Friday, April 23, 2010

Short learning cycles - Are students prepared to handle the dynamicity!?

An ex-colleague Hal Harz who is currently with Booz and Company had this up on his linkedin status 'Kettering-Emory Mulling: % of knowledge you need to do your job that is stored in your brain- 1986/75%, 1997/10-20%, 2008/8-10%' and this has made me think ever since. I did try to find the exact source of this statement but haven't been successful so far. Also I am not sure if the percentages gives here are correct but one thing for certain I do agree that dependency of the knowledge in our brain to do our work has been falling rapidly. With the coming of internet and the so called read-only web or Web 1.0 as we now know it, there were about 250,000 websites in 1996. With the advent of web 2.0 and the so called read-write web the number of websites have increase to around 186 million in Dec 2008 and if you include the number of blogs to this number then it increases by another 133 million (as tracked by Technorati). With so much of information / knowledge available for one to search through it is not surprising that we tend to be less dependent on individual memory and processing power to do specific tasks at our work place. Memory I am sure you agree but processing? The reason I included processing is because to a large extent many processed and semi processed information is already available for you to take a decision or do further work on. By processed I mean, I mean information that has been worked on, developed with experience and shared by people who have used it in situations that could be similar to yours. I was just taking a look at the work I do currently which can be categorized under sales support and knowledge management . When I started my career in sales support side of an IT organization in 2001, there wasn't much available online. You might get some books that could be bought but nothing on public domain that would talk about real life experiences, best practices, etc. The way I learned my job was purely by interactions with my seniors in my organization and my personal experience. For me to independently handle a bid, it took me atleast 6 to 12 months and that too was dependent on the number of propsals I was exposed to. Well looking at the situation now, the new comer to this job is exposed to a huge wealth of content available on the internet, blogs, forums, social networking sites, etc along with robust knowledge management systems that capture the internal experiences and knowledge of the organization. This bascially means a newbie will be able to come up to speed in relatively lesser time period. That's the good part of the story. The downside is that everyone knows this and expects you to be ready to take on the big bad world as soon as possible. Nothing wrong with it but then time to succeed and tendency to take risks for a newcomer is relatively lower as the pressure to succeed is extremely high overall.
Now coming to the point about usage of memory and the evaluation system in India. The older or to some extent existing education mode require a large amount of memorizing skills. Memorize what you read in books and vomit these into your answer sheets. More the exact match between the content on your text books and your answer sheets, more the chance of you scoring high in your examinations. This made sense earlier because the work you did later when you started working required the same type of memorization and replication with set patterns and processes. The current work environment has become extremely dynamic. No longer can you draw a clear boundary of the scope of your activities at your work. Exceptions to processes are becoming more and more evident, the better word here would be 'required' as the environment that we work in is becoming extremely dynamic and unpredictable. It is becoming humanly impossible for us to memorize all that is required at the same time with so much of content available for free access, the question is why memorize at all as long as you know where to find what you are looking for.
The education system of the future in India needs to take this into consideration and needs to make our students ready for this new world. There is not of literature available online stating why US is losing out to China and India because of lower number of students there taking up science and engineering. But what is important in addition to quantity is the quality of the students that we produce through our educational systems - those who are ready to handle the complexity of the world we live in. Earlier observation of students with better ability to memorize doing well in examinations maybe true still (depends upon how quickly our education system changes) but certainly expecting these same students to do well in their jobs just because they scored high in their examinations may not be a right. The expectations from today's students are changing rapidly but the question we face is - Are our education systems changing fast enough?!!

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