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(Part 2) Blame Thomas Friedman

The Parent Pivot: What Parents Must Know and How to Prepare

This is Part 2 from my last post titled, “Blame Thomas Friedman.” Let’s review a few key points from Mr. Friedman’s New York Times article and I’ll conclude with a super simple way to start getting your child ready for a different way to learn.

Idea #1: “The half-life of skills is steadily shrinking.” 

Friedman interviewed a tech entrepreneur who pointed out the uncomfortable truth that…

“…whatever skill you possess today is being made obsolete faster and faster.”

Ravi Kumar, president of the Indian tech services company Infosys

This is not new in the American experiment, but its pace is unprecedented. In the last 20-years, think about all the industries that are gone — or forever changed — due to technology. Think newspapers, movie rentals, book stores, photography, the music industry, and many others. Restaurants, retail, and grocery stores are now being disrupted with k-12 and higher education next on the menu. Much of what your child is learning right now will likely become obsolete before he has a chance to use it and much of what you remember from school no longer applies.

Related: Dr. Scott and I interviewed another tech entrepreneur, Andrew Sachs, founder of the innovative student-led learning platform Nobel Explores, for our recent podcast and Cath Fraise of Workspace Education (podcast release date: 11/15). Both describe skills not taught in school, but upon which the 21st century is being built: creativity, problem-solving, and constant learning. 

Idea #2: Learnability matters more than knowledge

We are moving from a “learn-then-work” society to a “learn-work-learn-work-learn-work-learn” society. This means that your child needs the confidence and self-motivation necessary to learn anything at any time (“Learnability”). Yet the structure of schools undermines self-motivation by:

  1. Tightly defining what students must learn, 
  2. Planning the learning pathways for students, 
  3. Setting onerous and outdated learning constraints around when, how, and what tools a student can use to learn, and 
  4. Evaluating the child based on outdated and somewhat arbitrary measures of success. 

Learner interest is, at best, a marginal concern in schools. 

See for yourself. Ask your child the one-two-punch. “What are you interested in?” followed by, “How often do you get a chance to learn that?” You’ll see that your child’s learning is both uninspiring AND misaligned with the future that Mr. Friedman describes. Now’s your chance to do something about it. Start small.

How Parents Can Support Self-Directed Learning

The 2-minute Coach: A “baby-step” strategy that parents can initiate today

Parents, you can begin teaching independent learning skills by first renaming your role. Rename yourself as the “Adult Learning Leader” and rename your child as the “Young Learner.” (We have found that this simple reframe does wonders to begin shifting the home learning environment). 

Secondly, start each day with a short, 2-minute coaching session with your child. Set a recurring alarm on your cell phone that prompts the Learning Leader to ask the Young Learner, 1) “What do you want to learn today?” and 2) “How do you plan to learn it?” 

Set a second reminder alarm to ring in the evening when you’ll ask your child if they accomplished their learning goal. 

This approach may seem basic, but this is a HUGE mindset shift for students and parents. Learning is the goal, and these questions are the first “baby steps” towards building your child’s ability to take ownership of their own learning. Try it for 1-week and send me a report of what happens.


  • Pro-Tip #1: If your child achieved their learning goal, celebrate it! If not, ask them what they could do differently next time and gently coach them towards improvement.
  • Pro-Tip #2: Ask these questions with a no-shame and no-blame approach. Your goal is to build their learning independence, not to pressure them to learn on your timeline or with your methods. They get enough of that kind of pressure in school. 
  • Pro-Tip #3: Be patient. Children who have grown up being told what, how, and when to learn may find it hard to answer these questions at first. Mine certainly did. But be patient. You’ll be surprised at how quickly they can begin to make the transition. You’ll also be surprised at how much excitement and confidence develops as they see progress.
  • Pro-Tip #4: The key comes in making these questions into a daily, causal ritual — like brushing teeth. Over time, kids will begin to see patterns in their successes and failures and adjust without your direction. Keep this goal in mind.


Thomas Friedman does not apologize for alerting us to these hard truths. He is simply describing a likely future for which many of us are unprepared. From this point on, our children’s future will not be defined by what they know, but by their ability to learn that which is new. Now is the time to step into our Adult Learning Leader role and to fill in where schools can’t. Begin supporting self-motivation and self-direction in your Young Learner and help others to do the same.

And Remember: You’re Not Alone 

The movement towards self-directed learners that Dr. Scott and I are promoting is not an easy path, but we believe that it is the future of learning. We are creating a series of online courses to give families the support, encouragement, and practical skills they will need in this new educational frontier. If you’re interested in learning more, consider participating in one of our upcoming informational webinars.

Keep up the great work parents! Let us know how we can help.

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Quick Start Guide

If you made it this far then don’t stop now. The Quick Start Guide delivers a week’s worth of curated and highly practical resources to grow your learning leadership for the next 5 days. This is only the beginning! 

What’s included:

  • Key podcasts
  • Questions to ask your child
  • Blog posts
  • Interviews & videos