Saturday, 8 August 2015

Abundant Education and How we Get There

Abundant Education is coming. Mark my words the next couple of decades will revolutionise how we all learn. Education will be of the same standard for anyone, regardless of income, geographic location or background. Families on less than a dollar a day in third world countries will get access to the same standards as the children of the richest parents. Technology and liberty will yet again level the field for all, a Socialists Dream, ironically they will fight it the most because yet again its Capitalism that will deliver these benefits.

Education is going online. Everyone is going to have access to the best teachers. If you want to learn algebra then the worlds best teacher in this field will put their lessons online for all to watch. Now think of our current system. We have millions of maths teachers all over the world that teach the same content hundreds of times in their lives. They each teach around 30 students and most are no where near to being the best algebra teacher. They do this for 30-40 years. Meanwhile basic algebra hasn't changed for centuries. Why do most of us not view this as madness? The potential savings to the global economy is astronomical. Meanwhile the quality of Education will go up. I remember my days in class, daydreaming, switching off as it was either too slow or too fast. An interesting study into Video based self learning has found students actually prefer to watch lessons on their own as they can pause, rewind and fast forward as they please. They can even repeat the entire lesson if they wish at any point in time.

The next big question becomes what about if the students have questions? Well this is possibly where a school could come in (in the future schools may look completely different to the schools we are accustomed to). With online Education the system flips on its head, homework is done in school, practicals and interacting with one another and the lessons are done at home each student learning at their own pace. In terms of students getting help as the technology gets better I would argue we don't even need teachers you just need to open your mind to see such an alternative. For example we could have forums based around the specific classes. Here questions could be posted and answers or explanations could be posted. Answers I argue could be posted by the students themselves, even past students who have completed the course in the past. We are all students and teachers in the end. Actually having an on-hand geographic teacher now becomes not even a necessity.

So why would children decide to answer other students questions? Simple, badges and rewards. Mozilla for example have an Open Badge platform whereby people are rewarded for answering other peoples questions. Its a similar concept to the site StackOverflow which is used by Software Developers. People answer other peoples questions to gain badges and thus have a public profile that all can see. They can use this profile to attain mastery in a given field which greatly aids in getting the job they want. It would be similar for Children. If they demonstrate they can answer questions they show to Universities or employers that they are problem solvers and helpful. Over time these forums could even be searched by the next generation of students. All prior questions and answers can be shared for all to see globally. When Artificial Intelligence improves computers may provide the answers automatically.

Education is becoming more interactive, in fact its becoming more like a game. Like it should be, learning is going to get fun. Children will move onto higher levels as they can see their progress just like in a computer game, gaining badges and completing courses similar to levels on the latest computer games. Parents will be able to track their child's progress they will even be able to do courses with their children. Everyone starts at level 0 and only moves up. Children can choose from a far wider range of subjects than with existing schools. Why only have a dozen subjects that I had at school, why not learn about Cars from the worlds best Mechanical Teacher, or the history of renaissance art from someone who has a great knowledge for the subject but also the passion and ability to convey that information to children.

All achievements could be uploaded to an Education Blockchain (using Bitcoin Blockchain technology). Each person would have an immutable record of their various achievements in their life signed by themselves and the education authority that supplies the content to verify their achievement. Now imagine this profound shift. When I finished 16 years of School I got a piece of paper that said "1st Class BSc Computer Science". It didn't even say what modules I had taken, if I had specialised in anything. People even lie about the degree they get. Now imagine if we use a blockchain to store all specific modules and courses we take. If an employer wants to validate what I had done they would only need to scan the blockchain. People could opt-in as they wanted but I would bet most of us would opt-in. Education doesn't stop when we get a job. Its a constant process, I would argue I've learnt far more when I left education. Now when an Employer wanted someone with skills in Spanish or a programming language like Python, they could scan the Education Blockchain, see relevant candidates in the area and check the real life qualifications as a means of filtering people. Recruitment could be done by computers - data and algorithms, the model for 21st Century business.

