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Posted on 07. Jul, 2010 by jon.
I’m excited to announce that eduFire is now a part of Camelback Education Group, a higher education holding company based in Phoenix, Arizona. We first met the Camelback team in 2009 and were impressed with their vision for creating a next-generation online university. They were impressed with the amazing community that had assembled here at eduFire and interested in the technology platform we had built. The more we talked the more we both thought there could be a great fit between our two companies.
For the most part, eduFire as you know it will stay the same and you’ll still have the opportunity to take and teach one-on-one tutoring sessions and classes. You’ll likely notice some changes of course and, as always, we welcome your feedback on what you see. We’re excited about what Camelback has in the works and we’re happy that we have been able to find a partner who shares our belief that education is an industry in dire need of some revolution.
We’ll be sharing more information with you in the future but wanted you to hear the news from us first. We have so much to be thankful for over the last several years since we started eduFire. So many of you have poured your heart and soul into eduFire. It’s been an amazing experience to date and we are so appreciative of your passion and energy. We are looking forward to this new chapter in eduFire’s history and of course to continuing to play a role in “being the change” in what we feel is the most important industry on the planet.
Jon (on behalf of the eduFire Team)
Posted on 23. Nov, 2009 by jon.
On Friday I blogged about what went down at Berkeley last week. And it’s not just Berkeley. All around the country (and the world for that matter) millions of students are fed up with their higher education options. They’re taking on way too much debt to earn degrees that often aren’t worth what the students thought they’d be. And with unemployment rates historically high they’re often not making the money they need to service that debt. And the price and debt are often only the start of the problems. There are growing concerns about a whole host of issues ranging from quality to overcrowding.
We’ve spent a lot of time at eduFire thinking and discussing how we can play a role (even if it’s only a small one at this juncture) in making things better. So it’s with a lot of pride that I’m excited to announce today for the first time that we’re launching a series of courses that will allow you to earn college credit at over 2,900 colleges and universities. The best part is that the total cost will be approximately 80-90% lower than what you’d pay at a traditional college or university (or an online university like Phoenix or Kaplan for that matter, they aren’t really any cheaper than most brick and mortar unis). Here’s how it works:
Step #1 – Take any one of our new CLEP Preparatory Courses on eduFire (complete list here and more details below). The CLEP exam is administered by The College Board and is a way for students to earn equivalency credit at colleges and universities that accept CLEP credit (here’s a complete list…it’s extensive). CLEP credits are a way for people to demonstrate their knowledge of a particular subject in lieu of sitting for the relevant course at their school. You can think of CLEP kind of like “AP for adults” or as a means of “testing out” of a subject.
Our CLEP Courses are taught by amazing instructors (bios below), some of whom you may have taken classes from previously on eduFire. In addition to live lectures (which of course are available on-demand) you’ll also have a whole host of supporting materials to learn from. For instance, for the Macroeconomics course that I’m teaching you’ll also be learning from some of the top economists in the country including podcasts and blogs from Ivy League professors and some of the top luminaries in the world of economics. We’ll also be having some fantastic guest lecturers in our live classes!
#2 – Once your course is complete on eduFire then simply sit the CLEP exam. The CLEP exam will run you $72. Let’s stop for a moment and consider the cost of taking a course on eduFire plus the CLEP exam versus another popular option. The Macroeconomics course will run you $20 per session and is five sessions for a total of $100. Add that to CLEP exam fee and you have a total cost of $172 for the three credits you’ll receive.
Now compare that to the cost of three credits of The University of Phoenix. U of P is typically between $400 and $500 per credit (depending on your location). So those same three credits at Phoenix will run you at least $1,200. You’ll save at least 86% by taking the course on eduFire and sitting the CLEP exam. That’s a lot of money and perhaps as importantly, a lot less debt to take on. Not bad…
Here are a few of the courses we’re starting with on eduFire.
CLEP College Mathematics – College Mathematics is taught by Mair Lloyd. Mair graduated from Oxford (yes, that Oxford!) and has been teaching on eduFire for over a year. She has a huge list of credentials including a post graduate teaching qualification. And you can even follow here on Twitter here.
