

  • How do you as a professional, be on a path of continuous learning?
  • How do you as an academician help your students to build the foundations of learning at your educational institute?
  • How do you as a parent help your ward imbibe this spirit?

We will start with the basics.

What are the right skills to learn to be future-ready?

Let’s be realistic. It is almost impossible to teach them skills that make them future-proof, especially mid to long-term because we are in no position to predict the skills of the future. To complicate the situation further, skills required at jobs are changing at an accelerated pace. This makes the job harder.

So as an academic institution, what can you focus on?

You can start with the skills that can help professionals of tomorrow build a solid foundation. My suggestions are:

  1. Mathematical and Technical computing
  2. Emotional Intelligence

The vast progress in technical computing is the reason behind much of the developments in areas like robotics, artificial intelligence, biotechnology etc. In simple terms, the computing speed and storage have increased manifold and they have become more accessible. This has democratized these aspects of technology, thus making them available to startups as well as large enterprises. The cost also has come down. Technology has become the differentiator even for services companies, e.g. Uber, Zomato etc. more and more organizations are leveraging them to acquire market share and build new products. With a reasonable amount of certainty, we can bet on this area to drive innovation, job and wealth creation.

An institution that has the mission of helping students acquire the right skills could start with building mathematical and technical computing skills.

Many thought leaders in the area of AI and Robotics argue that emotional intelligence is one of the skills that might be inaccessible to artificial intelligence in short to mid-term. While the computing environments have gained more intelligence with algorithms, humans can still maintain the edge by developing and displaying emotional skills. Skills like empathy are still more or less inaccessible to machines as they do not display the ability that we humans have in connecting emotionally with each other. Building this skill not only makes us better human beings but also prepare us for a world with more computers and robots.

Yuval Noah Harari, best-selling author and historian who has written extensively about a technology- driven future world also talks about building emotional intelligence that gives us the ability to adapt better as an important skill of future.

How can educational institutes help build these skills in students?

Academic learning is a good start. Build a curriculum that supports the development of the above skills. A good share of learning happens through practical means. Once you academically learn a skill you need to apply it. Project-based learning (PBL) is a great way to get this culture into campuses. Ensure ‘skill-continuity’ through student competitions and open innovation challenges. These competitions are designed to provide a platform for applying skills to tackle some of the real-world challenges. They provide the students with a competitive environment that help them apply their technical skills while they learn several soft skills like team building, leadership, influencing etc. Some of the well-known competitions in India are SAE BAJA, Formula Bharat, MathWorks Minidrone competitions, Smart India Hackathon.

Another way to put the skills into practice is to do an internship in companies. With remote working now a common practice, the students have a world of opportunities. Several startups are constantly looking for interns to join their teams.

The important part is that learning is continuous. As parents and teachers, we should help build this growth mindset in our children and students that allows them to be active learners. They should grow to be more flexible to adapt to changes, learn, unlearn and re-learn.

Summary

  • Be on a continuous learning path. Help others to be on that path.
  • Educational institutions can lay a good foundation for students’ future by helping them build skills on Mathematical and Technical Computing, and Emotional Intelligence.
  • Supplement academic learning with projects and competitions to apply the skills.

Happy learning!

About the Author

Sanjay Gopinath heads Marketing & Communications at MathWorks India.  He shares his experiences and learning through blogs and speaking sessions. The author can be reached at sgopinat@mathworks.com