When I started high school, I didn’t know how to touch-type. I hunted and pecked my way around the keyboard in a way that would be embarrassing to see now. In 9th grade, as part of a business curriculum, my fingers were introduced to the home row and with daily assignments, testing and refinement, I was soon able to type “properly”.
It wasn’t until a year later, when I discovered online communication worlds of iCQ and IRC that I put in enough practice to truly become proficient at putting words on a screen – but I was able to do so because the basics were in place. My formal education had provided me with the fundamental skills that I could then burn into memory through real-world practice.
They don’t teach typing anymore
Have a look at the high school curriculum these days, and you won’t find the basic typing requirement that existed 10 years ago. A new generation of young people has grown up with keyboards at their fingertips; we don’t need to teach them what they already know. In fact, I’m certain that many 6th graders can type faster with their thumbs than my teacher could with all ten digits.
Curriculums have been adjusted to meet the new reality of their students. But have they gone far enough?
Swimming in information
Just as they were in 1995, students of 2010 are facing a major technological hurdle. However, I’m not sure this situation is being taken as seriously as it should by our education systems.
I was prepared for a world of word processing and digital literacy; given a boat and a paddle so I could get where I needed to go when bits and bytes are concerned.
That slow stream of bits and bytes, available when necessary, has given way to a raging flow of information, from which it is impossible to escape. Think of the number of channels in which information is constantly entering into your conscience. An email inbox alone is often deep enough to drown in. Add in your web browser, Twitter account, Facebook friends and a glowing iPhone, and you quickly see that if you manage to survive email, your world is quickly flooded again.
Students leaving formal education now must be able to swim in the middle of the ocean while sitting underneath a waterfall.
….But at least they can type.
Learning to swim
There are a lot of ideas floating around about how our education system needs to change to meet the new realities of our society. Seth Godin and CC Chapman have both expressed concerns and suggestions for changing how we teach and what we prepare our young people for.
I propose we start with a single course: Organizing your digital world.
• Teach people how to absorb information once it reaches their personal space
• How to survive in a world of constant interruption
• How to manage your inbox and multiple social networks
• How to take the most important information out of a message and determine appropriate next steps; separating the signal from the noise.
• Basic project management
• How to turn it all off and escape (this could be the most important skill of all)
Education happens everywhere
If this is the single most important skill that someone can learn in order to thrive in our digital world, why should we restrict it to schools?
Here are three ways to start:
- Business leaders should stop sharing best practices about how to block access to information in the workplace, and instead invest in their employees and include coping strategies as mandatory training. The improved productivity will more than pay for itself.
- Teachers should propose new courses and push for change (I’ve been there, I know how difficult this is). Host a workshop for colleagues at your next professional development day.
- You (yes, you) can start right now. Leverage the information that you have access to. Watch Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero. Read Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits or David Allen’s GTD. Find a workshop and invest in yourself.
When you get organized, a funny thing will happen: those around you will notice. As they’re thrashing around trying to stay afloat, they’ll see you meditating under the waterfall. And they’ll ask you how you do it. Teach them.
Here’s your chance to share – what skills/tools/rules have you used to survive in the age of always on information?