The Future of Education

My First Long Blog Entry
I’ve been writing down a few topics in draft form and adding to them as I have time.  That may be good news or bad news depending on if you like to read long posts.  Please know with all blog posts that my ideas are just that, ideas.  Society tends to want to think the way it has always been taught but change is inevitable.  Bruce Barton said it best with his quote: “when you are through changing, you are through”.

My Educational Experiences
It is no secret I love technology and sometimes you can’t help but wonder how it will continue to change our lives (for better or worse).  I look back at my education and the teachers who had the daunting task of trying to teach a dunce like me a thing or two.  I never really enjoyed school, in fact the day I graduated high school has to be one of the best days of my life. My wife and I have a son who is fifteen months old at the time of this writing.  After talking with a coworker who asked if I had started saving for his college yet I replied I hadn’t but in the back of my mind I get a “spidey sence” I should.  Part of the reason I haven’t saved for my son’s college is because we have other financial priorities at the moment but part of me also wonders what college will be like for him in another 17 years.  By not saving for his education I am taking a calculated risk that in the future education will be nothing like it is today.  After going through 12 years of public education in 7 schools I hope it will be very different!

Tuition
As I am writing this post the average cost of tuition for a private 4-year college is $23,712 and $6,185 for pubic colleges.  I can’t help but think that when my son is ready for college everything will be mostly virtual which many colleges have already starting to embrace today.  Even when I was going to college 8-10 years ago there were some online courses offered. My thinking is if households obtain broadband access what is really stopping the world from offering free admission to any course?  Isn’t it just a matter of time before technology completely levels the playing field for developing nations to better compete and have access to the same resources?  The US was founded on the premise that we wanted the world to “give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yourning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”.  If the US has always been the pioneer in driving change and helping the willing, should we be leading by example to help provide the world free (or at least very cost affective) education?

Education Should be Free
I am an open source advocate so it is probably not a big surprise for you to hear that it is wrong to charge for education.  Education should be free to all who are willing to learn.  I’d like to see a huge company like Google provide a grassroots effort to have the best professors in the world teach online.  The beauty of online lessons is it scales and traditional institutions are limited to how many students can fit into a classroom or auditorium.  Furthermore, when a professor is finished teaching his/her lecture why do they teach it time and time again during the day?  Additionally, year after year they teach the same thing over the years.  With technology, professors should give their best lecture on a topic and have that lecture live on forever for all to consume.  TED is a great example of just that, they bring together the brightest and best who can share with the world what they have learned. Students should never have a “burned out” teacher in the future because just like a machine the Internet can play their best lecture for all to view billions of times.  If a teacher provides a lecture which is used extensively they can be compensated like how Google AdSense works today.

New Educational Standards
If we can get the world to embrace unconventional education such as distance learning via the Internet we will need a way for the world to obtain a degree via the new services.

The Internet is the Modern Day Calculator
I’m almost wondering if the Internet is the modern day calculator.  For instance should we teach our students to cram as much knowledge into their heads as possible or teach them how to find the answers using the Internet?  Technology, knowledge and the world is constantly changing so is it better to memorize data or just know where to find it if you need it?  I remember in school wondering why on some tests they wouldn’t let us use our calculators.  The teachers would say things like “well what if your calculator battery died?”  We of course replied “I have a solar calculator” which the teacher of course replied “what if it is a rainy day” which we replied “turn on a light”.  With mobile devices giving us the Internet anywhere we travel isn’t the Internet really a child’s modern day tool to leverage like the calculator (or encyclopedia) was to us?

Textbooks
Textbooks are expensive, heavy, and are outdated as soon as they are published.  It seems inevitable that in the very near future textbooks will be electronic documents which are constantly updated by the brightest, the best and the world on a given subject matter.  Amazon.com has recently released the Kindle and paper books just seem to be on their way out.

Teachers of the Future
We will always need teachers but are they being fully utilized today?  For instance with computers we can now let students take tests on computers and the results can be instantly calculated and rolled up for the teacher in his/her “grade book”.  Let me be very clear I’m not saying teachers are not valuable but I think everyone should be able to teach the world, not just those who are certified to teach.  For instance you can learn something from a homeless man/woman, a retail clerk, a CEO, a construction worker, a sanitation worker, a President, a CIO.  At the end of the day we all need to learn to embrace technology and harness its power to communicate to the world. I would want teachers to be moderators of a technology where knowledge is validated.  Let the world teach and let teachers help validate what is taught.  I realize it is no easy task but teachers don’t scale and in my opinion they are not being fully utilized.

Traditional Education Needs to Change, How Can You Help?
As Forrest Gump famously said: “that is all I have to say about that”.  What do you have to say?  In your opinion what did I get right, what did I get wrong and what do you think the future holds for the world’s education?