Rethinking education

The needs of the future are mandatIng that we produce a faster, smarter, better grade of human being.

 In 2008, Roger Bohn and James Short, two researchers at the University of California in San Diego decided to do a study to determine the amount of information people have entering their brains on a daily basis.

But they added a rather interesting twist to the study. Because of the varying forms of information, and the difficulty in comparing video to magazines and newspapers, they decided to convert all information into one standard form of measurement – words.

Based on their final 2009 report, the average person in the U.S. has 100,500 words flowing into their heads on a daily basis. And this number is increasing by 2.6% per year.

So where are all these words coming from?
In rough terms, 45% comes from watching television, 27% - computers, 11% - radio, 9% - print media, 5% - telephone conversations and smaller amounts from movies, games, and other information sources.

As it turns out, the average American spends 11.8 hours every day consuming information. Many other countries are posting similar numbers. People today are being exposed to far more information than ever in the past.

Buried deep within the “other category,” constituting far less than 1% is formalized education. Even for students attending college, their classroom studies constitute a relatively small percentage of the information they are exposed to on a daily basis.

In the midst of this vast river of information we have flowing into our minds is a certain pedigree of information coming from scholarly people, constituting our formal education.

So why is this information considered far more valuable than all of the other information we are exposed to on a daily basis?
Yes, early school training is oriented around necessary skills such as literacy and math. But as students progress it becomes less about learning necessary skills and more about learning desirable skills, some of which hold questionable value in today’s rapidly evolving world.

Yes, it comes from a trusted source, a college or school, with some very bright people staking their reputation on its accuracy. But there are many other trusted sources of information backed by the people who produce it such as newspapers, books, magazines, and video documentaries.

Yes, college classes are packaged in a comprehensible form making them easier to digest. Even though many college students would argue with the easily-digestible part, we will give them points for better course design. However, many non-school organizations are presenting information in similarly comprehensible formats for far less money. Think webinars, workshops, and non-accredited training centers.

Over the years colleges have become a magnet for intensely bright people. Faculty and staff are bestowed with enviable status and given high rankings in nearly all social circles.

Elitism has its privileges, and smart people have influence.Colleges around the world have done a masterful job of fortifying their position in society by creating countless forms of governmental subsidies and devising elaborate schemes for student loans to buttress the financial underpinnings of this enlightened house of cards.

From early childhood education all the way through post-graduate school our education systems have been oriented around a costly and labor-intensive delivery process. A teacher stands in front of a room and imparts the information for a student to learn.
Teacher-dependent education systems are also time-dependent, location-dependent, and situation-dependent. Teacher acts as a control valve, turning on or off the flow of information.

All of these dependencies increase the cost of connecting students with the knowledge they are seeking.As costs increase, education becomes a riskier venture. Filling people’s minds with knowledge does not instantly turn them into contributing members of society. Nor are there any guarantees for students that their expensive education will yield a good return on investment.

Case in point, a recent report by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics showed that over 5,000 PhD-holders in the U.S. were working as lowly janitors.
By contrast, information that people receive from television, online workshops, eBooks, radio, and newspapers is provided for a tiny fraction of the cost, instantly. In fact, anyone with a computer has access to Apple’s iTunesU and over 200,000 courses from the world’s top universities… totally free.

Education is a system primed for a revolution. My sense is that some young person will create a well-devised online courseware builder, built around a templated process that allows any topical expert to build their own courses, and people anywhere in the world to take classes whenever they wish.

Since it will be serving the educational needs of the entire world, this type of site has the potential to mushroom into the world’s largest web property. As a global compendium of classes, the site will be oriented around the needs of the learner, not the teacher, and new achievement scales, with BAs and PhDs representing only junior level accomplishments, will acknowledge learning that takes place over a lifetime rather than the few years associated with college.

At the same time, the distance between information and our brains is getting shorter.
Twenty years ago a person with access to a large information base, such as the Library of Alexandria, was asked a series of questions, their task would have been to pour through the racks of books to come up with the answers. The time involved could have easily reached 10 hours per question.

Today, if we are faced with uncovering the same answers, but this time from a digital library using a keyboard and computer screen, the time-to-answer process has been reduced to as little as 10 minutes.The next iteration of interface design will give us the power to find answers in as little as 10 seconds.

The ease and fluidity of our information-to-brain interface will have a profound effect on everything from education, to the way business is being conducted, to the way we function as a society.The needs of the future are mandating that we produce a faster, smarter, better grade of human being. Our current systems are preventing that from happening. The forces of change are building momentum. Strap yourself in; it’s going to be a wild ride.

Thomas Frey
Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer. He can be reached at dr2tom@davinciinstitute.com

TRENDS
he cost of college has reached an unsustainable high level as evidenced the by high default rate on student loans,
Amidst outcries of price gouging and resistance to tuition increases, colleges begin offering many courses online for a lower price.
Dropping the prices of online courses will ignite a price war among colleges and online courses will drop to a fraction of what they cost today.
With college revenues dropping, many colleges will go into a death spiral, causing them to lose support and go out of business.
By 2020, 80% of all college education will happen online.
By 2020, 50% of all college campuses will have either closed or be transitioning into a different kind of institution.