I have been very busy recently working towards finalizing my PhD dissertation. I have finally defended it and it was accepted, yay! For a long time that was my main focus (obsession), and I did not get a chance to do anything else. But during those past 6 months, I had something else on my mind though. A series of events, be it conversations with colleges or mentors, professional meetings, or just watching YouTube video’s that have led me to the following idea; today, the learning paradigm has changed because of the internet. It sounds like a cliche but bare with me for this post.
When you decide to get a degree form a college/university all you care about is gaining tools that will make you marketable to employers. A university degree is not supposed to teach you how to think is it? It is only supposed to show you how to become good at something that you can then flaunt in an interview to impress your future boss. And who cares about all that stuff in books, it is just theoretical anyway and written by some researcher who is out of touch with reality. They did not write the book from practical experience, if they did have such experience they would not have had the time to write the book, right? All you care about is how to get practical “hands on” experience. Why learn how to read musical notes, lets just play them. Why bother with studying particle physics let’s just turn on the large hadron collider. You are a get-it-done type of person, and college degrees are the necessary evil to get a job, right?………… WRONG!
When you go to college/university, no matter what brought you there you are in charge of what happens then. The classes you take, the time you take them, how well you perform in them, and what kind of social life you want to have are some of variables that are more or less under your control. No matter what degree you are pursuing, most curricula will give you the fundamentals of that degree especially if you are doing an undergraduate degree. So if you are majoring in psychology, you will be taught the basics of biological, cognitive, individual, and social psychology among other topics. You will not however be conducting complex psycho-analysis on patients and prescribing medication. The same goes for if you are majoring in mechanical engineering, you will learn the fundamentals of materials science, structural analysis, fluid mechanics, thermodynamics, and dynamics. But you will not be designing and building a car engine that will be used on the road.
The reasons for learning what you do in a college/university degree are fairly straight forward; first, you are learning the scientific fundamentals of a field that will give you the ability of critical thinking. Second, going from fundamentals to practice is a long road, and the more shortcuts you take the worse the final destination is. Third, human knowledge is cumulative therefore you have to start from the beginning to understand what the end looks like.
So now that you have been working towards your degree for a couple of years and have accumulated a wealth of knowledge that allows you to more appreciate the world we live in today, you decide to take a stab at the job market. The first thing you do is that you start looking for jobs and asking around if you know anyone in the industry of your field. All of a sudden you realize that much of the requirements to work in your field are not things you have focused on during your degree, they might even be foreign concepts to you. Now you start to panic, what should I do? I have been working on my degree and spent so much time going down the rabbit hole, have I lost touch with practical matters? Relax, no you have not.
Here is the problem, the industry nowadays has seen its fair share of recruits who in addition to having a degree in graphic design, they have unbelievable coding skills. They have seen people with electrical engineering degrees who have the ability to understand the stock market and make reasonably accurate forecasts. But how? Where did these people, some of which are your friends from college, acquire these skills? How did they get that good at it? And the answer is: global hyper-connectivity, i.e the internet. With all the written and visual content on the internet, and with global open access, many people have been sharing their knowledge online, many others who are interested in that content devour it. Now with all these people who have learned these extra skills applying for jobs, industries have deemed it normal for a linguist to have a background in data analysis, among other skills. This did not use to be the case, it used to be that you would get hired and trained by the company to do a certain task. But now that they get people who already know this, they do not feel the need to do so; this saves them a lot of money. Which puts a lot of pressure on anyone who wants to get a job or even start their own company.
This brings me to my concept of the learning paradigm shift. While in my opinion getting a degree is essential since it gives you the fundamentals of your field and allows you to become a more adept thinker and problem solver, there are many skills and tools that you need to acquire to not just become marketable to employers but to be relevant in today’s rapidly changing world. Even if you have been out of school for a while, you can access much of the information and use it to enhance your skills. You see, your degree or experience are ways to formalize your capabilities but you still need to stay up to date with current skills and changes. Now I know this makes the climate more competitive, but I think that this is healthy competition that will eventually lead to making the world a better place.