I do a lot of work with the World Talent Economy Forum, an international group made up of educators and executives that want to change the world for the better. Much of what we complain about with education is how poorly it pivoted during the pandemic — unable to meet the needs of remote students and the inability of current programs to properly train children with skills they will need as adults.
I recently became aware of and donated to an educational institution called the Khan Academy started by an educator who was frustrated enough by the status quo to do something about it. While this academy focuses on preschool through 12th grade, I think the approach would also be helpful for technology programs that are designed to help employees transition to new jobs as our industry evolves.
Let’s talk about how the concept of the Khan Academy could be advanced to deal with the unmet need for reskilling employees.
The Unskilled Problem
We often start with the tool and then force fit it to whatever problem we are facing. The problem is school sucks. I don’t care if you are talking about K-12, pre or post-graduate, or retraining. The reason it sucks is that curriculums aren’t designed for people. School, with some exceptions, is something you endure as you learn skills in a vacuum — meaning learning isn’t tied to whatever benefit we are likely to get from it.
There is a widely held belief that school should be like work and work shouldn’t be fun. That’s the problem with education; it’s about conformity, not magic; people should want to learn at any age, not for monetary reasons alone, but because learning is fun; we focus on the wrong things. And, done right, teaching can be fun too, but we seem to work to take all of the fun out of that with class sizes that are too large, a lack of flexibility in content and tools, and nowhere near enough focus on teaching the teachers to help create better adults.
The Khan Academy
What makes the Khan Academy different is that it isn’t focused on getting money from students as a private institution. The lessons are free. It lives off donations, which is why I donated, and its focus is on making it fun for kids to learn on their own. Parents of younger children are amazed that the kids love their lessons; older students share how much they enjoy their lessons. Yes, they use gamification to make this happen, but kids aren’t only learning a topic; they are learning to love learning. This ability is the critical missed skill in every other education program I’ve used myself or seen, the ability to love learning.
If subsequent schools don’t mess this up, and right now I expect they do, the adult that emerges from a lifetime of loving learning will continue to learn, become a far more valuable employee, and have a more secure life.
Leaving a Better World
We are undergoing tough times. People seem overly self-centered; we are suffering through a horrid pandemic and a world that seems to be turning against us. I think our priorities are wrong, often focused on profits while not improving the world. We are prioritizing jobs we hate over the more lasting benefits of work/life balance and families. We are teaching kids and adults disconnected skills rather than helping them find a path to become better versions of themselves. And, we are too often honoring people that are heavy in wealth and power but bereft of empathy and humanity.
At the end of our careers, too many of us will have left the world worse off than we found it. I think programs like the Khan Academy showcase a better path and are worth a review not only for our kids but also as we think about retraining our workforce for a very different tomorrow. I want everyone to love what they do as much as I love what I do, and I believe we can create a world where kids and adults love work and school so much they want more of it rather than feeling the need to find ways to get out of class or retire early. Making the world a better place starts with finding your path and helping your employees find a path to a better tomorrow for you, me, and those that come after us.
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