Learning and education are among the subjects that are frequently discussed and thoroughly examined in the cotemporary world. Critics of all ranks and backgrounds created numerous philosophies relevant to the field of education, including life-long learning and continuous education. The main question posed is whether one should stop learning after a certain moment in his or her life or whether, as put by Albert Einstein, “The more I learn, the more I realize I don't know” (Qtd in Creative quotes and quotations On Knowledge 1). In fact, many people who abandoned education during their young days are often compelled to return to studies in their older days. Let’s consider the following hypothetical situation. Richard, who is well in his 40s, is made go to college, or as his friend said, “He is compelled to go back to reality”. Twenty years passed since Richard earned his first bachelor’s degree and his work environment was much more familiar to him than the college atmosphere. Yet, he didn’t’ have any choice in this case as the matter was presented as follows: he either goes to college and get promoted or get fired because, it turned out, his professional characteristics needed to be improved and polished in order to stay competitive in the modern world. But what is he to learn? How is it going to help him or his career? Most individuals are faced with such questions when the time comes to continue education or go back to the college. This paper analyzes various aspects related to learning and education in the modern world, arguing that, despite often unfavorable social and work surroundings, education never ends for a person as an individual is to continuously master new traits in order to survive and become successful in one’s life.
There are two sets of implications of the above statement -ones concerning the development of individual abilities, and others concerning the cultural contexts in which abilities are embedded. We begin by looking at the development of intellectual skills in the individual. In what follows we make the case for practical intelligence, and the related concept of implicit knowledge, as important components in adult learning and development. Our discussion begins with a review of recent theory and research on practical intelligence (Sternberg, Conway, Ketron, and Bernstein 43).
Our society has long embraced a distinction between academic intelligence and practical intelligence. This distinction figures heavily in the implicit theories of intelligence held by both public and researchers. Sternberg and colleagues talked with people in a supermarket, a library, and a bus station, as well as researchers who study intelligence, and asked them to nominate and rate the importance of characteristics of intelligent individuals (37-40). Factor analyses of the ratings reveal that researchers and laypeople alike observe a distinction between academic and practical intelligence. Moreover, people believe that their practical abilities grow over the years. Williams, Denney, and Schadler reported that 76% of older adults believe that their ability to think, reason, and solve problems has increased over the years (149). When apprised of the research finding that scores on ability tests decline after early adulthood, the older adults said that they were talking about solving different kinds of problems from those found on cognitive ability tests -- everyday kinds of problems (Williams et al. 151).
To continue, in many academic-related problems, formal knowledge plays a key role. Expertise in solving academic problems depends on availability and accessibility of formal knowledge. Formal knowledge seems much less relevant to practical problems, however (Brunk et al., 67). Formal knowledge will not tell one, for example, what kinds of things one should and should not say to a teacher or supervisor. In nonacademic tasks, an important type of knowledge appears to be comparatively informal -- what we call tacit knowledge. Tacit knowledge is practical know-how that is usually not directly taught or even openly expressed or stated. It is the kind of knowledge one acquires on the job or in everyday kinds of situations, rather than through formal instruction. For example, knowing how to convince others of the worth of your idea or product is not the kind of knowledge that is likely to be taught, but rather the kind of knowledge one picks up through experience (Willams and Sternberg 56).
However, learning is an important drive of change. Consider the many examples of accomplished individuals who fail to adapt as times change and thus find their careers on the wane. Musical artists, for example, occasionally find themselves playing in smaller and smaller rooms as musical tastes and technologies change; today's arena rockers are often tomorrow's bar bands. There also are many examples of individuals who adapt successfully and move forward even in their later years. The artist Pablo Picasso makes a fine example. Throughout his career, Picasso explored new ideas and remained a vital force in his art. These examples illustrate that there are factors outside the individual -- in the domains and fields in which human abilities are put to use and given meaning -- that change over time, and adaptation to these changes is a key issue in adult success (Cranton 23-26).
Research on learning demonstrates how important these contextual changes can be. One study, for example, yields the conclusion that there is specialized knowledge for different levels of expertise in a domain. Williams and Sternberg used extensive interviews and observations to construct both a general and a level-specific knowledge measure and examined differences in knowledge between levels of management (14). The researchers obtained nominations from managers' superiors for outstanding and underperforming managers, enabling them to delineate the specific content of knowledge for each level of management by examining at each level what outstanding managers knew that the underperforming ones did not.
The results support the notion of level-specific knowledge. As executives rise through the ranks, they gain knowledge specialized to higher levels of management expertise. Within the domain of knowledge about one's self, information about how to seek out, create, and enjoy challenges was substantially more important to upper level executives than to middle- or lower level executives (Williams and Sternberg 15). Knowledge about maintaining appropriate levels of control increased progressively at higher levels of management. Tacit knowledge about self-motivation, self-direction, self-awareness, and personal organization was higher for upper level managers. Information gained about completing tasks and working effectively within the business environment was substantially more important to upper level executives than to middle-level ones, and substantially more important to middle-level executives than to lower level ones (Williams and Sternberg 16).
In conclusion, this paper has argued that there are two sets of factors that change over time in human life. First, there are developmental changes in the individual's abilities. In general, academic abilities that rely on common intelligence do not increase, but practical abilities (and attendant tacit knowledge) that rely on pure forms of intelligence often increase into later adulthood. Second, technological advances and changing roles combine to give the adult an ever-changing set of skills at which to aim. In a sense, both shooter and target are moving. Given these elements of constant change, the specific content of continuous education and learning becomes a truly important matter. Skills needed in the past may be less vital in the future -- and abilities that support learning in youth may be even more potent in adulthood.