November 20, 2017

Learning in the Age of Disruption

In today’s world, businesses are operating in the age of disruption. It is not exaggerated to say that this could be the most exciting and the most threatening time to be leading a business, as there have never been greater opportunities or bigger threats. Many of the largest companies in the world today were established within the last few decades and in industries that didn’t even exist before. At the same time many household names have simply disappeared.

The speed and scale of change seem to increase exponentially and every business and economy in the world is scrambling to respond.

After establishing the right mindset as previously discussed in my previous article ‘Living with the Right Mindset’, the next step towards rising above disruption is to understand how to learn in this era.

Now, I’m certain that learning is something we are all too familiar with as it is something we constantly do every day. From the moment we are born until our last breath, learning is endless. Not to mention that we also need to continuously unlearn and relearn throughout our lives.

However, in the disruptive era in which everything is relentlessly disrupting and changing and nothing stays the same anymore, the learning approach we traditionally used can no longer be relevant at this time.

In fact, over the past years few years, we have witnessed the rise of mobile, cloud and Internet of Things, that have digitally disrupted and affected almost every industry, including the Learning and Development sector. What is more, disruption has caused redundancy of skills, creating the need to constantly evolve and learn new skills which literally translate into the fact that we need to up skill and reskill ourselves continuously.

Here is the tricky part, most of us when we were in school or university, we assumed that learning that we got then would take us through bulk of our career. As a matter of fact, that is changed massively now because of disruption.

Now, when I’m writing about this issue, it reminded me of the learning conference I attended a few years ago. Then, Sugata Mitra, a Professor at Newcastle University, England and a winner of the 2013 TED Prize which is known for his “hole in the wall” experiment in India which helped spawn popular movie “Slumdog Millionaire” was talking in the topic “The Future of Learning” in which he emphasised how we need to un-school the employees.

He claimed that the traditional learning environments were built merely to support a world that no longer exists. Kids and children were traditionally brought up in the way to work in the assembly line. They were taught to memorise and do things accordingly without having to think or contemplate much.

He also elaborated that, traditionally, we needed to develop soldiers – people who could take orders and could be replaced with each other. We needed to develop people who could sit and take direction, not ask questions and we needed the factory workers to stand at the same spot and do the same thing over and over again, not being creative. That was the main reason why education and learning was originally designed that way and it has been like that since the empire era in the 16 to20th centuries.

Now, the situation is different. The world has changed and transformed tremendously. As a result, we can see a lot of skills gaps and associated performance deficits at the forefront of most learning leaders’ minds these days, whether the conversation is strategic or tactical in nature – because most of them are only equipped with the obsolete knowledge and skills while lacking the ability to implement or apply. Thus, Mitra encouraged us to learn by doing things, experiencing the real scenario and not just being taught to repeat things.

In other words, he introduced us to the concept of “un-school” i.e. to get rid of the conventional learning method and to prepare people to receive current development tailored for work in the organisation now.

It occurs to me that skill education has changed completely. Students now watch YouTube or search Google to learn how to do things. Modern learning technologies take the power from the facilitator and give it to the learner.

Simply stated, digital disruption is here whether we want it or not and what we need now in order to stay relevant is the skill suitable to fast paced changeable environments, where creativity and motivation are key.

Last but not least, Mitra stressed that “…what we teach today will be obsolete tomorrow. Teaching a person to keep his feet on the ground doesn’t work. The ground is shifting all the time. Knowing is not the most important thing. To be able to find out is more important than knowing.”


Ms. Arinya Talerngsri is Chief Capability Officer and Managing Director at SEAC (formerly APMGroup) Southeast Asia’s leading Executive, Leadership and Innovation Capability Development Center.

She can be reached by email at or

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