CLEP Introductory Psychology – Marco has been on eduFire since the very beginning and is the heart and soul of our community. He also happens to be an expert in the field of psychology. He has a BSc. Honours Degree in Psychology from the Open University and is a Graduate Member of the British Psychological Society.
CLEP Spanish Language – There’s no better to teach the Spanish CLEP prep course than Ximena Rojas. Ximena has a Master of Arts from The University of Tennessee (Go Vols!) and a law degree from the Universidad Mayor de San Andres. She has been a professor at the Universidad del Valle in La Paz, Bolivia and has decades of teaching experience.
We have several other courses on the schedule already including English Composition (taught by Karen Weil), College Algebra (taught by Kamal Das) and Macroeconomics (taught by yours truly!). You can find the complete list here. More to following in the coming months as well!
I’d love to wrap this up by sharing a bit about why we’re doing this. Way back when eduFire was just an idea we blogged about making education more equal and accessible. The launch of our CLEP courses and the ability for people to save thousands of dollars by earning college credit through classes they are taking on eduFire is yet another step in that direction. We think it’s ludicrous that we as a society are asking young adults to take on crushing amounts of debt simply to get an education. We think it’s equally ridiculous that students all around the world shouldn’t have an opportunity to pull together the best educational resources and thread them together into something that gets them significantly closer to a degree.
So that’s what we’ve been done. We’ve been inspired by a lot of other amazing people that are shaking up higher education like the folks at University of the People, Straighterline, Tech University of America, Peer2Peer University, Academic Earth and more. And we’re incredibly excited to join these pioneering institutions and change the game for millions of students around the world. If you want to help in any way just drop us a line. We’d love to have you onboard.
(P.S. A HUGE debt of gratitude to Josh Kaufman at PersonalMBA.com for providing a huge amount of inspiration for this in the form of blog post “Hacking Higher Education, Part 1: How to Obtain an Accredited Undergraduate Degree in 1 Year for $4,000“. We owe you a round Josh!)
Posted on 20. Nov, 2009 by jon.
What happens when you hike tuition on students 32 percent in a single year and cut salaries for some of your best and brightest teachers?
Near riot conditions at Berkeley today.
I haven’t read all of the stories so I don’t want to comment much on what’s going on across the Bay Bridge from eduFire HQ. But I can say this. There’s most definitely something going on right now in education.
A nation that prides itself on having the highest quality higher education system is flat out not meeting the needs of millions of students. And there’s a lot at stake here. Because those students who will drop out of school because they can’t afford tuition or taking empty, meaningless jobs after graduation instead of pursuing their true passion because they need to pay back the huge student loan debts that took on during school represent a tremendous lost opportunity.
To all those who are out there on the front lines fighting to create a better educational system (you know who you are), we here at eduFire salute you. And to those who are more interested in maintaining the status quo, well, go watch that video again. The status quo ain’t working and we’re in dire need of change. I haven’t been blogging much lately in part because I’ve already shared a lot of my thoughts on eduChange and in part because we’re working day and night here at eduFire to actually be a part of that change.
My hope is that what’s going on at Berkeley right now will be a wake-up call to many people that a lot of work needs to be done and that future generations won’t have to riot to call everyone’s attention to the fact that the most important thing that we can do to ensure that we have a prosperous society is to focus on improving the education of our youth.
Posted on 01. Sep, 2009 by jon.
Great article from Josh Catone in Mashable yesterday entitled What is the Future of Teaching? I posted a follow-up in the comments and wanted to share. Here it is. Looking forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments!
Great article Josh. I’ve spent *tons* of time thinking about this over the last decade. Here’s my quick take:
#1 – Online vs traditional learning can be viewed across three vectors: Cost, convenience and quality.
There is little doubt that its cheaper to run classes online (no facilities costs, less personnel required, etc.). There is also little doubt that online classes are more convenient. You can take them from home, office, etc. and likely have a more flexible schedule than traditional classes offer.