With all the above I hope you are beginning to get a picture of what is to come for all our Children and Grandchildren. Abundant, world class education. Best of its being built right now by various Entrepreneurs and Venture Capitalists. Coursea and edX offer a range of courses, known as MOOCs. Its early days but I can see the potential of such offerings. A course was run on edX by a World Leader in Machine Learning that is taught to students at Stamford, one of Americas leading Universities. Thousands of people signed up and of those many beat the actual Stamford students. In fact the best performing Student at Stamford came around 400, showing how such a platform is going to level a field and provide access to University Education for free. People talk of rising student fees - yet this is our old education system (why are we even debating Student fees here in the UK?). We can do it for free, student fees will be a thing of the past. Students will be able to meet on their own accords with services such as p2pUniversity. We don't need vast educational complexes for the best and brightest amongst us. I left University a decade ago and yet I am still immersed in intellectual discussion on the internet, in the form of various blogs, forums and media. Nanodegrees such as the ones offered by Udacity will revolutionise the concept of a degree. For example there are highly practical degrees for Android Mobile Application Development designed by Google employees, the people who make Android. Again, if you don't have commercial experience with Android then anyone can get a degree on their own terms to get into a particular field. More of these will appear and people will be able to get certifications online. Science experiments don't require classrooms. With Google Camp children can learn real life about science from their own home. Udemy already have over 30,000 courses. With the Khan Academy you can learn all manner of schools topics from age 5-16. Its all there for free and the lessons have interactive questions as you go along. People build up badges as they complete certain tasks giving it an appeal to Children. My Daughter is only 3 and is still a bit young for the content but was captivated when I showed her the badges section. 

The field is exploding and more and more choice will be offered over time with the content getting better and better. Education is no longer regional but global, enabling costs to be slashed as it scales and quality to be driven higher and higher. If anyone thinks lessons in algebra are not up to scratch they can do some themselves. In fact that's exactly what people are doing. On youtube you can teach yourself nearly anything. I learnt how to fix my car by just looking at videos posted by mechanics and various forums. The amateurs are even turning professional if they get good. Many of them get sponsorship from companies due to the fact they can attract millions of viewers and generally the viewers are interested in a particular topic. Contrast that to regular TV where the audience isn't global and many of the viewers may just be watching just by the fact its background noise or something to watch. Companies can target their ads using Googles algorithms as they know your location and what interests you.

The thing that gets many really exited by the advances in education is that this will also reach the poorest in the world. With projects such as School in a Box and Google Loon to name a couple, Children who don't even have the internet or electricity will be getting online to learn and share in this new found wealth of educational resources using innovations such as these. Why is this great? Because the more people become educated, the more intellectual capital we have to tackle the problems of our time. We need all the brains we can muster to solve these issues. These projects will help drive equality throughout the globe as Education is the most valuable investment you can make. In fact it will slowly eradicate absolute poverty as generations are able to earn more money and live comfortable lives that many of us in the West take for granted every single day of our lives. 

So with this abundant Education will all the teachers have no jobs apart from an elite few? Their jobs will just change, however in all reality there will be less need for the quantity of teachers we currently have. Teachers will not give lessons but inspire students to learn. They will become enablers not gatekeepers. Parents will become more involved in their children's education, fellow students will also play vital roles with one another in education. Teachers will be more accountable. The vast paper bureaucracies that have been created will be gone, it will all be digitalised. 

Abundant Education is coming and it's inevitable. Its another victory of human creativity under the conditions of freedom to try an idea. Schools today have not changed for 100 years despite the world we live in now being far different. That's what years of stifling Government interference does. It hampers progress, protecting the status quo at the expense of abundance. Most people in the UK will say "we need to spend more money on our schools!", a classic socialist line. For an ideal that describes money as evil they sure like to spend other peoples. I say no, we need smarter ways to educate us all. These smarter ways will not only deliver better results than the current system but will slash the costs for us all, driving them close to zero and leveling access for all. We currently view world class education as scarce. Lets banish that to the footnotes of 20th Century history.