‘Always Be Learning’: A New Model For Lifelong Education


Every salesperson – and almost every professional over age 40 –remembers the 1992 movie Glengarry Glen Ross, about a sales competition in a Chicago real estate office. In it, Alec Baldwin plays a successful sales manager brought in to inspire the office’s sales team to work harder. His tough love tirade includes the advice “Always Be Closing” – a reminder that a salesperson is never really off the clock.

As I read about Code.org’s Hour of Code program in December, I had a similar thought: instead of Always Be Closing, we need to Always Be Learning.

Hour of Code is a fantastic program for engaging kids in the art and science of computer science, and we were glad to see President Obama expand on the idea with his new Computer Science for All program for K-12 – but adults, too, need to remember that we should always be learning.

Today, in the U.S., education is viewed as a time box. This is probably rooted in the industrial revolution – that’s when Americans started expecting children to attend school until age 18, and then either go to college or start working. Once they started working, most people stayed in the same job, at the same company, for their entire careers.

People worked to live, not lived to work. The educational system was geared around preparing a person for their first job and often nothing more.

Today, it’s extremely unlikely that a person will remain in their first job for their entire careers. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person has 10 jobs by age 40. That number will probably be higher for millennials, many of whom don’t plan to stay in their current jobs for more than three years.

Jobs are changing rapidly, and the educational system hasn’t caught up to that reality. It’s generally recognized that continuing education is valuable, but leaving the job force for 2-3 years in order to get a Master’s degree? That just doesn’t make sense for most young people today, many of who have massive undergraduate loans. There was a period in the 90’s where being a professional student was practically an avocation of its own.

A new model for ongoing education is needed, one that’s being fulfilled on some level by a crop of startups that specialize in online learning models. One Month is one; others include Codecademy and General Assembly. While we take different approaches, our common goal is to help people quickly learn a new skill such as computer programming in an accelerated way, on their own time, while they continue to work.