However, the big question is around quality. I’d offer (and this is coming from the CEO of a company that specializes in online classes) that on quality alone traditional classes are still better. But what’s interesting is that the gap is narrowing quickly. It’s not at all unrealistic to envision a future in which the online class is significantly more engaging and effective than its offline equivalent. If that happens then guess what? Game over for the traditional class model (after all, why would you choose something that is more costly, less convenient and lower quality?).
#2 – I do disagree with the notion that the price of education is going to zero.
I believe in The Grand Unified Theory of the Economics of Free (I think that’s the right title…it’s a TechDirt post from back in the day) which states while abundant resources will trend towards zero (their marginal cost), the spreading of those very same resources will drive up the prices for scarce resources. In music, a band gives away MP3s (abundant resource) and makes more money from concert tickets. MIT gives away OCW material but more people hear about MIT (especially in developing countries) which leads to more demand for MIT degrees.
The abundant resources (e.g., textbooks, audio/video recordings of lectures, etc.) will tend towards free. That makes total sense. What will not tend towards free will be things like the value of a scarce degree (Ivy League degrees are likely to become valuable not less), a teacher’s time or the attention of the students. To say that education will be free assumes that the marginal costs of those things are zero which is almost certainly not true. Sure you’ll always have people who might volunteer to teach a free class (just like a band might play a benefit concert for free) but that doesn’t mean this will happen at scale anymore than any other industry can expect to draw talented people in if they aren’t being paid.
#3 – Flat out, we need better tools.
And to get better tools we need more innovation and investment. While education is a huge industry ($2 trillion by many estimates) I think it’s safe to say that social gaming has received more investment in recent years despite being a much (much!) smaller industry. The problem is that while it’s easy to look at a social game and figure out how to squeeze out some short-term cash it is much (much!) harder to look at a big industry with huge structural problems and figure out how to improve it. And improving it likely will take a lot of time and patience. It won’t be a “Build one thing in year 0. Have billion dollar company in year 3.” scenario.
But there are a lot of great people trying. Check out places like 2tor, Academic Earth, Cramster, Grockit, Knewton, LiveMocha, PrepMe, School of Everything, Smart.fm, TeachStreet, Tutor.com, Tutorvista and a whole host of others that I’m sure I’m forgetting to see what I’m talking about.
Oh, and of course us. :) (http://www.edufire.com)
Posted on 10. Jun, 2009 by jon.
Hey all. It’s your friendly neighborhood CEO here. We have one of those really cool “change the world” gigs available right now at eduFire. It’s a contract gig and may turn into a full-time position on the eduFire team. The description of what we’re looking for is below. If this *is* you please drop us a line at jobs at edufire dot com with “Change the World Gig” in the title. And if it’s *not* you then we’ll ask you a favor, please pass this on via email, Facebook, Twitter, etc. We’d appreciate it!
“Education is not the filling of a pail but the lighting of a fire.” -William Butler Yeats
-Possess a world-class design aesthetic and are fanatical about creating products that are a joy for people to use.
-Have web UI/UX experience and (very importantly) have done UI/UX *applications* in Flex/Flash
-Have a portfolio of web apps that we can play with
-Are in the Bay Area *or* have experience doing remote work for clients and possess stellar communication skills
-Venture-backed company with a mission to change education and impact millions of people for the better
-A small but scrappy and extremely hard-working group of individuals passionate about creating value and having a blast at the same time
-Looking to hire someone to help create the visual representation and user experience for the next-generation platform that people all around the world will use to learn
If you like how this sounds, please take a few minutes and read our blog (http://blog.edufire.com) and manifesto (http://tinyurl.com/5dhgqx) and spend some time on our site. If this resonates with you drop a line with ”Change the World Gig” in the subject line to jobs at edufire dot com. Please send us URLs of your work!
Posted on 19. Mar, 2009 by jon.
OK, I’m about to go a little out there. But a thought occurred to me as I was checking out the site tonight and seeing all sort of cool things happening ranging from lots of people Twittering about us to us being on the verge of hitting 30,000 posts in the forums to new classes in all sorts of amazing subjects ranging from social investing to holistic nutrition. It pretty much hit me straight between the eyes.
What if that moment we have all been waiting for had arrived?
