Medieval Luxury, Modern Torture, and Education 2.0

FEBRUARY 09, 2013

Education wasn't always a punishment for children. It once was a highly sought after luxury that was only afforded to children of the rich. But that was when education was personalized. One teacher, one student. But by the early 1900s, people like Horace Mann were pushing for education for everyone. But of course there were not enough teachers to sustain the model of one teacher per student. And thus began the mass production of education.

They lined up students into even rows and columns. Told them to shut up, sit straight and keep their ears wide open because here comes knowledge. And in its day, it was quite the innovation. Those techniques educated the entire country and set the stage for a century of incredible growth. But the mass production of education is unnecessary today. We have the technology. We can record lectures, make learning interactive, self-paced, personalized, and, dare I say it, fun.

We are seeing the beginnings of this all over. Khan Academy, Coursera, Udacity, Codecademy, Piazza, Knewton, Code School, Udemy, IMACS and countless others all are proving this concept as we speak. However, why aren't we seeing this being implemented in classrooms? Or in the lack of physical classrooms? Why do I still have to attend lecture each day, when half the students are buried in Facebook, a quater lost in the professor's accent and the rest trying their hardest to scribble down notes and struggling to keep focused? What are the obstacles?

The obstacles include teachers' unions, the government-run school system, and the one-size-fits-all model. But the largest obstacle to the future is that employers still recognize, reward and filter based on the weight of a top university degree. And this has to stop. There was a time when a diplomas and grades served vital roles in signaling a company which students were the most intelligent and most likely to work hard on the job. But those days are over. Now, companies don't, or at least shouldn't, care how you did in school, because your job isn't to get good grades, it's to do your job. Companies should care about what you've done, what you've built, what you're passionate about building, how you think, problem-solve and work with others. But again, this is already becoming a reality. Students are being hired to some of the top tech companies with only Coursera course credits and side-projects to vouch for them.

The established education system will never be beat. It's too large, too powerful and has too many vested interests. But it can be subverted. It can be tip-toed around by the likes of Knewton and Coursera. And employers will begin to come around in mass. And then students will, too, come in mass. And just like in the 1900s, when education first was mass produced, the established system will become indefensibly obsolete. And thus it will die, a slow and painful death. And from its ashes will rise a generation of students armed to change the world.