Will formal schooling become obsolete?

By | April 22, 2009

I hope so.

Consider the fact that primary schools, high schools, colleges and universities were established when information production and dissemination was very expensive, while at the same time gathering teachers and students together in one location was comparatively inexpensive.

The economics (in the bare-bones sense of the term—what’s easiest?) of the situation demanded the establishment of formal, physical schools so that hard-won knowledge could be passed onto the next generation.

This is no longer the case, as this article points out so well. Information in the form of books and lectures can be captured and posted online. Students may access them at will. The new information technologies are turning the economics of schooling upside down. And as a life-long learner, I’m glad.

My niece in Arizona will be graduating with an associate degree from Phoenix University this summer. She may or may not go on to “normal” college. I hope she doesn’t. The flexibility of her schooling and work life will be lost.

I urge her and other students her age and younger to seriously consider never going to a physical college or university. Learn as much as you can as fast as you can as cheaply as you can online. While doing so, get experience in the workplace. You’ll be far better prepared for life in the 21st century than your fellow students who take the traditional educational path.

“Universities will be ‘irrelevant’ by 2020, Y. professor says”

Written by Elaine Jarvik

Published in the Deseret News April 20

Last fall, David Wiley stood in front of a room full of professors and university administrators and delivered a prediction that made them squirm: “Your institutions will be irrelevant by 2020.”

Wiley is one part Nostradamus and nine parts revolutionary, an educational evangelist who preaches about a world where students listen to lectures on iPods, and those lectures are also available online to everyone anywhere for free. Course materials are shared between universities, science labs are virtual, and digital textbooks are free.

Institutions that don’t adapt, he says, risk losing students to institutions that do. The warning applies to community colleges and ivy-covered universities, says Wiley, who is a professor of psychology and instructional technology at Brigham Young University.

America’s colleges and universities, says Wiley, have been acting as if what they offer — access to educational materials, a venue for socializing, the awarding of a credential — can’t be obtained anywhere else. By and large, campus-based universities haven’t been innovative, he says, because they’ve been a monopoly.

But Google, Facebook, free online access to university lectures, after-hours institutions such as the University of Phoenix, and virtual institutions such as Western Governors University have changed that. Many of today’s students, he says, aren’t satisfied with the old model that expects them to go to a lecture hall at a prescribed time and sit still while a professor talks for an hour….

  • Jeff H

    Implicit in this argument is the fact that people doing the hiring also won’t care about degrees.

    Attending a lecture in a physical building at a specific university has never been a perquisite for learning. Libraries have been around for a long time.

    For this paradigm to truly shift perspective employers also need to stop placing so much emphasis on who went where. Until then, I’d say a number of schools are still safe.

    That said, I agree with the overall idea above. Both yours and his.

  • Russ

    Content vs. Medium, ma’am. Just as blogs have aided, rather than replaced journalism, online learning does the same. Formal college isn’t merely a bad lecture in a classroom.

    //literally converting one of my courses to online format all this week.

  • http://whoisjohngalt.tumblr.com The Chad

    For the sheer educational value, I couldn’t agree more. Schools are not the most efficient way to learn. But the social factor is very much still important, both for developing into rational adults, but (I think) more importantly, to gain the connections. People don’t go to Harvard because they have a better education model, or that the text books have super-secret ‘better’ knowledge. They go to harvard to get the harvard degree, and hobknob with other elites.
    As federal funding effectively destroys itself, universities will largely switch to the new model you and I welcome. It will be interesting to see how the colleges with the big names adapt, and where the new power players will come from.

  • Harvey
  • https://blog.speculist.com Phil Bowermaster

    I have removed some comments from this thread (including one of my own) as the content was going in too political a direction.

  • http://www.familygreenberg.com/index2.php Brian Greenberg

    I couldn’t disagree more. Maybe it depends on the college, but most of my education (Wharton School of Business, University of Pennsylvania) involved group projects. You’re not just learning the content – you’re learning how to interact with colleagues, work in multi-disciplinary teams, get the most out of team members with different personalities and work ethics and the like.

    There’s also the social aspect. I was a proud member of the University of Pennsylvania Band, where I met most of my closest friends, including my wife. Others join fraternities, sororities, academic clubs, social clubs, etc. That’s as big a part of a college education as the degree-related content.

    When I’m hiring an entry-level person out of college, I don’t want a bookworm (or, in this case, a Google master). I want someone who can work well with others. Familiarity with online culture and tools are important (and becoming more so), but unless you’re working remotely from home 24/7, personal interaction is a skill worth learning.

  • https://blog.speculist.com Phil Bowermaster

    One thing that will slow down a complete opening up of education is the requirement for certification. MIT opened up many of its classes for general public web consumption a few years back. Anybody in the world with a computer and an internet connection can now access an excellent education courtesy of one of the most prestigious universities in the world — for free. But none of these courses count for degree credit.

    MIT understands that their monopoly is not on knowledge; it’s on MIT degrees. If you read the help wanted ads in, say, The Economist the ads often say they want candidates from “top schools.” Brand name recognition for a degree can be worth a lot.

  • https://blog.speculist.com Phil Bowermaster

    Brian wrote:

    When I’m hiring an entry-level person out of college, I don’t want a bookworm (or, in this case, a Google master). I want someone who can work well with others.

    Sally previously wrote:

    Learn as much as you can as fast as you can as cheaply as you can online. While doing so, get experience in the workplace.

    It seems to me that the real-world work experience could take the place of group projects and the like. Plus the workplace is (arguably) as good a place to pick up critical social skills as the marching band or a fraternity.

    These kinds of issues arise already in the case of non-traditional students — e.g., people who work full time to support their families and take classes at night. It seems their work experience ought to count for a lot.

  • http://www.familygreenberg.com/index2.php Brian Greenberg

    Phil – I don’t disagree. Although academic environments allow you to have experiences you can’t have in the workforce, at least not without risking serious consequences.

    Do you know how many “companies” I was the “CEO” of back in college? How many times I ran the company into the ground in order to learn what doesn’t work? Hundreds of theoretical employees are very glad it was all an excercise…

  • charles darwin

    yes, come to class
    no, cannot come to class.

    colleges sell Admit ticket to class.

    Degree is paper with ink.

    colleges will be gone by 2020 or 2030.

    Digital colleges can reach 1-6 billion anytime, anywhere. on earth.