Why do we need to change the future of education?

The big retail companies released their quarterly earnings last week. It was bad. If you read my previous posts, this is not surprising to you. If you haven’t, let me sum up: technology is taking jobs and the only viable solution is (more) education.

Fixing education

Unfortunately, the education system as we know it is far from being perfect. The United States scored poorly on the last PISA test. This short video (5 minutes) points some of the systemic issues it is facing (the video is in English).

More of something “inefficient” is not a good solution nor a good use of resources. Therefore, there is urgency to fix the education system. But guess what? Yep, technology can help. Once again!

Priority #1, access

The United States prides itself to be the land of opportunity. One could measure the accuracy of that statement by looking at economic mobility, absolute AND relative (here is a short video to remind you of the difference). Unfortunately, research has shown that while we see absolute mobility (“children readily become richer than their parents”), we don’t see much relative mobility (“ability of children to change their rank in the income distribution relative to their parent”).

The reality is that position at birth is a fairly strong predictor of position as an adult. One way we could remedy this situation is through education. In 2017, access to good quality education is still conditioned, in large part, to someone’s zip code. This is crazy!

MOOCs as the first iteration

Massive Open Online Courses have been part of my life since 2014. I was able to take classes from Yale, Harvard, MIT, Darden, Columbia University etc. while living in Chicago, Illinois. How amazing is that?! Oh, and did i tell you that it cost me close to $0?!

What it means is that anybody can have access to top resources, for free or close to free, directly on a phone/tablet/computer. This is huge! First, MOOC’s focused on higher education, but it has the potential to completely disrupt the way we teach, like the internet changed the way we communicate, interact, buy etc. in ways we couldn’t even imagine. You don’t believe me? Ask a 18 years old a “how to question”. Chances are that (s)he will Youtube it. We are still looking for the killer app, but behaviors are changing.

Edx offers micromasters. You have to verify your identity by providing a Government ID. You access the material online (mobile or desktop) and the exams are proctored (a proctored exam is taken off-campus and is supervised, just as it would be for a course taken on campus).

If you haven’t experienced it, i definitely encourage all of you to visit platforms like Edx, Coursera, Udemy, Lynda, iTunes University, Khan Academy, Code Academy, Udacity etc.

Priority #2, customization

This is where it gets really, REALLY interesting. Every person, kid or adult, is different and learn differently. In a perfect world, each student would be treated differently and the learning experience would be tailored to meet the exact needs of that specific person.

Enters reinforcement learning. Reinforcement learning allows machines and software agents to automatically determine the ideal behavior within a specific context, in order to maximize its performance. As Emma Brunskill puts it, “a software-based tutor, for example, would alter its activities in response to how students perform on tests after using it” in order to maximize the learning outcome. With this technology, we would be able to personalize the entire learning experience.

We are still looking for the killer app in education. MOOC’s are great in the sense that, from anywhere in the world, you can take part in classes created and taught by the best professors/universities in the world. But it requires a connected device and for now, duplicate the same format (a set of lectures and set of exercises). Advances in reinforcement learning let us hope that a completely customized learning experience will soon be possible which will make us shift toward a system of mastery.

Sometimes, it is easier to talk about change than to actually make it happen. Words are important. So are actions! This is why i decided to go one step further and start fundraising. The proceeds will go to Khan Academy and Women Who Code.

I chose Khan Academy because their mission to provide a free, world-class education to anyone, anywhere is exactly what we need. Several studies have shown that people who study on Khan Academy achieve greater-than-expected learning outcomes. Khan is doing something that is clearly working.

I chose Women Who Code because learning how to code is becoming a non negotiable skill (or at least being comfortable in this environment) and diversity is a critical need, both for businesses and society. While the debate over the education pipeline is still raging, Women Who Code is an interesting way to solve the issue. It is also worldwide.

Please click HERE for the Khan Academy campaign.

Please click HERE for the Women Who Code campaign.

If you don’t feel like donating, please share the campaigns (and/or the post), it will help more than you think!

Go education!!!