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Shifting from 1D- to 4D-education

A recent forecast published by HolonIQ predicts the education sector to grow from USD 6.5 trillion to USD 10 trillion by 2030, translating into 6% of global GDP. While foundational (pre-)school education takes up almost two-thirds of the industry’s revenues, the professional education segments (post-secondary, corporate training, and life-long learning) represent sizable, growing market segments, too.

As an educator for more than a decade and a half both at the university graduate level and in corporate training —and a life-long learner—I believe that we need not only more but also better education that fits the modern world of the 21st century. Most people take the current education system for granted. They fail to realize that it was created in the 19th and 20th centuries to develop effective human resources for the industrial age. However, to meet the needs and opportunities of the creative, agile, and digital innovation economy of the 21st century, we need to elevate education to higher dimensions of understanding and human consciousness. We need to shift from the industrial 1D- or 2D-education to advanced 3D- or even 4D-education. Today, let me share my view on how to evolve education across all segments of the education sector.

Start with the first dimension of education: knowledge

Knowledge can be defined as the theoretical and practical understanding of a subject, or what is known in a particular field or in total, or as facts and information. Knowledge is the starting point in education. Most learners start their learning journeys into a new topic or knowledge domain with a clean slate. Then, they gradually acquire a body of foundational concepts and theories (that are grounded in facts, research, and the observation of reality).

At Thinkergy, we begin each of our training courses by sharing basic definitions and key foundational concepts related to a particular topic to establish a cornerstone of knowledge to build on subsequently. We also animate this foundational knowledge with concrete examples or stories grounded in reality. That way, we can transform absolute beginners in a domain into novices with a basic understanding of important foundational concepts.

1D-education = knowledge

Add the second dimension: skills

The second learning dimension allows learners to move from knowing something in theory to doing it in practice, in line with the Zen saying: “To know and not to do is not yet to know.”

Learners can move to a deeper level of understanding by building up skills. A skill is the ability to do something well. Notice that this definition of the word “skill” emphasizes doing, not knowing. You can be skilled in something, although you may lack the background knowledge related to this particular ability. For example, you may be able to come up with many ideas quickly (due to your natural talent for creative thinking), even though you don’t know about the process of ideation or how to use creativity tools.

In our Thinkergy training courses, we use realistic but straightforward practice exercises to give learners a chance to apply learned content such as using a particular thinking tool. We also use reflection on concrete experiences (for example, gained by going on field trips or doing concrete experiments) to conceptualize and personalize learnings. But we only practice the skills after making sure that we have established related knowledge first.

If we combine foundational knowledge with practical skills, we move from the novice to the apprentice level and arrive at applied knowledge. For example, in our creativity training, we teach learners first the four ground rules of brainstorming and how to brainstorm correctly and then give them a fun-to-do brainstorming exercise to provide them with the chance to apply the learned concepts in practice.  

2D-education = knowledge + skills = applied knowledge

Design in experience to move to the third dimension of education: acquired know-how

Experience can be described as practical contact with and observation of facts and events. For example, frontline doctors and health care workers who treated the first COVID-19 patients in early 2019 learned by experience how to deal with this new threat and how to treat infected patients best. Then, they passed these observations and freshly gained insights and facts onto scientists. 

Experience can also be defined as the knowledge or skill acquired by experience over a period of time, especially in a particular profession by someone at work. In other words, the more often you practice a specific skill or apply a piece of knowledge, the more experienced you become in a particular domain.

For example, the more ideation tools you learn about and practice on a case, the more experienced you become in understanding the technicalities of how these tools work. Moreover, you also develop a deeper understanding of which tool works well for what type of innovation project (typically, you use different creativity tools for a product innovation case than you’d do for a campaign design project or a strategy innovation project). 

