The Learning Machines I am referring to are not the Artificially Intelligent products of humans, but the humans themselves.
More learning, learning more
The acceleration of the pace of change of the last fifty years and our feeling that change will be even faster in the next fifty years breeds a new type of human. People will spend a smaller part of their working lives delivering value and a larger part learning and innovating. In their jobs they will generate more value in less time because they will be delivering new or improved products and services with new and improved tools and processes. In parallel they will be learning and innovating.
The trend is a long-term one starting from the early days of universal education and the continuous rise of years in education before beginning to work. But learning is not just about taking courses at schools. It is also about developing useful skills on and off the job. Formal education will be supplemented by lifelong learning, with more frequent and shorter course often taken remotely.
The working day will evolve from 95/5 to 60/40 : if in 2000 people spent 95% of their time at work actually working and 5% learning or innovating, the proportions will shift radically. By 2050, about 60 % of time at work will be spent delivering value to others and 40% learning or innovating. My figures are surely imprecise but the trend is not. In fact it is already happening.
Broader learning, deeper learning
Many jobs will cease to exist, many new ones will be born, all jobs will change – and all this will happen faster. More new knowledge will be generated and more old knowledge will become obsolescent.
There will be deeper learning to acquire, as new know-how (knowledge and skills) new products, services, models and processes replace old ones. There will be broader learning to acquire for people who must take on entirely new jobs.
The choice between breadth and depth, becoming more of a specialist or more of a generalist, is never easy. More than ever a person must plan the evolution of her skills over her lifetime, while leaving plenty of margin for the unknown.
New ways of learning, learning new ways
Learning will take place in new ways, with live and remote delivery, with or without human instructors and with new methods and tools we cannot even imagine today.
The outcome of good learning is in its impact in practice. Sometimes this is immediate, as in training to use new software to serve clients. Sometimes it is less immediate, as in learning how to think creatively or critically or how to collaborate better. Imparting new know-how is easier than convincing people to adopt it though the pressure on people to change will only increase.
Personal responsibility, institutional responsibility
Each person has responsibility for their own learning. It is also the duty of employers and society to help people renew themselves as the world turns. Employers who stubbornly stay in 95/5 mode are not doing their companies or their people a favour and states who neglect lifelong learning are betraying their people.
In many ways the axiom “knowledge is power” will remain true even if a lot of the knowledge is stored and developed by machines. As has always been the case in education, socio-political issues of fairness arise. Even today the positions in which continuous learning and change are embedded tend to be well-paid white-collar jobs. The incumbents have mostly grown up in families who value education and who pay for their children to have it. A wicked, complex and unavoidable challenge is how to help alleviate the inequalities that ensue.
The transformation of humans themselves into learning machines is a journey all people must take, earlier rather than later.