We have all seen the rise of e-learning in the information age. Indeed, ‘edupreneurship’ has increasingly become a business opportunity for content specialists and now, amidst the pandemic, we have seen online learning emerge as the answer to so many questions. Parents are relieved to see their kids connecting in after-school lessons with students from around the country and out-of-work professionals are setting their sights on new goals – and new careers.
But what does this all mean for the future of work and the transition to a sustainable society? The answers may already be here.
The knowledge that is needed to bring human society into balance with planetary boundaries already exists. To affect the level of change that is necessary though, that knowledge needs to become much more widely distributed – and fast.
“Edupreneurship” and the “e-learning” industries were booming before the COVID-19 pandemic; however, during 2020 and 2021, they expanded dramatically. What the pandemic may be overshadowing though, is that these technologies possess the tools and practices that we need to pivot the U.S. workforce toward our sustainability goals. If we can recognize the potential of this opportunity for re-training, visions like a Green New Deal may not be as far off as they once were.
A lens of “cultural evolution” may be helpful in understanding this moment. As two scholars from the University of Maine, Orono put it recently in their publication in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, a view of evolution that is inclusive of culture yields a perspective on our species that would be difficult or impossible to see through a strictly genetic lens. In fact, Waring and Wood argue that our cultural evolution is currently outpacing our genetic potential for adaptation, indicating that the role of culture may ultimately become a more powerful force than our genes in determining the future of our species.
The question on the table seems to be, “Will our transition to sustainable, post-industrial societies become a part of the story of our cultural evolution or will the traits that we evolved genetically prevent us from achieving such balance?” The emergence of a thriving e-learning society may be an indication that we are at least technologically prepared to engage in the cultural transition that is needed, and at the scale and scope that is necessary.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution, if we are to take Klaus Schwab’s term for it, has generated social networks that are globally distributed and frequently accessed, on systems that are almost universally adopted. However, access to information is not the same as learning. Learning requires cognitive processes that are not embedded in mere access to information. Cultures everywhere have developed teaching strategies to help one another make sense of the world. That aspect of who we are just got a big boost from an emergent need and, if we’re smart about it, we’ll keep it around.