Why in today’s world it pays more to learn a little about a lot.
By Chris Rawlinson
We are always told by society that if you get a good education, you will succeed in life. But what about those of us who struggle? Will we lead a poorer life because our brains aren’t wired a particular way? I have struggled with dyslexia my entire life, but that hasn’t stopped me from creating my own business, and here’s the real irony — it’s an online education website.
I realised a few years ago that today’s working world is rapidly shifting. Increasingly AI and machine learning are replacing people, and those people are more frequently job hopping into new industries. Essentially, we are living in a world where it pays more to know a little about a lot, rather than a lot about a little. Those who can adapt the fastest win. This realisation is one of the main reason why my company, 42courses.com, was born.
I didn’t graduate from university. I got in, but felt that I was learning more through travelling than I ever would in a lecture hall. Strangely enough, after some business success in marketing, I ended up being asked to help teach. I loved it and found that I could help other people learn what I had learnt, but in an easier way.
This culminated with myself and a small team creating a new digital leaning management system — one that would help people learn in a quick, creative, and enjoyable way.
When I first looked at the current e-learning arena, to put it mildly, I was underwhelmed. The global average completion rate for far too many e-learning courses is just 6%. In a world where we can’t build enough schools to keep up with demand for education, this is simply not good enough.
Education isn’t just about young people. ‘Formal’ learning doesn’t stop the minute you leave full time education. Everyone, whether you’re in your 30s or 90s, still needs to learn. It’s ingrained in us to seek out new information and grow our understanding of the world. After all, learning is one of the few things we do from the day we are born, to the day we die.
But how do we keep people engaged in an increasingly digital world where recent studies suggest we have an attention span worse than that of a goldfish?! Our team experimented with many different methods and found there were three key pillars that helped.
1. Design — 50% of the human brain is taken up with visual processing, we can understand an image in 1/10 of a second! (that’s 60,000 times faster than words). So we lay out information in a smart visual way, using images, gifs and short videos to help people better recall and understand what they learn.
2. Storytelling — A fact wrapped in a story is 22 times more likely to be remembered, so by splitting information into a series of short stories it makes topics easier to process, and saves learners valuable time, with each lesson taking just 10–15 minutes to complete.
3. Gamification — Humans learn through play, so we use gaming techniques to keep people engaged. As you progress through the course you get immediate feedback, earn points and badges, and even climb leader boards. These trigger dopamine responses in the pleasure / reward part of the brain, helping people to stay focused and happy.
There are two great keepers of information in the world, academic institutions, and businesses. Academics mostly deal with controlled variables, they also must adhere to academic regulation so it’s often hard to update classes on the fly. The winners are often those that publish the most academic papers.
Businesses deal with the real messy world every day. They have to learn fast and adapt, or they die. The learnings you can get from businesses are priceless, practical and more applicable to the real world. So it’s no surprise that when most people leave university they spend the first months re-learning how to actually do the job they were supposedly qualified for. When you learn from brands themselves, you skip this step.
Learning enough to be dangerous should be an opportunity given to everyone around the world and edtech creates this opportunity. I believe that if we start using smarter design, tell better stories, and add elements of play and gamification to learning, then we might just have a solution to help make learning as fun as playing your favourite game, and in the process, plug the education gaps in the UK and beyond.