The half-life of any skill is 5 years

Source: Radar O’Reilly, Mar 2012

John Seely Brown tells us the half-life of any skill is about five years. This astounding metric is presented as part of the ongoing discussion of how education needs to change radically in order to prepare students for a world which is very different than the one their parents graduated into, and in which change is accelerating.

It’s pretty straightforward to recognize that new job categories, such as data science, will require new skills. The first-order solution is to add data science as a college curriculum and work the prerequisites backward to kindergarten. But if JSB is right about the half-life of skills, even if this process were instantaneous, the learning path begun in kindergarten might be obsolete by middle school.

The second-order solution is to include meta-skills into the curriculum — ensuring young people learn how to learn, for instance, so that they can adapt as new skills are required with increasing frequency. This is essential, but raises the question of how to stay ahead of the skills curve — what are the next critical things to learn, how do you know, and how do you find them?

John Seely Brown and co-author Douglas Thomas propose in their book “A New Culture of Learning: Cultivating the Imagination for a World of Constant Changea third-order solution, which is to inculcate the mindsets and dispositions that will lead us, as independent agents, to the things that matter. These include curiosity, questing, and connecting.

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