Hacking Your Education

I loved school/university, it was great for me because I have weird academic sponge for a brain. It’s not always a great experience for everyone, and for some students it gets in the way of their learning.

Dale Stephens, founder of UnCollege, is one of those students. With his parents’ permission he quit school at 12 and started educating himself. He talked about it at The Next Web Conference.

He’s concludes that “we can’t teach the skills for tomorrow based on the schooling techniques of yesterday”.

He’s not the only one to come to that conclusion, it’s exactly why Jame Welton started Coder Dojo which is an after school club that helps kids learn to code (over four hundred Dojos in 43 countries). And it’s part of the thinking behind Sugata Mitra‘s SOLEs and child-driven education.

He’s right about the economics of university as well, The Economist analysed the cost and benefit of university education in the US. They found that the cost of education per student has increased at five times the rate of inflation, while salaries have remained static (in dollar equivalents). In addition they cast doubts on the quality of the education citing federal research that found literacy levels in those with a college education declined from 1992 to 2003.

There is still value in that degree, without it your job opportunities are very limited. Many jobs that once required no formal qualifications, or perhaps a short vocational course, no hire degree candidates. That’s the Catch-22; a degree now proves you’re good enough for a job that doesn’t need a degree.

Initiatives like Uncollege and Coder Dojo are great, and they start to address the shortcomings of our current education system – that gap between what students need to learn and what teachers are able to teach. They also point to a more “apprenticeship” type of training, where the formal classroom training is limited and the real learning is on the job and under the eye of a Master. This is still somewhat the model used for the world’s best chefs; they are known by who they have worked with – not where they studied.

But they don’t necessarily cover that need for certification. There’s another option working to solve that; MOOCs, (Massive Open Online Course). There are a number of credible organisations providing courses online, Coursera is probably the biggest. I worked with eLearning for about five years, and it’s great to see the technology is finally catching up with the dream.

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┬áThe old model of school | university or tertiary training | work | retirement is being eroded. If our formal education isn’t preparing us for work effectively, our work is requiring us to learn and to keep learning, and given the changes in my financial fortunes I won’t ever retire in the sense my parents used.

So what does the future hold? That concept of lifelong learning is going to become increasingly important, we’re going to need

  • on-the-job short courses – almost instant education – to support us at work
  • anywhere/anytime courses for deeper knowledge and personal development
  • a buffet of courses, a lot of jobs need a range of skills and knowledge to balance a depth of expertise, sometimes referred to as T-shaped
  • a balance between solo study, online collaboration, and real life interaction in our training

And we’re all going to need an appetite to learn more, the ‘growth mindset’ that Dale Stephens mentions. But this all means that my niece and nephews, now at the beginning of their education, may begin their careers without sinking four years into classroom lectures.

Image: MOOC Poster / Mathieu Plourde/ CC BY 2.0