In my previous work with Women's Learning Studio, I worked with two remarkable women who taught me so much about online learning. The experience was both exhilarating and frightening.
The experiences there and in my own work today require me to reflect on where learning and leadership are going in the future. What are the forces that seem primed to affect our work and the process of learning and leadership in the future?
Certainly, there is so much to learn about different web applications such as Basecamp, Splitwise, Pinterest, Diigo, WikiSpaces, Slideshare and Pollsnack, and I learned to work completely online with my business partners as we traveled extensively and live many miles apart. I continue to ponder what online leadership means, and I have a series of blogs on that topic planned for future publication. However, there is much more.
More important than web applications and how to stay in touch is what I have concluded about learning and growth now and in the future. I have been an educator for many years. I taught in secondary schools and was a high school principal. I also taught leadership courses at the college level.
My vantage point was the traditional learning model even though I dreamed of something very different. Now I am convinced that new ways of learning are on the horizon for those who are ready to embrace them. These are the trends I see.
- In the future, people will be more responsible for their own learning. With reduced money for professional development and online learning opportunities such as free Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) from prestigious universities like Harvard and Stanford and extensive for-profit online learning offerings, personal and professional development will be the individual’s responsibility. Recognizing that fact is essential for leaders to succeed and reach their full potential.
- Learning will and should be collaborative. Successful individuals will make full use of online communication tools to share and edit group files, conduct meetings, distribute tasks, share expenses, etc. Few individuals can have all the answers they need to do the great things they want to do. Sharing ideas and resources makes everyone stronger and more productive. Learning how to collaborate online has become an essential skill.
- Learning will, of necessity, focus much more on critical thinking, creativity and relationship building. Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, which talks about how right-brain activities are so essential to success today and in the future, gives us a clue to the importance of these skills.
- A large part of learning will be how to separate the important from the unimportant. Individuals must learn how to identify and ignore the unlimited distractors that can take their valuable time. Everyone seems to suffer from information overload. With Smart-phones and constant access to work, technology and information bleed into and take over personal time. Developing strategies to cope with that overload must be a first step to effective personal and professional growth.
- Technical learning will become as important to one’s personal life as to one’s professional life. It is easy to think that technology is only for those engaged in paid activities (work). For greater personal fulfillment, individuals will search more for online information, support and opportunities. I was interested to see that one of the largest online communities is not a professional site. It is a hobby site called ravelry.com, which is for “knitters, crocheters, designers, spinners, weavers and dyers to keep track of their yarn, tools, project and pattern information, and look to others for ideas and inspiration.” The related Twitter account currently has over 56,000 followers. Many businesses would like that kind of following.
To thrive in this environment, individuals must focus on what they are learning and will learn. They must engage in on-going reflection. They need to develop their own personal and professional learning plans and formally identify their learning networks. As for women, they must ask for (demand) their own styles of learning so they can narrow the gaps between men and women that we now see.
Learning must be seen as something we do every day, and it must be taken out of the realm of the uncomfortable classroom setting where being a beginner or having the wrong answer means we have failed. We must move to the realm of “It’s OK to stumble and make mistakes.” That is indeed the only way we learn.
I look forward to exploring these changes and in working with others to shape this new future. I hope you will share in that future.
What do you see in the future for learning? How does this apply to leadership?
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This article first appeared in the Women's Learning Studio blog on July 16, 2013. It has been revised and remains relevant today.