Why a new paradigm in education is good for the world.
When I graduated, Google was still figuring out how to make money from search, Mark Zuckerberg was not yet in Harvard and Steve Jobs had just gone through his first round of comeback success with the iPod.
I am only talking about a little over 10 years. In that decade, Google went from zero to USD 37 Bn in revenues creating the world's most powerful information ecosystem, Zuckerberg created a new 'continent' with a valuation that peaked at USD 100 Bn and Jobs made iPhone the most successful consumer product to be launched in recent history.
And in the process, through stakeholders of the large Google economy, Facebook innovators riding on its network, and Apple developers behind apps that have crossed the 25 billion download mark, they also created thousands of successful entrepreneurs and millions of jobs riding on the wave of a new set of skills that emerged from these changes.
Skills build upon each other.
“Knowledge and even some skills have a shorter shelf life these days. The traditional 'K12 -> university -> career' linear education model needs to be transformed into a more iterative and on-demand model."
Not only are skills for the new world completely different from what a regular School or University curriculum offers, but they get augmented / updated / replaced with new ones at an alarming pace that the formal education system can never keep up with.
I believe our career-paths are like satellites. Formal education is this set of expensive multi-stage booster rockets that put us in a certain orbit. But the skills that we acquire are the little propulsions required to keep us moving ahead in the current orbit or help us move into new orbits. The moment we stop gathering these skills, we fall off.
Some of these skills could fade away, but they never die. It's only their application and use which becomes transitory.
This is where MOOCs like Coursera and Vertical Education providers like Codeacademy come in. These emerging non-formal learning systems help people acquire these skills on-the-fly, at low-costs so that the process becomes a way of life and not an out-of-reach, aspirational, expensive proposition.
Education 2.0 is changing how we look at learning.
All over the world, people are constantly 'thinking' of ways to move ahead. Education 2.0 fills this gap by providing several ready-made platforms to choose from and pushing people towards 'doing' something about it. They provide the sensors that pick up signals from the D-O-S cycle, collate the information and guide us on the skill-matrix path required to stay competitive. They offer us the chance to gain skills on-demand without worrying about costs, and the bureaucracy/walled-gardens of a large, hierarchical formal education system.
From learning HTML5 to Social Media marketing, or doing a course from Stanford to learning a new foreign language, these platforms truly empower people to 'live life in permanent beta' (courtesy Reid Hoffman) by responding with agility and at low risk.
The new environment forces people to learn (in a good way) through available, proven systems and re-skill themselves. In turn, an individual continuously develops a web of new skills accelerating the pace of innovation and the quality of output in terms of better products and services.
The cycle is shifting.
We can visualize this shift in the Learning Cycle from a 'Learning for life' (to survive and get by) to a 'Learners for life' (the only way to survive and evolve) state of mind. Uncertain times, fluid and evolving skill sets and changing passions means that career paths are no longer linear.
The good part? This is already happening.
Non-formal learning is not just about transcending space and time.
It goes far beyond the obvious advantages of huge-scale, high-quality of teachers and being location-agnostic. The key factor driving this democratization is the intrinsic motivation in people to learn. We are beginning to realize that its important to invest in ourselves.
I am a student of Coursera. Well over a million people have signed up on the site within just four months of its launch with thousands of participants attempting quizzes, grown-ups worrying about submitting assignments within the deadline, working professionals taking time out to evaluate peers, young enthusiasts organizing local meet-ups in community halls and coffee shops to help each other - all this, mostly without the promise of a recognized certification.
Going by the early adoption of these platforms, I gained three important insights into non-formal learning and what it means to an individual:
- Learning models, without the pressure or fear of a rigid system, seem to work.
- Focus is on acquiring specific skills and not a degree.
- People value inputs from an expert even without the lure of a certification
Baseline: people understand the importance in investing in themselves without much external motivation.
This is a win-win model.
Everything adds up. While formal education channels (schools, universities) provide the foundation for thinking and a structure to build upon, the non-formal players take care of our requirements for continuous progress by helping navigate disruptions and opportunities profitably both professionally (developing skills) and personally (pursuing interests). The formal system also empowers a large part of the non-formal education. Be it Coursera hosting 200 courses from 33 schools or EdX hosting courses from MIT, Harvard and Berkley, this is not a competitive, but a co-operative relationship between all stakeholders in the system. It's a win-win for the platform providers and the Universities.
There are several challenges, but none insurmountable.
Controversies about plagiarism, concerns about peer grading and the lack of accreditation are a few, but prominent issues that get reported about non-formal learning platforms. There will be several learnings, changes, burn-outs, pivots and consolidations along the way.
But the day is not far when continuous learning and re-skilling will become a part of consumer behavior on the internet, just as we got used to buying, selling and sharing online.
The goal of all stakeholders in the industry should be to help grow user adoption. As consumers, we should help ourselves move forward leveraging these new platforms and becoming part of new disruption cycles without missing out. This is a skills-driven economy powered by a new form of education and learning experiences. And the start looks very promising.
In my next post, I attempt to put forward a framework for understanding education and learning models.
Below: Remember this video and it's story?