Ideally, an education program offers learners all three components – knowledge, skills, and experience. But that’s easier said than done, and only the minority educational programs attempt to play on that level:

  • In our flagship innovation training courses at Thinkergy, we add the experience-dimension by giving the learners an opportunity to practice their applied knowledge on a real-case simulation or a real case related to our client or another real-life organization. Thereby, we empower learners in the sequential order of the educational dimension hierarchy: First, they learn about the theoretical underpinning of a topic. Then, they apply the theory to realistic and practical exercises yet still done within the safe confines of a classroom. Finally, they practice the applied knowledge (=knowledge+skills) in the field on a real-life case to add experience to the mix. Through this approach, we first transform novices into apprentices, and then these into practitioners. As a result, we first share knowledge, then convert it to applied knowledge, and finally elevate it into acquired know-how. (Here, note that know-how can be defined as practical knowledge or skill or expertise.) But of course, our clients need to be willing to invest sufficient time and financial resources to allow us to take their delegates to the third level of truly acquiring know-how.
  • At my main academic home Bangkok University, my colleagues and I also follow a 3D-educational approach in the Master in Business Innovation (MBI) Program by featuring real-life casework in all courses.

3D-education = knowledge + skills + experience = acquired know-how

Personalize and deepen your understanding

It’s possible to take your learnings gained in an advanced 3D-education program to an even higher level (let’s call it 3D-plus). How?

  • One way to do this is through deep reflection and personal application of the learned contents in your work and life. Ask: “So what? What have I learned in this training that is useful for my job or personal life? How can I best apply and regularly practice this useful know-how to anchor it in my know-how repertoire?” This reflection is an important cognitive step that helps you integrate new know-how with your existing know-how base.
  • Another strategy to shift to the 3D-plus-level is to teach what you’ve learned to another person. Becoming a teacher is the best way to realize what aspects of a topic you haven’t fully understood yet, or unable to practically explain so that a beginner or novice in the field can understand it. (The US physicist and Noble-prize winner Richard Feynman popularized this technique).

As a result, you move from being a practitioner to becoming a teacher, and with enough hours of practice, a master.

3D-plus-education = acquired know-how reflected = acquired know-how explained

Shift to the fourth dimension: Cultivate wisdom over time

Learners can activate the fourth dimension of learning over time by asking at the end of a newly acquired know-how training: “What fundamental things of how business, life, and the universe works can  I unearth after having learned about, practiced, and then applied this particular know-how in real-life? And how does this freshly acquired know-how connect to  other know-how that I acquired before?”

By reflecting on these questions, you can become aware of non-obvious connections and commonalities between different know-how domains, topics and concepts. This awareness is essential because both worthy new challenges and the breakthrough ideas to resolve them often reside in the intersection between different domains and concepts. As Steve Jobs noted: “Creativity is just connecting things.” 

Moreover, engaging in such meta-cognitive synthesis after completing each learning program makes you wise. Wisdom can be defined as the body of knowledge and principles that develops within a specified society or period. It grows over time and allows you to become aware of the more advanced human consciousness states.

When you gradually build up your meta-know-how, you are also likely to move up to higher levels of consciousness. You become a true master of one or even multiple fields and may eventually transform into a sage renowned for your wisdom.

4D-education = acquired know-how synthesized into meta-how = wisdom

Conclusion: Know. Do. Practice. Reflect. Connect (RINSE & REPEAT)

The task is to design the future of education, not re-engineer the past. Because one thing is clear: To resolve the big challenges of humanity in this century, we need to leave the old, industrial age education paradigm behind and move to better education at school, university, and corporate training & upskilling levels. Given that education will be a 10 trillion dollar business by 2030, now is the time to invest the time and effort in finding out how to better educate and empower 21st-century co-creators in 21st century-ways to be able to rise to the challenges of the 21st century. So, join me and other inspired educators in the effort to reinvent and redesign education for the modern innovation age. 

  • Does my classification of different educational dimensions make sense to you? If not, what parts of the equation would you express differently? Feel invited to share your thoughts with me
  • At Thinkergy, we’re committed to playing on the higher levels of creative business education. Why not check out our Thinkergy training courses that we offer as online- and, if possible given the current COVID-19 pandemic, face-to-face)?

© Dr. Detlef Reis 2021. This article is co-published in the Bangkok Post in the coming weeks.