Bear with me here for a minute. If you’re reading this blog it’s probably because you actually give a damn. You care about education. Maybe your education. Maybe education in general. Maybe education for people in places who weren’t quite as blessed as we are.
And you’re probably here because you think that education can be better. That you shouldn’t have to suffer for a mediocre education at a price that increases at an ever-increasing rate (health care is the only thing that has increased in price at a faster pace than tuition over the last 20 years). That no one should for that matter. That high school drop-out rates that exceed 50% in some cities in the U.S. are a national travesty. And that our inability to re-train workers being displaced by shrinking industries shouldn’t have to be an international catastrophe.
Like a lot of other people you’re waiting for a change. So let me suggest something radical. What if that moment has arrived?
Two weeks ago I was out in New York City to attend Hacking Education, an amazing event put on by Union Square Ventures, a top-tier VC behind such success stories as Etsy and Twitter. The guest list ranged from people who are about as distinguished as they come to 25 year olds with the best resume on the planet. And they all came together to discuss one thing: How to revolutionize education.
Sitting in that room that day, listening to the ideas (and contributing a few of my own!), I couldn’t help but feeling that maybe this is it. Maybe the change that people have been talking about for some long is actually happening. And certainly not at all just at a place like eduFire. But with other amazing edge startups like TeachStreet, Knewton, Smart.fm and LiveMocha.
And so while the whole world seems like it’s off it’s rocker with talks of bailout and corporate greed maybe there’s something else going on here. Something more powerful than any of us yet have realized. An opportunity to create a true system of Global Intelligence. A chance to turn teachers into rockstars.
That’s a big frickin’ opportunity. Massive. And with big opportunities come big responsibilities. Especially in times like this it’s easy to throw in the towel. To see another depressing piece of news and just say “Screw it.” Or not. Or instead to realize that we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves and go out and build amazing stuff that will change the planet.
That’s what we try to do every day here at eduFire. Build something that will help someone. Maybe a student who is look for some extra help in an important subject. Maybe a teacher trying to earn a decent living doing what they’re most passionate about.
And we’d love to have you help us out. Because ultimately at the end of the day it’s not about us as defined by the people on our team. It’s about *us*. What we’re all building together and the legacy we’ll leave to the generations that will come after us. By supporting the platforms that are trying to change things and supporting each other you are playing a role in being a part of this change.
So I’ll leave you with a few action items before your day is done. With each one of these that you do you’re playing a role in being a part of the change:
Know someone who is studying for the GMAT? Tell them about Grockit. It’s a ridiculously cool multi-player game that helps you study for the GMAT alongside other students.
Last but not least we’d of course love your help too. :) We’ve put together a special Spread the Word page on edufire that you will give you a bunch of ways you can help us out. We’ve also added new “Post to Twitter” and “Post to Facebook” links on all of our Classes (more details here). As I mentioned before, every little bit helps.
I’ll close by saying that I’m really, really excited to look back on this moment in 5 or 10 years and say “Wow, that was it. That was when it all started.” The collective moment that we’re sharing, one infused with hope and optimism for a future that doesn’t exist but is brighter than any we’ve ever envisioned before. That moment is perhaps the one we’ve been waiting for.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
-Lyrics from “Blackbird” by The Beatles
Posted on 08. Mar, 2009 by jon.
Today I took Marco’s awesome class on Memory/Mneomics. Like all of the eduFire classes I’ve taken so far I really enjoyed it and learned a lot. However there was something different about this class…I was taking it from 30,000 feet. Courtesy of the fine folks at Virgin America (I highly recommend flying them whenever you can!) and the awesomeness of Gogo Inflight Internet I was taking the class from onboard the plane exactly the same as if I were sitting at home.
And then a thought occurred to me…am I the first person to take a live video class from a commercial airplane??!!
