Friday, 1 May 2015

Knowledge is power?

I was interested to hear on the radio this week that a senior examiner has called for students to be able to use Google in exams. You can read about this here - as long as you promise to come back and read this blog afterwards.

Go on. I'll wait.

Back now? Good. What did you think?

To be honest I can see both sides and this blog is going to give my perspective on this as a father of a boy about to start his GCSEs, as an HR professional who has got where he has partly on the knowledge that is in my head and not online, as a leader in an organisation comprised of a lot of professional "knowledge workers", and as someone who teaches professional qualifications in my spare time.

Yes, I wear a lot of hats.

Firstly as a father. I think to deny students the ability to use google or similar in exam situations is unrealistic, like holding back the tide. My son, and my eldest daughter too, have grown up with the Internet and use it on a daily basis to play games, search for information, talk to friends, shop, bank (yes) and watch content. Neither watch anything as ordinary as a television when they can stream programmes to their phone or tablet. And we don't own any DVDs or CDs any more as the kids prefer to access them online.

So why should knowledge be any different?

It shouldn't. Ask my son a question to which he doesn't immediately know the answer, and he googles it. He has an answer within a minute. And then he remembers that answer and he doesn't have to google for that information again.

Why can't that happen in exams? Finding information is one thing but finding the right information and putting it into the right context and being disciplined enough to avoid browsing onto other things and hitting time deadlines or manipulating the information and drawing conclusions is an entirely different thing. I think these are critical skills for today's growing generations and, at the risk of dumbing down exams, I'd let them use google.

Because I'd bet my house they've used google to revise, and revision should prepare you for the exam as closely as possible. Today's generations will go into the workplace where they will use google daily so why not let them do it in exams?

Those complaining about it are the older generations. Like me. Because we couldn't use google in exams and had to rely on memory retention. So that's my second perspective. I did well in exams mainly because I could remember a lot. I've done well (I think) in my career because I remember almost everything (go on, try me). So part of my professional advantage is the knowledge I hold in my head, and I didn't use google to put it there.

So part of me worries that some Johnny-come-lately (or, more likely, Joanna-come-lately - a future blog may touch on the gender imbalance in HR) might hove into view having nowhere near the amount of knowledge that I have in my head, but access to far more on his phone, tablet, ON HIS WATCH and IN HIS GLASSES.

I tell you, the world is a scary place, and I'm just 39 so imagine how someone a lot older might feel.

That person could knock me off my lofty perch if he is slick enough. So no wonder many older generations don't want to let kids use google in exams.

But here's the thing.

I got where I am through learning. And I can learn almost anything. So all I have to do is learn faster than Johnny-come-lately and I'll be OK. To quote an ex professional wrestler, "beat me if you can, survive if I let you".

And you can buy me an Apple Watch for my 40th birthday.

Lesson - embrace change because you'll be left behind if you don't.

Interestingly I tested this in a recent job interview. I figured for the senior job it was, memory retention wasn't a key issue but information retrieval and structured thinking was. So I put my interview question answers on iCloud and took my tablet in with me. I used it to look up answers as I went along.

I didn't get the job. But I did a damn good interview.

My third perspective is as a leader in an organisation with a lot of knowledge workers. Already I see customer service roles increasingly not requiring knowledge to do the job but knowing how to find and retrieve information and having good interpersonal skills is a bonus too. I can see this creeping in to some housing roles too. So how long before this goes further?

Will I see us recruiting Joiners or Plasterers who turn up at customer properties to do a repair armed only with their tools and a 4G connection to stream YouTube videos of joinery work? Learning on the go? It's not that far fetched and as long as they develop their knowledge and retain it and do a good job (and have good interpersonal skills) then why not?

Will I be recruiting HR professionals in the future who deal with employee relations cases by googling case law, asking online communities for opinions and responding to line manager queries by googling the answer?

It already happens. Not all the time, but I've seen it happen. Are these good HR professionals? Yes. Are they growing in number? Yes. And they have good interpersonal skills to build the relationships they need, not relying on knowledge retention, just knowing how to get hold of it when they need it.

So it's inevitable.

And that leads to my fourth and final perspective, that of a teacher of CIPD and CIH qualifications in my spare time. I mark assignments that already test students research skills and during the completion of which the students have used google and, shock horror, Wikipedia, to develop their answers.

I'm not critical of that. It doesn't say they can't do it and to be honest if I need information on something then Wikipedia is a regular port of call for me too. The question only asks them to find the information, so they have. If it then asks them to add their own views, then they had better do that too and woe betide them if they don't.

So again it's inevitable.

Let it happen. 

However - these professional assignments only rarely touch on interpersonal skills or test such skills.  I do think that in the future world, good interpersonal skills will be a USP for a professional worker, as the knowledge advantage appears to be on the decrease.

What are your views?

Till next time.

Gary

PS in other news, venue now chosen for the wedding and date narrowed down to final week of August 2016. Also, off to Scotland on holiday for a week so no more blogs till I'm back.