Sep 17, 2016

Thoughts on Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology

My previous blog post on a universal online tutor got picked up on Hacker News. 10k views and a bunch of interesting e-mails from readers later, I'm pretty pumped about the idea of an AI-driven online tutor that can help bridge the knowledge divide.

To that end, I picked up Rethinking Education in the Age of Technology: The Digital Revolution and Schooling in America and read it on my flight to LA. In the book, Allan Collins and Richard Halverson dig into the struggles that technology has had ingratiating itself with the conservative education system. Over the past decade or two, technology optimists have variously predicted the impending tidal shifts of:

Unfortunately, as of the book's publishing in 2009, the American school system had perniciously resisted significant progress on any of these fronts. From 7 years in the future, I can't say that the landscape looks much different.

To explain the forces at work, the book lays out the three major ages of education in America. The first was the apprenticeship system, carried over from Europe during the Colonial era. Basic schooling was the responsibility of the family, which would ensure that children learned just what they needed to successful in their vocation (probably farming). With the advent of the industrial revolution, a variety of factors combined to shepherd in the age of universal schooling. All children would receive a comprehensive education, as ensured by the government. That is the system that we still live in, albeit in an evolved, mature form.

Collins and Halverson believe that we are now transitioning into the third age: the age of lifelong learning. Post-secondary education has become the de facto standard. Even beyond that, more and more companies are finding that they must take the continuously evolving learning needs of their employees into their own hands. In our current society of virtually infinite knowledge, classic K-12 Education is hopelessly ill-equipped to prepare children for the specific needs of their future careers. As such, it has taken on a "just in case" mentality: superficially covering as much material as possible in the hope that children will remember their lessons 15 years down the road when they are called upon to to recite the transitive property.

The takeaway is that in our modern era learning simply cannot be constrained to the four walls of the classic school building. The book digs into how the school system should be reshaped to reflect this reality, but that's a bit beyond my purview. I'm more interested in the role that extra-scholastic resources will play in this lifelong education. I fell that the potential for a universal online tutor is enormous.

A last thought on some of the factors that any such system should account for, as demonstrated by previous attempts to adapt learning for the digital world: