ATD Blog

Are You Learning Better Than Machines?

Monday, May 25, 2020

Mahatma Gandhi once said, "Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever." This sage quote, when put into action, has the power to convert the simple into wise. Many woes of today are due to poor understanding of a certain context/person or an incorrect application of a concept gobbled quickly. Much of our learning today is misdirected, sporadic—if directed correctly—and shallow when we find time at last. Going by this rate, it wouldn’t be surprising if machines overtook us in the learning race and beat us in the game of life.

Enter machine learning.

Machine learning is an application of artificial intelligence (AI) that provides systems the abilities to automatically learn and improve from experience without being explicitly programmed. The process of machine learning begins with the observation of data, such as examples, direct experience, or instruction, to look for patterns within it and make better decisions in the future based on the examples we provide. This sounds straight out of Star Wars, when Obi Wan Kenobi describes the Force as “an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us. It binds the galaxy together.”

While it is true humans cannot match the speed of the computers, we can outwit the machines in terms of strategy. Much of today’s learning culture is either need-based or reward-based. Unlike the machine learning concept of “learning as you go and from whatever you can find,” few humans imbibe the philosophy of “self-directed” learning. We wait for some new fad to push us out of our comfort zone or an old bloke’s warning to learn before it is too late.

Self-directed learning is the byproduct of a growth mindset. A person with growth mindset learns from every available opportunity, experience, and genuine criticism. They also pursue every pull-based learning avenues like self-reflection, parsing history, analyzing failures, 360-degree feedback, reverse mentoring, and peer teaching. A person from a self-directed learning culture knows their destination in life and constantly steers their vision, thoughts, and behaviors in ways that will them help reach their destination much faster.

Now, it all boils down to why you should learn as if you are going to live forever, isn’t it? The first reason is you are only going to live longer with all the medical advancements of late. Still not convinced? OK, here are seven more reasons why you should learn better than machines.

1. That’s What Future of Work Is All About: Thirty percent of jobs existing today won’t exist five years from now and 70 percent of new jobs will be created anew. Learning is the only guaranteed future job.


2. We Forget Way Too Quickly: Seventy-five percent of what we learned within six days is forgotten if we don’t apply our learnings immediately or revisit them.

3. Traditional Learning Medium Isn’t Up to Speed: Universities, L&D functions, and LMSs are behemoths that cater to mass audiences, and sometimes these mediums take time to reflect your personal and future learning needs.

4. That Keeps Us Fit: Research suggests that people who keep learning new things tend to stave off dementia, which is normally associated with old age. Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. (Courtesy: Henry Ford.)

5. It Is Just Fun: You never know what you missed in life until you explore something new. For example, try windsurfing for a starter, and if you can surf well, try knitting or code writing.


6. That’s What Reduces Misunderstanding: A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text. (Courtesy: Donald A. Carson.) Assumption is the opposite of deep learning and the chief reason behind every misunderstanding.

7. That’s the Best Thing to Do: The ROI here is much better than engaging in a Twitter war or obsessing in front of the mirror or staring endlessly at the idiot box or worrying about an unknown future.

Imagine how much more serene life could be if couples settled conflicts by asking, “I am quite unsure as to why I feel this way. Would you be kind enough to explain why things are the way they are right now?” How much more productive could organizations be if every employee asked, “Is there a better way of doing this work than how we do it right now?” And how much better could our world be if we asked, “Is this all there is to life?”

So, let us take an oath: Hey, machines. Here we come. After all, it was we humans who created your “self-directing” brains.

About the Author

Billy Paul Ebenezer is a learning and organizational development specialist with a leading IT company in India. For more than 15 years, he has worked in various MNCs as a management consultant, leadership coach, and training facilitator. He has trained thousands of corporate professionals on leadership, management, and soft skills. Outside work, his passion is to spot budding talent and help them discover their true potential by offering to mentor them. He can be followed on Twitter @sbillypaul.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.