Living in beta: a new model of lifelong learning

Date Published


In a disruptive age of rapid change, curiosity is essential to success at work and beyond. Learning becomes a lifelong responsibility for everyone.

Living in Beta is a simple concept: we must be prepared to disrupt the way we think to keep pace with constant change. Simultaneously, we need to be open to adaptation through unlearning what we have learned in the past and preparing to relearn in the future.

In July 2019, Capita led a 90-minute, interactive workshop at the TED Summit in Edinburgh. Living in Beta: Sparking Curiosity attracted more than 50 delegates, who were hosted by Capita’s Chief Growth Officer, Ismail Amla, with Andy Hagerman, CEO of The Design Gym.

During the session, delegates were asked to pinpoint moments of learning, unlearning and relearning from their past experiences. An analysis of the data gathered revealed that these moments are spread throughout a life.

Formal learning is typically over by the age of 21 or 22, yet the highest concentration (representing 36% of the total) of key learning moments among delegates was from age 20-25, suggesting that suggesting that other types of education, and life experiences, are now eclipsing formal studies.

Unlearning moments peaked between the ages of 30 and 35, representing 36% of the total. Meanwhile, 60% of respondents thought that un-learning was more likely to happen between the ages of 20 and 40, as your career advances and you begin to question what you were originally taught.

Relearning spiked in two periods, at 20-25 years of age, and then again at 35-40, each period representing a third of all such key moments. Could the first period represent a time of re-evaluation as a person takes their first steps into independent adulthood after their formal education ends? The second period neatly follows the most concentrated period of unlearning, which suggests that staying curious is key in this period of life.

The delegates were also asked to give their thoughts on how learning will change in future, if we embrace curiosity. Learning, it was felt, will not be a linear process. This will demand introspection as people question themselves and their assumptions. Failure and vulnerability will become more acceptable, and greater flexibility and empathy will be essential to Living in Beta.

As learning, unlearning and relearning become even more vital to individual and corporate success, it’s essential that organisations offer their people the support needed to keep their curiosity alive, and that an organisation’s culture encourages curiosity, rather than punishing those who stick their head above the parapet to ask the difficult questions and challenge received wisdom.

But with jobs for life a thing of the past, it’s also the responsibility of the individual to learn, unlearn and relearn. People who actively look for new projects and seek out their own development opportunities are more likely to excel in their roles and advance in their careers.