Wi-fi is just being made available on flights (Virgin just started a few months ago) and live video learning is pretty brand new as well. Hmmm, this might have been a historic event! :)
Regardless, it was pretty amazing and I thought I should capture the moment for posterity so I’ve included a short snippet of the video below. It’s not much to watch but you can see people going up and down the aisle. I didn’t capture the sound properly (all you hear is jet noise and me typing on the keyboard) but that’s me you see live with Marco on video and I could hear him fine the whole class. I could have even participated via audio if I had really wanted to annoy my seatmates. ;)
Today was just another one of a lot of “Anything is possible.” moments I’ve been experiencing lately. If we can participate in live video classes while on a cross-country flight at 30,000 feet then what can’t we do? :)
(P.S. The other fun part was that I encoded the video using HeyWatch, uploaded the video to YouTube and wrote and posted this all while still in the air. I heart the Internet! :))
Posted on 05. Mar, 2009 by jon.
I’m currently en route to New York City for an event called Hacking Education that is being put on by the good folks at Union Square Ventures. Fred and crew have invited some of the leading thinkers, entrepreneurs and investors in the edu space for some spirited discussion about how we can revolutionize education. I’m honored to have been invited.
I have a lot of my own thoughts on the subject, some of which I’ve posted here before. I wanted to try to sum up my thoughts in a blog post. I know I’m naive and don’t understand how much of the education world work. But I guess we all to some extent. And I’m not entirely unconvinced that people who are naive won’t come up with the best solutions to the massive and mind-blowingly colossal failure that is the modern education so here goes…
A Manifesto for EduChange
#1 – Get really clear on whether you want incremental or revolutionary change. Before you get started with any initiative, start-up, investment, etc. you should think long and hard about whether you’re dealing with incrementalism or revolution. This can be described by the Peter Drucker distinction between management (”doing things right”) and leadership (”doing the right things”) and best summed up by this Russell Ackoff quote:
The righter we do the wrong thing, the wronger we become. When we make a mistake doing the wrong thing and correct it, we become wronger. When we make a mistake doing the right thing and correct it, we become righter. Therefore, it is better to do the right thing wrong than the wrong thing right. This is very significant because almost every problem confronting our society is a result of the fact that our public policy makers are doing the wrong things and are trying to do them righter.
Every action you take to change education either helps us do the wrong thing “righter” or helps us to do the right things. Which best describes your actions?
Let’s be clear. There’s a ton of money to be made in doing the wronger things righter. Almost all of the money currently being made in the space is being made by people enabling the wronger things to be done righter. So if you want true change you are going to, at least at this moment in history, be fighting the current that will push you into working to make incrementally better a fundamentally broken system. If it’s just about the money for you then go do that. And probably stop reading here because the rest of this article is going to strike you as a lot of idealistic hot air.
But if that’s not you, please keep reading. :)
I’m not going to go much into why the current system is broken. Heroic guys like John Taylor Gatto have already devoted their lives to chronicling that. Basically it breaks down to the fact that the modern education system was originally developed to make us into good factory workers. Basically it optimizes around turning us into cogs in the wheel. It does a darn good job of that. Or at least it did until the modern form of business started melting down. And now it completely fails.
In the words of Jonathan Kozol (from the Russell Ackoff book Turning Learning Right Side Up, the most underrated book on edu revolution):
U.S. education is by no means an inept, disordered misconstruction. It is an ice-cold and superb machine. It does the job: not mine, not yours, perhaps, but that for which it was originally conceived…The first goal and primary function of the U.S. public school is not to educate good people, but good citizens….In the double talk of Schools of Education, we employ…elegant expressions like ‘the socializing function.’ The function is…: 12 years of mandatory, self-dehumanization, self-debilitation, blood loss.
We’re doing a really good job at turning out people who fall in line, can’t demonstrate creativity and view learning as compulsory. And that completely sucks. So get really, really clear on whether you want to continue to perpetuate that system or whether you want to actually change it. The latter = much, more difficult. People will call you crazy. But then again the only people crazy enough to think they can change the world…
#2 – Realize that edu revolves around credentialing and until we change that system it’s going to really, really hard to do much else. Credentialing dominates education. Want proof? See how much value people place on a degree from Yale vs. online lectures from Yale. The former has 1,000x, 10,000x, 100,000x as much economics demand right now. Sure you get other stuff from attending Yale…the network, interaction with the professors, etc. But let’s not kid ourselves, if you didn’t get a degree at the end of the day people wouldn’t doing everything in their power to get into Ivy League schools (or trying to get their kids into Ivy League schools!).
