Is formal education the surest path to health, wealth, happiness and societal progress? I think it's important that we start looking directly at what is working for people who we consider successful today.
With the unprecedented rate of technologically driven change in industries and jobs, along with a super-abundance of information, perhaps being educated is no longer a matter of having completed a degree once upon a time. From what I've seen from the most successful people that I know, learning is a lifestyle and the most learned people are not bookworms, but "pracademics" - part doer (practitioner) and part researcher (academic).
As I see it then, being educated in in the age of Google and the web is now a matter of:
Being Educated1) Being Curious and Humble
The greatest threat to the sustainability individuals and companies are that their current processes and technologies become obsolete. Instead of falling back on what you know, you should nurture a curiousity about what is possible. Today the answers are easy once you know what problems are worthwhile solving.
"Perplexity is the beginning of knowledge." Kahlil Gibran
2) Deciding what is worthwhile studying (trends)
We are currently over-qualified in certain areas (business administration anyone?) and underskilled in others (how many Nanotechnicians do you know?). The ability to discern fads (quickly dated tastes) from trends (slow-building, sustainable and significant changes) will help us align our learning to what is likely to be most valuable to society.
"The future is already here, it is just not evenly distributed yet" - William Gibson
3) knowing how to access and store information (web user skills + knowledge management)
The answers to your questions are out there, but to find them, store them, and access them when you need them takes some skill. Do you know how to determine the credibility of a web resource? Are you savvy in Boolean Search? Do you use Wolfram Alpha for data crunching on-the-fly? Do you use Diigo or Delicious to store and sort relevant articles and websites online? Is Evernote on your mobile phone, ready for that unexpected idea? There are a host of tools that can radically enhance our intelligence, capacity, and research abilities.
"Access is better than ownership" - Kevin Kelly
4) Connecting with the people who are involved in doing what you're learning about (networking)
Knowing the right people leads to opportunities for continued success and learning - this happens through conversations, introductions and collaborations. I've personally found that the best way to meet and connect with these people is a combination of participating in online networks, and attending conferences and courses that are topically related.
Support, mentoring, and coaching is also a key element of this value factor.
"Umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu" (A person is a person through other people) - Zulu Maxim
5) Keeping focussed (goals and analytics)
The most useful part of a university degree is the paper you get at the end of it, but not for the reasons you might think. The paper (the degree) is an end-goal that motivates you to finish what you started. On the internet, on the other-hand, there is a tendency to flit along the surface of issues rather than to go deep. The best preventative measure to this distraction is to have goals, milestones, metrics, and an accountability system (once again, mentoring and coaching can play a key role here) that will ensure that you get to a significant depth of understanding and praxis.
"There are literally millions of potentially interesting things in the world to see, to do, to learn about. But they don’t become actually interesting until we devote attention to them." - Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
6) Maintaining energy, health and wellbeing (exercise & nutrition)
The modern corporate lifestyle is almost by defined by traffic, desk-bound work, technological dependence, high stress, regular air-travel, junk-food, and stimulants. If education's role is to improve the lives of the educated, then it's incumbent on educators to embed healthy practices that enable clear thinking, creativity, and well-being.
Take care of your body with steadfast fidelity. The soul must see through these eyes alone, and if they are dim, the whole world is clouded." - Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe
7) Philosophical Engagement (Mental Models and Ethics)
Perhaps the two surest ways to sustain success and build momentum in the long run are: a) having philosophies, mental models, and paradigms that that allow you to zoom out of the day-to-day activity of your work and see whether what you're doing is truly worthwhile to yourself and others, and b) A good reputation, gained through years of ethical practice.
"The sacred is all about unconditionals; the profane is all about conditionals." - Nassim Taleb
As part of the team behind Huddlemind.net, this is what we're striving to do: to turn it into a place where we can all create a state of "learner readiness" - that is, a state in which we are primed to engage with the kind of knowledge that will truly make a difference. The seven elements mentioned above are the broad categories of engagement that we've set out for the network, but I think they can be used as a guideline for holistic career development and planning too.
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead
What do you think? Would you add or subtract anything here? How can we move closer to making this vision a reality? I'd love to hear your views.