Learning at the Speed of Modern Life

In 1950, the medical profession estimated that the doubling of information in their field would take about 50 years. In 2010, that timeframe shrunk to just 3.4 years. And now, the profession estimates that, come 2020, the doubling of medical knowledge will happen in a mere 73 days!

It's hard to imagine that the same general trend doesn't hold true for all professions. Writer Don Tapscott summed it up brilliantly like this: "Yesterday you graduated and were set for life—only needing to 'keep up' a bit with ongoing developments. Today when you graduate, you're set for, say, 15 minutes."

Can it be any other way given how fast our lives move, how quickly information expands?

The late sociologist Zygmunt Bauman wrote of our contemporary, "liquid" lives and how, to be of any use, learning "must be continuous and indeed lifelong. No other kind of education and/or learning is conceivable."

This analysis from Tapscott and Bauman seems irrefutable. And it should give us all pause.

9 Billion Schools advocates for lifelong learning not as a "nice-to-have" opportunity for some but as a "must-have" for all. Lifelong learning is a prerequisite for making the most of life, for flourishing in today's fast-paced, liquid world. As such, it's something that everyone needs—and deserves.

Adding to the importance of lifelong learning is the fact that our lives are, well, lasting longer. In 1950, the average lifespan was about 65 years in post-industrial nations. In 2030, that number is expected to reach nearly 80 years. In the United States in 2050 there will be 20 million adults over the age of 85. To be productive and fulfilled throughout our longer lives means we must sustain our learning for even longer.

This is good news because learning means growth. And with age comes a certain wisdom, a way in which to perhaps better interpret and respond to the world and all the new information rushing at us.

Life is (or at least should be) long, wide and deep. And so should learning.


Lauren Della Bella is president of SHP Leading Design, a firm that specializes in architecting and building learning spaces of all kinds. You can reach her at lauren@9BillionSchools.org

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