What’s needed here? Take the power out of the hands of the power brokers. Give it to the people who care about a systems that more about effectiveness than maintaining the status quo.
Can’t be done?
Bullshit. (Pardon the French…I tend to get excited about this stuff.)
Rewind 20 years and people would have said the exact same thing about software. If you take control out of the hands of a few select people at the top it will never work. We’ll have anarchy. No way could a group of hackers ever compete with companies like Microsoft. Never.
The situation isn’t identical with credentialing but it’s really darn close. It will take the same courage that people like Eric Raymond exhibited. But it’s possible. I’ll go one step further. It’s inevitable. It’s just a matter of how long we’re willing to suffer with ineptitude. We did it for a long time with software. But we moved passed it and look how much the world has changed. That’s the opportunity that exists right now in the edu space.
#3 – Move towards efficient markets. True, unfettered capitalism (not the crony capitalism that we’ve seen as of late) is the most powerful force on the planet (next to the sex drive perhaps! :)). Let’s unleash it on education. How? Do for education what companies like eBay and Etsy have done for goods market. What Mechnical Turk is doing for the market for peoples’ spare cycles. What ELance, oDesk and Guru do for service providers. Soooo many other examples.
Right now the markets in edu are horribly inefficient. Demand isn’t meeting supply in many parts of the world. People are way over-paying in some areas and others are under-charging for their services. It’s a mess. One of the things we’re trying to do at eduFire (and what others at places like Myngle, TeachStreet and WizIQ are doing) is help change this. But there’s so much more opportunity here. Clayton Christensen talks a lot about this in his book Disrupting Class. It’s well worth the read.
One of the reasons why efficient markets will rock is that they will help empower teachers to capture more of the value from the service their providing. Right now teachers take home approximately 10-20% of the revenue that their students are charged (Note: This does vary widely but for the majority of teachers are in that range). The only way that is possibly sustainable is in an inefficient market. If I’m a tutor and the only way I can find my students is to join a tutoring company that charges my students $80/hour and pays me $12/hour then that’s what I settle for. But when I can find my tutor on eduFire, craiglist or TeachStreet I’m not going to put up with that for very long.
Education is on the verge of going through Napsterization. Many people might not agree. That’s fine. People in the music biz didn’t agree 10 years ago. People in the newspaper biz didn’t agree 5 years ago. But the same forces that caused creative destruction in those industries is starting to do the same thing in edu.
#4 – Turn Teachers into Rock Stars. We’ve talked a bunch about this already on the blog so I’ll let you read posts like this one, this one and this one if you want more background. Simply put, we need much (much!) bigger incentives at the top end of the spectrum if we want to see true innovation. Look at industries like music, movies, sports. Think what people do to succeed in those industries. Read Outliers and and give a long hard think to Gladwell’s 10,000 hours concept. The Beatles at Hamburg. Tiger Woods putting for hours, even after he finishes his rounds.
Out-sized efforts come when people are seeking out-sized rewards. In education the rewards (money, fame, etc.) are extremely modest. Which is why people like Rafe Esquith who actually do put in Tiger-type hours are a complete anamoly. Read There Are No Shortcuts and then tell me if his efforts don’t actually border on insanity given the lack of rewards (and often even, unbelievably, punishment for putting in extra effort). God bless him though.
When you attach big rewards to something you’ll raise the level of competitiveness. You’ll attract in more talented people. You’ll get innovation. Sure, it’s not all about the money or fame. In fact, for many people it’s decidely not about that. It’s about appreciation they receive. It’s about their feeling of contribution. Amp up the opportunity to have those needs met in a profession and you’ll ramp up the number of people who want to enter the profession.
