Post COVID — Digital Transformation of Education
COVID has gotten many of us to rethink how we get food, healthcare, education, and even how we work. Most of us thought the Internet would transform many things, COVID has accelerated the change in many areas. But in the world of education, many would say online education has been a failure, and we need to get back into the classroom. But as has often been said, never waste a good crisis. Maybe post COVID we can significantly improve education: reduce the cost, improve the quality and extend the reach.
Today: Same Time, Same Place, Different Lecturers
Traditional education to can be described as students coming to the same place at the same time for a lecture. Higher education in particular has gotten progressively more expensive and inaccessible. A college education can cost over $250,000 for four years. Public schools can be ½ the cost as they have twice the ratio of students to teachers, but given the model is based on labor the costs are only going up — whether public or private.
Traditional education has highly variable quality. While perhaps those lucky enough to come to the elite schools all get a high quality education, it’s not difficult to imagine the range in quality in secondary school education from rural Rwanda to Palo Alto.
And finally traditional education has limited reach. Stanford, Tsinghua, IIT-Madras all graduate maybe 2500 students in a year. With the global population set to increase by 1B in the next 10 years, the traditional brick and mortar model cannot be used to educate the world.
By the way, all corporate education follows the same model as we see in secondary and higher education: Same Time, Same Place, and Different Lecturers. The results are similar: expensive, variable quality, limited reach.
While COVID has taught us we can do Same Time, Any Place, and Different Lecturers, there has been no structural change. As a result most are eager to get back to the classroom.
But we have the opportunity to make education better, based on the Internet, not just copy the past. Let me suggest a two-part approach to the future of education.
Tomorrow Part 1: Any Time, Any Place, Same Lecturer
Richard Fenyman is widely regarded as a great teacher of introductory physics at Cal Tech (that’s him in the photo). Introductory physics has changed very little, so why do we have 1000s of physics teachers prepare to deliver intro physics when it’s clear that Richard’s lectures can work for a student in Palo Alto, CA; Hickory, NC or Kigali, Rwanda? If you’re a corporation trying to teach the world about your new CAD software, why train the trainer, when you could record the best people delivering a professionally produced lecture, complete with demos. You could make sure the lectures are translated into as many languages as needed; and if there are any defects/or changes — make those changes and release the lecture 2.0. The Internet is good enough to deliver Game of Thrones in 4K, why not use it to deliver the best lectures.
But Learning isn’t Listening (or Watching)
If it were true we could learn by watching then we’d all just watch the 1000s of YouTube videos and become an expert in quantum mechanics, car repair, pediatric cardiology or AI. Learning requires engagement.
Tomorrow Part 2 — Same Time, Any Place, Different Coaches
We all know if we’re left to our own scheduling and motivation it’s never going to happen. It’s why plenty of people register for a Coursera class, but few complete. If we don’t have to be there at a particular time, we’ve always got something better to do.
Of course, the classroom could be in any place. Web conferencing tools have show us we can meet at the same time from any place. Since you can watch the lectures any time, the role of the teacher in the synchronous part of the class is not lecturing, but coaching. The coach develops a variety of techniques which demand the student engage. So what are some of these techniques/activities the coach can use?
The process of explaining what you’re learning is called the Feynman technique, Feynman was so good at explaining difficult concepts with simply language that he also became well known as an excellent teacher. To test whether or not his students understood the concepts he explained, he would get them to explain them back to him in their own simple language. He believed that if they could do this, then indeed, they got it.
Use what you learned, come together as a team and build something together, whether that’s a presentation, a software application or an engineered product on a 3D printer.
COVID has not be great for anyone, but maybe it’s giving us the impetus to begin a digital transformation of education. We have the opportunity to move from education structured around Same, Time Same Place, Different Lecturers to an Internet-enabled education structure based on Any Time, Any Place, Same Lecturer plus Same Time, Any Place, Different Coaches. In the process we will reduce the cost, increase the quality and extend the reach whether we’re talking about secondary, higher or corporate education.