In most places around the world, we have a social expectation, a process, and structure to education. Government and formal universities have defined how we learn when we learn and the right to say that we have learned for many moons. On the surface, we think school=education=learning. Socially we put prestige around a degree. We have approached access to education by price. The quality of education by tests.  If you want to brief, blunt history of schooling, read this short essay by Peter Grey Ph.D., in Psychology Today.  It is important to know how we got here to know where we are today and how we can take the baton of education and advance in in the digital era. 

In the beginning, when the economic system was a simple trading system, families survived off what they gathered, grew, hunted or made themselves. Children educated themselves through self-directed play, exploration, community guidance and mentorship from elders. We were naturally learning and thinking about how to solve problems as we experienced them.  

Fast forward to the 18th century. Where brilliant thinkers came together to form the first University in Bologna, Italy.  A university was a place for brilliance to find reasoning and purpose and influence. 

Trade was replaced with gold and then money with the rise of cities. The new concentration of people brought a need for mass agriculture and public works (that means the first apartments, trash, and waste systems). Royal structures replaced with Government.  Childhood stopped around 9 years old – there was work to do. Schooling was trade based. Learn a skill then get to work.  

Universities were still for the eccentric thinkers and the Frat party was born (toga! toga!). Formal daily community schooling wasn’t a thing.  

In the industrial era if you could walk and talk you were working. Children became forced laborers. No time for imagination to flourish, you got to learn the hard grind of work. This also marked the rise of corporations, bigger government, and the expansion of financial markets.  Formal community schooling started to show up in almost every city. Especially, those that were controlled or influenced by British rule. You went to school to learn values, religious doctrine, and morality.  (Err…wait.. let me say that again. We learned how to judge others and judge ourselves before we advanced to reading, writing, and math?)  

Universities became available to the wealthy. The first sorority was established for the 1% of women who got the chance to go to school to learn how to become a wife.  

After a few wars, recovery, revolutions, protests, anarchy, conspiracy, unity, pissing matches, human destruction and human resilience we get to the 1900s. The era that pivoted it all drastically.  

Group education and elementary schools became a mandatory expectation. Finally, math, science, language, and home economics were available to the vast majority of citizens. Universities learned they could make more money and teach more people to memorize and take tests with government subsidies and began advertising to the masses.  

Flappers progressed women’s rights, Civil Rights movements, Elvis and rock and roll, IBM started working with NASA, the invention of the computer, Woodstock, Vietnam, the US government created the internet, Madonna and Bill Gates, education expanded to everyone – through libraries and public education and standardized testing, financial aid, and student debt.  

In the last 20 years, the meaning, access, and delivery of education and its impact on society have outpaced traditional paths. In almost every country, the expansion of fiber optics cables, mobile towers, and the internet has changed...well everything, especially education. Individuals are defining what resources, messaging, subjects, and methods they want to learn and why they want to learn it.  

When you look at the idea of education throughout our history, we have used it as a mechanism for survival, discovery, economy, defining social norms and code of conduct. Very rarely do we look toward education to keep advancing ourselves after our stint in structured classes. Throughout history, education has been accessed only as a way to react to the changing world around us. That’s just not an option in the digital era. We now have unbridled opportunity to take the best practices of generations before us and apply it to new technologies - especially in our working world.  

Learning is fluid - it’s not programmatic and it certainly doesn’t find a linear path. Making education work in the digital era means that we have the opportunity to connect education to our economy and real working opportunities. Finding ways to learn from others by connecting in non-traditional spaces, communicating and actively participating in our communities, learning across borders, and changing the pace from graduating from being a novice to an expert all while working is what the digital era brings. Bringing real choice, informed decisions, reducing the gap between what businesses needs and Talent can deliver. Because without application learning means nothing.