Lately, I have been obsessed to find a way to educate 1 billion people given recent industry transformations. I think there are incredible opportunities in the market today. The future of education is going to be the next big industry that is ripe for disruption.
Why 1 Billion People?
Currently, less than 1 billion people around the world have access to the same level of education that I have today in Canada. My access to higher education beyond primary and secondary school places me in the top 5% of the world.
In the past months, we have witnessed a fundamental shift — the tipping point you may call it — that essentially validates my long-held hypothesis: education can be done at scale and better online.
3 Factors That Has “Tipped”:
- Global broadband speed is strong enough for video streaming — even in the most remote parts of the world.
- Education has forced traditional laggards (government and educational institutes) to adapt to online channels due to COVID-19 — and we now see its viability as a future channel. Institutions will either have to adapt or die.
- Job security is a thing of the past. People today can expect to change jobs 40 times in their lifetime and adopt 10 different career paths. This forces talents to be creative to attain new knowledge and stay relevant in the changing market.
The Problem with Education 1.0
- Mass production
For distinction, let’s call the “education as-we-know-it” as “version 1.0”. There has been a systemic problem in this model without a solution (until now). Society in the past has no way to provide optimal learning at scale. Students in countries with high population densities are at the biggest disadvantage. Countries like India and China funnels students through standardized examinations — basing the success of rote memorization skill — and screening students by assigning inhumane course load expectations. Student depression and suicide rates have gone up the roof resultantly.
This mass production method is designed to wean out the weak to pump out as many “intelligent students” as possible. However, this system’s very definition of intelligence is flawed. Innovative thinkers and creatives are often weeded out and in a system that favors the compliant to succeed.
- Knowledge retention
Students who win in the traditional system are those who do not question the relevance of the inapplicable information taught. Nor do they question the teaching method that prioritizes rote memorization — a method that does not foster long-term memory development. Exam content is forgotten within weeks and most regurgitate content does not hold value in real life. With the proliferation of mobile technology — students have the world’s knowledge at their fingertips to access at any time and anywhere. Memorization skills are simply overrated
Beyond borders, we can also see the ineffectiveness of mass education in North America. After speaking to several friends about this topic, entrepreneurs, professionals, and athletes alike, all have forgotten virtually all the knowledge that they studied during university. Our current lecture-style education does not provide any value given that students do not retain its content afterward. This is a waste of people’s money, tax-dollars, and time. We will not become successful by attending university — because the majority of its education is forgotten.
An education system like that of the Netherlands is an example of systematized education at its finest. It promoted fun and interest-directed learning. Students can learn any skill set they wish. Knowledge acquisition is not linear and their system promotes cross-pollination of knowledge groups and skill interests. Why not apply triangulation to your next visual artform?
However, where this system falls short is in its ability to scale. Norwegian states have one of the highest population to teacher ratios as customized education requires a lot of personalized attention to foster growth. Also, without quantifying knowledge with measurable GPAs and standardized examinations, it is hard to access student competency at scale to justify why certain students may attend university and others cannot. This is not an issue in the Netherlands as they have enough “higher-education” personnel and infrastructure to support their nation tuition-free.
This is not the case for most of the world outside of Europe — and certainly not in North America. For most, higher education is seen as a limited resource. Although North America has a lower population density to provide more individualized education support, it does not have the methodologies and systems set up to support optimal learning. With all our national riches and prosperity within our continent, we still have a broken education system to show for it — with millions of citizens with student debt and without access to equal opportunity.
Education 2.0 will Change the World
Higher education is now an unlimited resource for some and will spread across the globe by the end of the decade. The 2020 decade began with an infectious disease but will end with an equally “viral” access to education across the globe.
Sometime soon, regardless of where people are in the world, access to higher education will be an unlimited resource just as much as Netflix movies are unlimited. Are you ready to embrace this tidal wave change and live in the era of Education 2.0?
With the introduction of AI, immersive media, and a globally obtainable broadband speed that enables video playthrough, we can now envision a scalable education that is also customized and optimal for the individual. In the foreseeable future, online education is absolutely scalable AND better. So, how will this new model change the world?
The role of educational institutions
Education 1.0 happens in segments — you need to reach elementary level proficiency in ALL subjects before attending high school. Learning speed is increased after entering the next institution which holds a larger number of students. This is a great model to run widgets at a factory or perhaps herding sheep — but it is not designed to support human learning. We live in a post-industrialized world — yet the dominant education model is an outdated relic of the past — designed to produce corporate cogs, bureaucrats, and administrators by the masses.
In this model, students need to achieve a passing grade in ALL high school subjects determined by the state before entering university. But why should a poor mark in gr. 11 English prevent a student from learning a Ph.D. level mathematics? Education 1.0 is structured in segments and only once students obtain competency from a collection of seemingly unrelated subject matters, can they proceed to the next segment of courses. Politicians and special interest groups — funded by corporate dollars — get to control the current education agenda. It does not make sense to me why students in Canada are forced to learn Canadian history — while they leave high school ignorant about global history — and expected to work in an interconnected global economy.
Education 2.0 — being interest-directed — will have scattered learning progress and involve chaos. Students will decide which subject they wish to study and topics will cross-pollinate and inspire holistic learning. Neuro-pathways will connect in seemingly unique ways — something that standardized examination and past education can not provide well — and it will bridge synapses with strong correlation networks to support memory retention. Knowledge acquired in this method is on the fast line to become long-term memory.
