Exploring the Science Fiction Future of Corporate Learning

In July 2019, Singularity University published a global vision of the future of learning, including a graphic novel co-created by our community at a Science Fiction Design Intelligence workshop and an exponential guide to the future of learning featuring innovators solving the learning challenges from across our community of alumni, startups, corporate partners, Faculty, and more.

Within the first few days of publication, we had more than 3,000 people download the graphic novel and visit the future of learning website, including a large number of leaders spearheading corporate learning initiatives at large companies.

Given that, I wanted to dig deeper into the future of corporate learning, building off the vision we shared in the novel.

First, a recap of the story:

Our graphic novel—which was co-created by a diverse group of SU alumni, Faculty, startups, staff, and educators from around the world—tells the story of two youth, Yabi and Carlo, who live in the United States and Chad. Although the youth physically reside on different sides of the globe, they are connected through a set of futuristic technologies that initially matched them in terms of their learning journeys and created a virtual school so that they could learn together.  Specifically, the school accompanies them through life along with their artificial intelligence Neo-Educational Personal Intelligences (NEPIs) that are customized to their individual learning needs and plugged into a global digital learning system connected to schools, companies, and a larger knowledge base.

The novel opens with Carlo and Yabi playing a game of soccer together and also learning physics lessons in the process. Later in the novel, Carlo’s city experiences a major storm that destroys part of his school and community. Yabi and classmates, as well as their parents’ companies and their employees, then help Carlo’s community rebuild, integrating learning lessons in the process. The lessons not only add real value by helping rebuild the school and community, but also teach the youth new academic and social skills. Furthermore, the youth do not just receive a grade for their work, but also see the outcomes of their work—and their contributions are recorded in a global portfolio that showcase their accomplishments and provides credits they can spend.

Scifi Comic

Implications for companies and their employees

While this story presents an interesting vision of what the future of learning might be like for youth, what does it mean for companies and their employees?

First, it’s interesting to note that in this story, the youths’ parents (and the companies their parents work for) are involved in both rebuilding the school and teaching the youth how to learn new skills as they help rebuild the school.

Today a company or a parent might do this informally through corporate volunteering, but what we are suggesting is something more formal. In our vision, the company rebuilds the school through a formal contract, in which it is paid to both complete the work as well as teach the children. And the children are expected to be learning from the company as formally as they would from their traditional school and be contributing real work—they are not just doing assignments in a text book, but rather are learning on the job. In addition, the schools, companies, parents, and children are all compensated for their work both in terms of a new type of credit that can be spent as well as having their work captured and showcased in a global portfolio. The credits are from a global fund that supports projects that contribute to the well-being of society and social impact.

Currently we live in a world where education, work, social change, children, and parents all inhabit different parts of society. Youth go to school, where they often complete years of work with no connection to the real world and then graduate. Following that, there is a mad scramble to find a job, which they might not have the practical skills to perform. Imagine instead a pharmaceutical company that teaches a group of high school students about the biggest unsolved challenges in curing infectious diseases, and then the students, instead of doing chemistry problems in a textbook, actually try to solve a real problem for the company. And if they do it, they get paid for it, their work is showcased, and the product goes on the market to save lives.

Or consider how currently parents send their children to school for formal education during certain hours of the day and may or may not ever teach their children (or the children of their community) what they know and do at their own jobs. Companies have their employees perform work and rarely utilize the overall knowledge that they have (and perhaps could even sell.) More importantly, we know that one of our biggest challenges today is ensuring that curriculums keep up with the pace of change. Connecting the curriculum to problems that are being solved in real time by experts helps us overcome that challenge and ensure that youth come out of school prepared to work at the highest level.

In our graphic novel, we are presenting a more integrated vision of education and work where the two are continually intertwined. What if every large company had its own university where it not only continually retrains it employees but also utilizes their knowledge by having employees formally teaching in the education system? What if a company, when it hires a recent graduate, has already been working with that graduate for over a decade on smaller projects? How much more effective would that employee be? What if employees with children had the chance to work with their children on a formal project every so often? How much would that increase employee satisfaction? What if companies, schools, employees, and students had the chance to solve a problem that really mattered in their community and to be compensated for it?

Scifi Comic

Looking forward

Of course this scenario raises a lot of hard questions ranging from who decides what should be included in a learning curriculum (an already contentious topic today) to who should pay who for work and learning outcomes.

The above scenario may or may not be where society heads in the future, but the important point to note is that digitization allows such a set of possibilities to exist. At a high level, as we digitize the currently separate fields of education, work, solving social problems and our economic system, it becomes possible to re-imagine how we might connect these systems in new ways. Do we need grades when we can simply record a person’s real life accomplishments? Can a student perform work for a company starting as an early teen where they both learn as if they were in school as well as they contribute to the company? And perhaps skip the whole job application process? Can our financial system be grounded in work that is more closely aligned with our values if we create a type of credit to incentivize that?

As we digitize both the fields of learning and the fields of work, what new opportunities do you see?  How could we better connect the two fields?

If you work within the field of corporate learning, how do you see the digitization of learning and work impact your business?