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Part I: Changes in Human Capital

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Part I: Changes in Human Capital There are two major demographic trends that must be studied by all who are responsible for human capital: the emergence of the digital natives—Generation Z—the first generation to not be a "mini-me" of the traditional 1950s adult; and the emergence of the five billion poor at the bottom of the pyramid whose annual disposable income is four times that of the one billion rich.

Marc Prensky first attracted the attention of educators, employers and policy officials in 2001 with his pioneering two-part article "Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants," published in On the Horizon. In 2005, he expanded on the original theme—that children growing up with modern information technology are fundamentally different from previous generations of learners and employees—and published "Engage me or enrage" in EDUCASE Review. This was the beginning, in my view, of the latest war for the soul of education. On one side are all those who are committed to rote instruction, education and what one author—award-winning educator John Taylor Gatto—calls Weapons of Mass Instruction (2008). On the other side are an emergent combination of home-schooling advocates, advocates of the pedagogy of freedom, child psychologists and concerned employers who point out that today college graduates are coming to their first job with skill levels that in the past were expected from high school graduates.

There has been a dumbing down of education, at least in the U.S., but at the same time, digital natives are a breed apart—and somewhat significantly, coincident with the hacker ethic of exploration and the hacker capacity to discover, develop and penetrate. In one of Prensky’s first books, he focused on self-learning, and many of his findings have since been confirmed by others. One extraordinary TED video shows Prof. Sugata Mitra explaining in the most compelling terms "the child-driven education."

In his newest work, Teaching Digital Natives: Partnering for Real Learning (2010), Prensky receives rave reviews from those open to his ideas and pointed criticism from traditionalists who are quick to say the book contains "no scholarship." That may well be the core point: what used to be called "scholarship"—the tedious study of printed text, the preparation of many index cards and the time-consuming crafting of a sequential research "story"—is no more.

Scholarship has been displaced by a vibrant mix of multimedia multitasking in which humans from many walks of life can engage with one another, seek out team solutions and rapidly disseminate new information via Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn or myriad other communication capabilities. I sum up the core values of Prensky’s latest book in two phrases: participatory learning and real-time feedback. Today’s students (and the best of today’s employees) are wired differently—sitting still listening to a one-way flow of information is a waste of their time, and they know it. They prefer the workshop or roundtable to a lecture, a practical exercise to a multiple-choice test and a clear connection between the matter being studied and their real-life needs. At the same time, they are addicted to real-time feedback and do best when it is part of the learning process.

What I am finding is that the best instructors—and the best meeting managers—are putting what used to be lectures or speeches on the Web for study at leisure to include the ability to pause, stop and return, and using face-to-face classroom time for roundtable discussion in which every student is both a teacher and a learner.

Deconstructing Digital Natives: Young People, Technology, and the New Literacies (2011), published in April, is a collection of distinct views of how digital natives are developing within distinct educational fields, national educational environments and by gender. Unlike the more practical works by Prensky (who is himself a contributor to this book, with a chapter called "Digital Wisdom and Homo Sapiens Digital: From Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives to the Digitally Wise"), this book is an academic publication, and with the exception of Prensky, all of the authors are university professors.

Next, I want to observe—and this is vitally important to meeting and event professionals—the sociological or human resource end state produced by digital natives: collective intelligence. There are several relevant books that need only their titles provided here:
-Smart Mobs: The Next Social Revolution by Howard Rheingold (2003)
-The Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki (2005)
-Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (2008)
-Collective Intelligence: Creating a Prosperous World at Peace (2008) edited by Mark Tovey
-Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (2009) and Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age (2010) by Clay Shirky

Now imagine that end state amongst the five billion poor, each of the latter empowered with a cell phone and access to the Internet. That brings us to The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid - Revised and Updated Fifth Anniversary Edition: Eradicating Poverty Through Profits by C.K. Prahalad. Here is what matters about this book: First, college-educated individuals can be hired in India for US$5 a day, so global networks and events may need to adjust to different wage scales as well as locations. Second, the five billion poor are not stupid, only illiterate—the cell phone is their home and their bank as well as their school. Third—and I opened with this—their annual income is $4 trillion a year, four times that of the one billion rich. We must pay attention to them and change our global business practices now to embrace this group as our suppliers, our partners and our customers. One+
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