I believe in lifelong learning and I'm also absolutely certain that a great deal of what each of us learns going forward (man, woman or child) won't be in a traditional classroom setting or even in what we think of today as a traditional "school." New channels, new delivery systems, and new technologies are all emerging to broaden the resources available to us and video-- in every size and shape-- is leading the way. But I hope that we're not raising generations of kids to believe that you can get all you ever need to know from a five-inch screen held a foot from your face.
In the real, grown-up world, we ultimately learn best by doing-- first by listening; then by trying; and finally by succeeding and moving onward and upward. And, interestingly enough, more and more of us are taking direct responsibility for this process and doing it ourselves (DIY). There are a variety of different reasons for the DIY approach. It could be because we're cheap, or we're impatient, or it's because we want our ongoing "education" to be à la carte-- when, where and how we want it. But whatever the drivers, it's clear that today we're totally engaged when we're learning through "hands-on" activity and we're totally turned off when we're being lectured to. We all want to be in charge and in the driver's seat.
The DIY gene is an integral part of the DNA of every good entrepreneur. Sometimes it's driven by a thirst for knowledge, a lack of patience or a lack of resources and sometimes it's all about ego and arrogance. And that's where things can quickly run off the tracks. There's an unfortunate tendency today to degrade and devalue practical experience, prior results and genuine expertise. It's never smart for someone starting a new business to automatically assume that you know better than the people who've been there and done these things before. They call these people experts for a reason. Patterns do matter, history always helps, and gray hair sometimes signifies patience and wisdom rather than simply advanced age.
I'm convinced that part of this attitudinal problem is the MSM's insistence on offering up an instant "expert" on any subject on a moment's notice just to keep feeding the 24/7 media beast and to keep us from changing the channel. The definition of "expert" gets diluted when every retired anybody is trotted out to pontificate on whatever today's topic happens to be, whether they have the qualifications, credentials or even the credibility to do so. I guess that saying this stuff just makes it so and style certainly trumps substance. When everyone's an expert, it's increasingly easy to believe that no one really knows anything and that you might very well know just as much as they do. Or that you can look it up.
And while it's true that everything anyone needs to know may be out there somewhere, it's more than a little naïve to believe that you can easily figure everything out on your own. I put part of the blame for this idea on simple youth (about 50%) and the remainder on YouTube, where it is apparently written that by watching enough videos you can eventually learn anything all by yourself. I'd also assign a little slice of the blame to my friend Sal Khan of Khan Academy as well. Democratizing access to better explanations of complex concepts is undoubtedly a social good. And there's also no doubt that the ability to watch (and re-watch) these materials on your own time is a major advantage. But, until we can prove otherwise, it always comes down to the same concern for me-- it's not what you're being "taught"; it's what you learn and master that matters. I often say that I don't want a surgeon who's watched a hundred operations; I want one who's done them --over and over again.
We can learn a great deal by observation and from others around us-- I call this lateral learning. (See When to Steal from Other Founders.) This is one of the reasons that I love the new Maker Movement with its core of contagious community and its constant sharing and celebration of craft and artistry. We want to do these things ourselves, but not necessarily by ourselves. It's just as lonely to be a maker as it is to be an entrepreneur and maybe there's no real difference between the two. So there's solace, support, and substance in being surrounded in your journey (whatever it may be) by like-minded others.
These desires and motivations are similar and just as important for our kids as for the rest of us. And they may represent the best hope that we have to pry their little eyes away from their screens for even a short while. You may think they're just playing games, but the reasons these games are so compelling and addictive is that the players are, in fact, (1) progressively building skills that will serve them well in their digital futures even while they're failing 80% of the time; (2) gaining a growing understanding of the power of process, trial and error, and iteration; and (3) developing an appetite for concrete achievements and skilled-based rewards that are often more accessible and socially/emotionally valuable to them than any diluted recognition or shared and politically correct acknowledgements which they might receive in school. (See Stop Promoting Mediocrity in Our Schools.)
Very few things in their school activities can compete with the engagement and adrenaline rush of these games. But hands-on, immersive, maker projects where they have both ownership and control can get the job done. All you have to do is visit any school with a robotics lab to see this transformation in action. Teachers have to make these kids go home at the end of the school day. And frankly, it doesn't really matter what they're making. Robots are nice, but so are a million other projects. The magic in the process is in the making, not necessarily in the end result. Just as any entrepreneur would tell you as well.
There's a pride, an ownership and an authenticity to something that you create with your own mind and your own hands that no hardware or software will ever replicate. Technology can augment almost everything we do, but it will never replace the emotional content of the creative process. This is just the newest, tech-enabled, version of traditional constructivist learning, but it's critical that we bring it back into our schools. (See The Real Benefits of Coding .)
We need to make our kids into problem solvers, coders, builders and makers-- not mechanical memorizers-- and we can't start too soon.