No longer will students’ learning potential be capped by their GPA, age, or segmented school curriculums. Vertical learning focused on exclusively growing one knowledge in divided subjects will remain in Education 1.0, and in its place, there will be horizontal learning that focuses on drawing correlation and interest points across subject lines. Learning speed will be self-directed and fluctuate based on competency level and interest — as it naturally should.
Society can support this new learning model by implementing incentives to inspire students to become individual agencies that direct their own learning. The world will then enter into an era where people become optimized automatons that can acquire knowledge at their faster pace given their individual capabilities and interests.
The future of higher education
Today, many universities and formal education providers are in an existential crisis. For one, we need to re-envision the role that universities play in higher education. Over the next decade, millions of bureaucrats, administrators, and professors connected to universities will be out of work. In a world where learning happens online, students will have access to the best educators and university-level lectures irrelevant of which school they attend. Professors can no longer take a paycheck by teaching ECON 101 — as by their very existence — there will always be someone that can teach the course better in cyberspace.
Most professors will be forced out of work while only the world-renowned “subject-experts” survive. Alternatively, professors — should they wish to stay competitive — will have to specialize in a niche topic. Very soon, global demand for higher education will increase 10–100 fold as free education becomes more accessible online. By accessing a global market, even the most esoteric topic experts will have a massive following around the world. University needs to divest from campus infrastructure and invest in preparing its intellectuals to survive the 2.0 disruption.
In the past, beyond educating students in classes, schools were also a vehicle to socialize children. In the future, brick-and-mortar schools will no longer be the default social place. Instead, parents will actively involve their kids in more extracurricular activities. However — perhaps we can call it now “actual curricular” activities — as socialization is yet just another pillow of growth in our Education 2.0 Model. These activities will no longer be held after school, but throughout the day in between online classes. There will no longer be a distinction between learning in class and play outside of class — as these two activities are fundamentally connected and support one another. We learn because it is fun, and we have fun by learning!
Given that parents may still need to go to work perhaps (assuming that they don’t already work remotely), there can be housing facilities and daycares for students. These facilities however will not be responsible for administering education to students. Rather they will help keep students accountable, motivated, and safe while they are “self-educating” online. In this future format, learning and play will be synonymous and Massive Online Open Courses (MOOCs) will build learning formats to optimize engagement — as they are incentivized by their bottom line to do so.
Why will this SAVE the World?
Image a world where every learner has access to all levels of education provided by the best thinkers, makers, and creators. Imagine a world where my Guatemalan village and all people in the most remote parts of the world — spanning from the Amazonian jungle, foothills of the Himalayas, deserts of Africa, and the flatlands of Eurasia — can now take Havard level classes for FREE. Imagine also, a transitioning knowledge economy entering the 2nd phase of globalization — whereby all talent workers around the globe are valued equally by the merit of their capabilities rather than from privilege. We live in the beginning of that world today.
Impact on Poverty and Global Development
In the past, billions of dollars have been injected into the developing world to lift them out of poverty. The majority of the world continues to suffer from a lack of fundamental necessities to live. After working in the non-profit sector and seeing this first-hand after living with a Guatemalan family in level 1 poverty, I’ve realized that most aids has gone to waste due to poor spending decisions and corruption.
A poor economy will revert back to its prior form despite economic aid UNLESS it raises the baseline education of the society. To put it in other words, giving someone money to spend on food will help them survive the day, teaching them how to make money to buy their own food will help them survive a lifetime. Recently, there has been a healthy divestment from charity and investment towards solidarity. In this model, people are uplifted and empowered as they aren’t just “given money” out of pity, but rather they have to provide a form of value in return. Solidarity means an equivalent exchange of goods or services. Although this is far better than past models, there is still a flaw in this revision. Interdependent relationships work best when knowledge asymmetry is bridged by education. The equivalent exchange between the “haves” and the “have-nots” simply can not exist because the “haves” always has the upper hand as they know more and therefore can negotiate better. This is why the “invisible hand of the global economy” has always skewed to favor the rich at the expense of the poor. This imbalance creates a skewed perception of fairness that favors people with access to education. The circle of poverty therefore relapses, even after financial aid, as the receiver does not have access to the quality of education required to make their money multiply. Education 1.0, with all its flaws, is still not fully accessible to most parts of the world. After all, why would an educated Harvard professor ever decide to lecture my homestay family in Guatemala? With Education 2.0, these lectures are now accessible to anyone and anywhere.
Adopting a New Paradigm to Educate the World
The immense pressure to adapt to the changing world will funnel learners of all ages to continuously tap into the wellspring of online higher-education that is only beginning to flourish. The challenge of this decade and the key to humanity’s progress will be to develop a globalized online learning ecosystem — spawned by the collective effort of innovators and education alike — that can facilitate personalized learning for 7.5 billion people.
Today, all this transformation is right about to manifest — perhaps starting slowly but then all of a sudden once it hits critical mass (a la tipping point).
During this paradigm shift, will you be the passive observer forced to react when it is upon you? Will you take charge of your own learning today by accessing the wellspring of knowledge online?
Or will you lead the charge and pave the path forward for all future generations to learn and grow?
NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: I began with the desire to educate 1 billion people. This essay sets the premise for that desire. I am currently exploring education formats to enable transformation. For those who want to learn more or join me on this 2.0 revolution — you can contact me at email@example.com. I welcome all talks on this topic!
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