Book Review: Learning to Unlearn – Transforming Higher Education

The book is written by Pablo Rivas, who is the founder and CEO of Global Alumni – the first Spanish-American ed-tech company specializing in supporting the world’s best universities.

Through this book, Pablo aims to show the reader how the digital revolution is tearing down the traditional education system and transforming the economy and building a new brave world for the 21st century.

The twenty main takeaways I got out if this book are outlined below:

  1. Nathan Harden, editor of The College Fix, presents an interesting analogy: Harden compares the world of education to the music industry. As we know, with the advent of the internet, file sharing, universal access to music and the exponential growth of promotional channels, the music industry all but collapsed. It was almost lying on its deathbed, but the truth is that people have never ceased to be interested in music. Harden believes the album format (invented by the music industry) ceased to make sense as soon as users had an iPod or an mp3 player, which enabled them to access their favorite songs by a certain artist without having to buy the whole album. According to Harden, thus far, universities have required students to buy the whole ‘album’ – that is, a three, four, or five year package – with a full range of modules and a final process of certification. This made sense before the internet made all kinds of training available to anyone, at a very low cost – or even for free – and before the digital economy revolutionized the business world.
  2. Only those professionals who are open and exposed to continuous education – far beyond a university degree – will be able to solve the tasks or problems that employers have… Memorization as a central element of the learning process will gradually give way to the application of knowledge, to the capacity for innovation and to the practical development of subjects that, like everything else, will be in a process of permanent change. Moreover, these skills will be much more in tune with the real world. We must not forget that the aim of education and work is to bring about some good to society. And bringing about some good to society in the 21st century means doing something different from what machines already do so much better than us… Thus, if we set aside the issue of memorizing concepts, theories and lessons, we can better see where educational trends are heading: humans must do what machines cannot – that is, selecting and working in teams, making strategic decisions, and communicating in creative and enriching ways. The trend is a move towards ‘trans disciplinary learning’ or ‘transverse learning’… In the end, the real basic training will be knowing how to learn and what you need for each stage of your professional life.
  3. An ideal educational system would be personal, as would its evaluation system. It is not humanly possible for a group of teachers, however numerous and well trained, to be able to tailor each student’s itinerary to suit their abilities and personality. In contrast, a well-designed machine with AI will find it much easier to provide students the learning they need, at a pace that they can follow and that gets the best out of them.
  4. As we overcome distance and the rigidity of the educational system, many opportunities will open up for the students, one of which will be the ability to seek out the world’s best teacher in any given subject. The competition that may arise could lead to the redundancy of some professors, but it would also help us all to improve the world of education, making it more dynamic, more enthusiastic and more effective. Good professors have nothing to fear in this revolution. On the contrary: they will see how their professional possibilities will widen and the number of their students will increase, such that they gain prestige and capacity to influence society.
  5. Let us not forget that many manual workers were retrained and went on to carry out more creative and effective jobs when machines started doing more menial and monotonous work… Digital learning allows us to connect with many more and much better qualified people, to work with them and learn with them, and to delve into a university environment as rich as you can imagine.
  6. University departments will have to be restructured, giving rise to interdisciplinary organizations that can develop creative and innovative solutions for the world’s major social needs… Dual and continuous education will start much earlier, as your working life will overlap with tour university education and postgraduate learning will add value to your professional tasks, offering job opportunities through networking and providing economic dynamism through entrepreneurship and innovation.
  7. Talent clouds – a term coined in the book Digital Vortex, which says that ‘human resources are seeing an evolution similar to cloud computing and other on-demand services‘. Talent clouds allow organizations to assemble their teams with much greater speed and precision. They can also identify the human resources in which they want to invest long term, and the ones they want to access without committing to a traditional hire… Together with the rise of alternative companies, there will be a rise in labour mobility. Earning money will not be as firmly based on profiting off property, but will depend more on inmaterial aspects, such as qualifications, innovation, fulfillment of objectives, specialization and offering solutions to problems… It is becoming less and less likely that you will sign a work contract with the head of human resources and stay in that job for the rest of your life. Instead, you will be able to join an emerging business in your area of expertise. Perhaps you will be able to turn your experience into a paradigm and lead similar businesses in the innovation you first implemented. This means that you will have to work for one or more organizations. But this doesn’t have to be bad news. This mobility might stem from your qualifications and specialization. And it is more than likely that these qualifications and specialization will mean better pay.
  8. You will not want to have a fixed job, but rather you will want to be part of the most ambitious projects with the most brilliant team; you will seek to maximize your economy and take risks; you will not find meaning in owning property, such as an individual car or a house on the beach to spend your holidays inn; and you will organize your days off according to more open parameters.
  9. A company called Humantic has decreed the death of the resume. It uses an AI model that assesses candidates’ suitability for a position through data analysis. Humantic promises to reduce the time employers take to pre-screen candidates by 70%. The idea is to shift the focus of human resources from the simple assessment of skills and experience to the assessment of key personality traits of future workers. ‘Make AI your recruitment assistant‘, Humantic proposes. The system administers personality tests and evaluated candidates’ skills in areas such as teamwork, goal orientation and attitude, without using questionnaires.
