Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Education at the crossroads

Loved this Seth Godin post on Education. I've always loved learning and during summers in my childhood, I would read book after book. But because my parents didn't get 4 year degrees, the whole Higher Education system was a mystery to me. My closest brush with the academic big time, while growing up, was when I was selected to apply to a UC Berkeley advanced summer program when I was 10. I didn't get in, a hilarious story that I'll share with you sometime, and that was it. No other options outside of the books at the local library, which was too far to ride my bike to. No Internet learning, no eBooks, no Berkeley or Stanford classes on iTunes or YouTube, nothing. How's that for access?

The world has completely changed for kids nowadays. If you're curious, the world is at your fingertips. I think Seth Godin is really onto something here, because I know I would have taken advantage of these types of programs, and I think kids nowadays are no different. If you take the time to create a class filter, record classes yourself or help out with some of these programs, there will be a market for you. Amazing.

Education at the crossroads: by Seth Godin

Actually, there isn't one, there are three choices that anyone offering higher education is going to have to make.

Should this be scarce or abundant?

MIT and Stanford are starting to make classes available for free online. The marginal cost of this is pretty close to zero, so it's easy for them to share. Abundant education is easy to access and offers motivated individuals a chance to learn.

Scarcity comes from things like accreditation, admissions policies or small classrooms.

Should this be free or expensive?

Wikipedia offers the world's fact base to everyone, for free. So it spreads.

On the other hand, some bar review courses are so expensive the websites don't even have the guts to list the price.

The newly easy access to the education marketplace (you used to need a big campus and a spot in the guidance office) means that both the free and expensive options are going to be experimented with, because the number of people in the education business is going to explode (then implode).

If you think the fallout in the newspaper business was dramatic, wait until you see what happens to education.

Should this be about school or about learning?

School was the big thing for a long time. School is tests and credits and notetaking and meeting standards. Learning, on the other hand, is 'getting it'. It's the conceptual breakthrough that permits the student to understand it then move on to something else. Learning doesn't care about workbooks or long checklists.

For a while, smart people thought that school was organized to encourage learning. For a long time, though, people in the know have realized that they are fundamentally different activities.

The combinations...

Imagine a school that's built around free, abundant learning. And compare it to one that's focused on scarce, expensive schooling. Or dream up your own combination. My recent MBA program, for example, was scarce (only 9 people got to do it) and it was free and focused on learning.

Just because something is free doesn't meant there isn't money to be made. Someone could charge, for example, for custom curricula, or focused tutoring, or for a certified (scarce) degree. When a million people are taking your course, you only need 1% to pay you to be happy indeed.

Eight combinations of the three choices are available and my guess is that all eight will be tried. If I were going to wager, I'd say that the free, abundant learning combination is the one that's going to change the world.