The Future (and Present) of Expertise

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Yesterday, I ran across this quote from Degreed, an online credentialing site:

“The future doesn’t care how you become an expert.”

Now, is that a marketing pitch or a reality? Obviously, for some professions, the future is still going to care a lot about how people gain their expertise. As I’ve said many times, I don’t want my surgeon trained on YouTube. (And don’t laugh; that stuff is already starting to happen.) There will always be certain kinds of expertise that we will want to accredit through rigorous training and practice.

But there’s going to be a whole bunch of stuff that isn’t going to require a traditional certificate or diploma given by a traditional school. For lots of “professions” now, people will (and are) able to begin to cobble together their own credentials. And portfolios. And websites that display their expertise. And networks that connect them to other professionals or learners or whatever.

In other words, the potentials to roll your own career are exploding, assuming you have certain skills, literacies, and importantly, dispositions to do that.

In schools, we talk about the skills…a lot. To be honest, I don’t know how well we actually develop the skills since “learning” them is so hard to quantify. We love our data, and we hew to the quantifiable in the end. Testing for real world, in the moment critical thinking is hard and messy and time consuming.

And we cover the “literacies,” although again, I think you could argue that we don’t do a great job of it. Recent Stanford research suggests that at least.  I think it’s arguable that by modern standards, most students and teachers are illiterate, and that our practice around teaching literacy is in dire need of rethinking.

That all said, how do we do on the dispositions part? I know that a good chunk of how kids approach the world is hard wired or baked in by the environments they grow up in. But if the opportunity (expectation?) is that expertise is now something that you develop on your own, then how are we tackling in schools the development of mindsets to do that? How do we create conditions where kids will learn perseverance in non-oppressive ways? How do we help them remain optimistic in the face of some serious global changes and tensions? How do we nurture patience and healthy confidence with a significant chunk of extroversion?

The answer isn’t hard. It’s about culture and about a mission and vision that focuses as much if not more on the “immeasurables” as on the easy to measure stuff. What’s hard is actually changing culture and mission and vision to accommodate that need.

The next time you look at the students in your schools, ask yourself this: Will they be able to become experts on their own when they leave you? Will they be able to learn to the depth necessary, connect widely enough, and have the confidence to make their expertise known to a global audience?

They’re not all going to do that, I get it.

But they all should be able to.

Image credit: Steven Wei



Also published on Medium.

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