We don’t need more teachers. We need more talented teachers. And the only way we’ll convince the uber-talented high school student to pursue teaching instead of banking is when we raise the potential upside of entering the education field. In the words of TED curator Chris Anderson:
For one thing, the realization that today’s best teachers can become global celebrities is going to boost the caliber of those who teach. For the first time in many years it’s possible to imagine ambitious, brilliant 18-year-olds putting ‘teacher’ at the top of their career choice list. Indeed the very definition of “great teacher” will expand, as numerous others outside the profession with the ability to communicate important ideas find a new incentive to make that talent available to the world. (Link)
Turning teachers into rock stars, like the other stuff in this manifesto, isn’t going to be easy. But some people are already doing it. The top teacher for Korean-based Megastudy made millions of dollars last year. Teacher videos on sites like TeacherTube (rock it out Mr. Duey!!) and YouTube are getting hundreds of thousands of views. World-class professors are more visible than ever thanks to kick-ass services like iTunes University and Academic Earth.
We’re getting close. Long way to go. But look how far we’ve come in a short amount of time.
#5 – Recognize that arguing over offline edu vs. online edu is like arguing whether it’s better to have arms or legs. It seems like a lot of energy is being spent right now figuring out how much of education will be online or offline. That’s pointless. It’s much smarter to figure out what offline does best and what online does best. Then ruthlessly shift education in the direction of the more efficient modality.
A couple of areas that offline does best
Rich interaction between teachers and students – Say what you will about web conferencing (and we’re obviously big proponents!) there still isn’t a good substitute for in-person interaction. I’m currently listening to an awesome Berkeley class given by Steve Blank and available on Venture Hacks. Blank is a master of classroom interaction. There’s a great energy in his class, awesome banter and stuff that simply couldn’t be duplicated (at least not now in an online classroom).
Socialization – Although I pretty much hate that word I can’t think of a better alternative. Learning to interact with others is huge in the world we live in and while the online communications mechanisms provide some socialization it’s not enough. This isn’t to say that school needs to be the sole place for socialization. I actually think things like sports, drama, etc. provide more positive models of socialization and better frameworks for developing teamwork and leadership skills. Still, physical schools are still the most common place this happens.
A couple of areas that online does best
Self-paced learning – Disrupting Class is a manifesto for this. Online every student can go at their own pace in a way that simply isn’t possible in the physical world. Computer-based self-paced learning has the potential to completely revolutionize education if we approach it properly.
A Global learning environment – We’ve had classes on eduFire where more than 20 countries have been represented. The power of bringing together people into a true global classroom is staggering in its potential. Can you imagine an Iraqi child and an American child taking a world affairs class together. Do you know what that will do for the planet? I can’t even begin to imagine the impact but it’s very, very exciting. Online brings together the world in a way that offline never would be able to.
There are a ton of additional things that could go in either category. The key here is identifying the strengths and weaknesses of each and then creating a blended learning program that best leverages both. Way (way!) better than having a holy war over which form of education is “better”.
#6 – Revel in the Power of the Tail. The new edu has amazing opportunities on the tail. Here’s a good example: Cramster. My buddy Rob who started this site has done an awesome job with giving people a chance to interact with other people who are working on the exact same homework problem that they are, regardless of where that person happens to be. This is very, very big.
Take this one step further. Imagine a teacher who simply decides to focus exclusively on getting extremely good at explaining the problems in one particular chapter of a popular textbook. Let’s say that they develop movies and games and anecdotes and all sorts of stuff to make the problems in that one chapter just totally come to life. 10 years ago there was no market for that. Today, there are whiffs of a market. 10 years from now it will be really obvious that there’s a market. And that teacher will create a great livelihood by simply getting incredibly good at being able to teach a micr0-chunk of content and then scaling that teaching across millions of people.
But now here’s where it gets really fun. If one teacher can support himself or herself teaching the problems out of one chapter of one textbook then it’s easy to imagine thousands of teachers doing the same thing. And now as a student it gets really good. Because for every subject/textbook chapter, etc. you have someone who is world-class available to teach you. It would be like going to school and having a teacher in every subject who’s as knowledgable and passionate as Al Gore is teaching about climate change or Richard Feynman is explaining physics.
Some start-ups are already heading in this direction. Besides Cramster, it seems like Knewton and Brightstorm are planting seeds for platform that could serve the tail very well. And there’s a ton of opportunity there.