  10. The goal of your education will not just be to obtain a master’s degree – your education will be continuous and ongoing, overlapping with your work… Today, learning while working is synonymous with prestige, talent, entrepreneurship and professional excellence… Seeing your life as an opportunity for constant learning will save you from many problems faced by professionals whose education is becoming obsolete in increasingly short periods of time… Perhaps what will unite several generations of workers employed under one roof or competing in one sector is precisely that young and old will always be learning. And they will be learning the same thing – the latest trend.
  11. Risk is incompatible with stability, in the dame way that it is more difficult to fall off a surfboard on the clear, fresh water of a pond, but you can’t enjoy the feeling of surfing on waves… If you want to change something – for example, the educational methodology of your university – you should start by not assuming that things are merely the way they are supposed to be… You can make it easier for ideas to flow if you narrow your search by focusing on solving a particular problem and enclosing the solution within a specific set of guidelines.
  12. Culture includes observable behaviors (the what and how above the surface) as well as everything underneath – the shared mindsets and beliefs that influence how people in an organization behave. Just like a captain navigating frigid waters, anyone trying to understand an organization’s culture must recognize that most of what matters cannot be readily seen.
  13. Dreambox has developed mathematics education software that is already in use in many classrooms in the United States. This software adapts to the learning speed of each student. The personalized education is also the goal of the organization Silicon Schools, which provides funding to launch or redesign schools in the United States, transforming them into laboratories for innovation and for experimental projects on individualized learning.
  14. It is important that we listen to teachers and administrators to determine the ways technology can assist them in the classroom… It is all about using technology as a means to change fixed ideas about education that we have held for centuries but that we now know to be obsolete… Shouldn’t the students be the drivers of their own education? Shouldn’t they take ownership and control of their own education?… They will set the pace, choose the contents, learn to learn, seek out the resources and discover what they need.
  15. The goal of Global Alumni was to break down barriers, be they geographical, linguistic, professional or related to availability, and to use new technologies as the means and as a springboard… an edtech endeavour, seeking to open up new roads and to give a new twist to the technological transformation in education matters… We do not have a standardized model for all universities. We build a model for each one. This is because we believe that in doing so we recognize each of these institutions for its own personality, its contents, its teachers and its students, who have sought it out precisely for what it represents.
  16. The new education system will have almost nothing to do with what we have known… One of the fundamental features of the new education system affects us equally. Whoever you are, whatever your line of work, whatever you study, you will have the need and the obligation to continue learning throughout life. This should not be interpreted as a kind of punishment but as an immense opportunity: you will never miss the education train again during your working life… Nowadays, your educational stage is going to blend into your professional stage and it will always be like this. Year after year, you will grow and increase your motivation, you will become a more complete professional and you will also be able to perform many other complementary activities that will allow you to, if necessary, transition with ease from one company to another or from one department of your company to another. Instead of traumatic events, such transitions could well be enriching experiences that improve your work and economic conditions.
  17. What will bring economic stability in the future – and also in the present – is not the old model of studying a degree, buying a flat, getting a car, settling down in a city and so on. What is going to provide stability wherever you are, whatever you do, and in the conditions and circumstances that you have to face will be continuing your education as you work. This will make you an invincible professional in the face of technological progress and new developments in the digital economy.
  18. The digitization of universities begins with social digitization – breaking down the barriers that have so far hindered or slowed down access to education, be they geographical, idiomatic or relating to any kind of accessibility… Second, universities must give back to students the responsibility for their own education. This is something that has been diluted as education systems have developed and has ended up, in many instances, in the hands of teachers, whereas it is the students who are interested in learning snd receiving qualification… Thirdly, universities have to be relaunched as places of experimentation, similar to what the world’s major educational institutions are already doing, bringing value and innovation to society, science and the economy… Fourthly, digitization will involve a profound transformation of what we might think of as university bureaucracy, as well as university’s access and organization of information, their programs and their closed curricula. In short, achieving the maximum level of adaptability will only be possible through technology, something that would previously have been exorbitant for most universities without the process of digitization, which makes what was unattainable five years ago seem possible and even cost-effective today.
  19. Prometeus considers that, in addition to the volume of data stored, there are four other dimensions to consider when analyzing big data: speed, variety, veracity and value… Descriptive analytics focuses on what is happening while predictive analytics takes one more step and lets you know what is going to happen… Some analysts add another type of analysis: diagnostics, which focused on explaining what’s behind the results of the descriptive analytics.
  20. The education system’s main priority is to ensure professionals are qualified to perform a job that will prove doubly beneficial: to society and, therefore, to the individual who receives financial compensation (a livelihood) in return for goods or services provided… Linda Darling-Hammond, president of the Learning Policy Institute, explains this very well: “schools’ mission is no longer to ‘cover the curroculum’ or ‘get through the book’ but to ‘prepare students to work at jobs that have not yet been identified, using technologies that have not yet been invented.'” She also says that “the problem is, our current education system was designed to meet the needs of the industrial revolution, not the knowledge revolution.”

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