#7 – For goodness sake, leverage the power of “students teaching students” already! Who came up with this arcane notion that all the knowledge is in the teacher’s head and can only be transmitted in a one-way direction from teacher to student? That’s simply a perpetuation of the system’s politically autocratic beginnings. As Ackoff puts it in Turning Learning Right Side Up:
There is a well-defined hierarchy, a clear chain of command. Each level has almost unlimited control over the next level below, the student being at the bottom of the heap. There is no regular means of appeal, only the hope of moving someone higher up by playing on their good will.
Time to get rid of that and the best way to start is by empowering students to teach each other. It’s fairly well-estabished that the best way to understand something is to teach it to others. So why aren’t we doing that? There are some cool things happening online in this area, most notably Grockit. But we an awful long way to go here.
What’s great about “students teaching students” though is that while it increases retention for the students it dramatically reduces the pressure on the teacher. Freed up of the constraints of being the sole vessel for the transfer of knowledge the teacher know has the ability to use their energy to augment the learning process. Take a look at this video of “power teaching” to see what I’m talking about.
Like most of the stuff in this list, student-to-student learning isn’t applicable in every situation. However, it’s relevant in a lot more situations than it is currently used in and the latent potential of that is immense.
#8 – Design it from the ground up to be adaptable. I’m rolling into 3,000 words here so I’m going to end with this one. No true revolution can occur unless the new system that is being built is being built for change. Peter Drucker has a great quote in the Tom Peters book Re-Imagine:
My ancestors were printers in Amsterdam from 1510 or so until 1750, and during that entire time they didn’t have to learn anything new…Knowledge becomes obsolete incredibly fast. The continuing professional education of adults is the No. 1 industry in the next 30 years.
And no doubt you’ve all seen this video by now:
We’re using outdated methods to teach irrelvant skills but our schools and training institutions can’t keep up with the pace of change we’re witnessing in society.
Wanna guess what the most in-demand skill on oDesk was in 2008?
How many people are teaching kids how to use WordPress effectively?
We need to re-think how we teach and learn in an enviroment where the only constant is change.
There’s so much more I could say but hopefully (if you’ve made it this far!) you’ve got a better grasp of what I think could be done to shake the foundations of the education industry. Which, by the way, is a massive freaking industry…$2 trillion globally by many accounts. And I can’t think of an industry more responsible for the health of the world, or lack thereof, than education.
We stand at a really unique point in history. As I mentioned in my personal blog earlier in the week, I think we have a real and unique opportunity to re-make entire industries. I can’t think of a more powerful opportunity on the planet today than the opportunity to re-make education.
Posted on 17. Feb, 2009 by jon.
OK, do me a favor. Close your eyes and envision what school is typically like. Teacher at the front of the class droning on like the guy from Ferris Bueller. Students alternating attention between teacher, dooding, cell phones and each other. Got that image in your head? Great, now watch this video:
Blown away? I was. Look, I was introduced to “Power Teaching” 10 minutes ago so I can’t tell you whether it’s the best thing ever or not but what’s amazing to me is how different it is from how class is normally taught. Concepts like “Micro-lecture”, “Hands and eyes” and the theme of students teaching each other…pure genius.
I might be overreaching a bit here but I think it’s innovative stuff like Power Teaching that will pull our education system out of the long, abysmal slide it’s been on. And when we do that it’ll in turn help pull our economy out of the slide it has been on. But we have to think different. We have to, as Umair Haque likes to say, create real value.
That isn’t easy. In fact it’s actually one of the toughest things in the world. Because it require us to think. And to question how we’re currently do things. And to do things better. Much better.
Kudos to Power Teachers for doing something, anything, to break the crazy monotony that is traditional education. If you know of others doing similarly innovative stuff, put ‘em in the comments!
Posted on 13. Feb, 2009 by jon.
Great tips for learning from About.com. A few samples:
-Memory Improvement Basics (Maybe they were talking about Marco’s class!)
-Learn in Multiple Ways
-Teach What You’ve Learned to Another Person
It’s true that the most important thing to learn is to “learn how to learn” and hopefully this article is useful in that regard!