Why education isn’t teaching us to learn

“I can’t say it enough that learning how to learn is one of the greatest skills anyone can have.” - Mark Cuban

There is a problem with this quote. Well not with this quote. This quote is fucking great. The problem is the sentence that follows this quote.

“It’s why I advocate that everyone go to college”

I’m not against people going to college and universities to educate themselves. I did it myself. And for the most part you need to get some kind of education if you’re looking for a more advanced and stimulating job.

What I am against is the common idea that school is where we learn things. And from this Mark Cuban quote that school is where we learn how to learn.

I’ve heard several futurists, Peter Diamandis is one of them, talk about how education will see some serious disruption the next few years. Education will no longer happen intensively for a few years in the beginning of a career. Instead education will be a constant process that continues throughout life.

Peter Diamandis talking about New Technology, the Future, and Education at CCSA Conference. Watch it here

This makesa lot of sense considering how fast things are moving these days. What is valuable one day goes out the window the next day. Hardware and software live through shorter and shorter life cycles due to rapid development, why should knowledge be constant?

We seem to think that that educating ourselves for a few years should be sufficient for the rest of our life. Isn’t that pretty seriously fucked up?

To me it’s comparable to the fact that we pick profession when we’re so young we aren’t even eligible to drink alcohol. Should we have have a clear idea about what we want to do in life without any experience of any work?

Now let’s not get in to that since that’s a big enough topic to be a blog post (or a book) of it’s own. I just hope some brilliant entrepreneur figures out a solution to that problem. Cause by god as Seth Godin would say; “it’s broken” .

Memorizing vs Googling

Let’s instead look at how the eco system is structured in school. It’s fairly obvious that it school is about nailing the tests. It’s a competition about who can get the best results on tests and the person who scores the highest on the tests wins. Which a lot of the time means the person who invested the most amount of time, or was the best a studying. Hence studying, not learning.

I know there are exceptions and that this isn’t the case for every singe topic of education out there. But let’s not focus on the exceptions for now. Let’s instead focus on all the classes where studying more, or being good a studying is what it is all about.

In a lot of cases being good at studying even translates into being good at memorizing.

Let’s stop an think for a second here. How important is really the ability to remember things these days? Surely some things are important to remember. Don’t forget to put on the seat belt in the car. Don’t forget to unplug the iron. Don’t forget to feed your kids. There are things that are important to remember.

But for the most part, if you forget some knowledge you’ve learned inschool you can look it up again within 5 seconds. So why are we so focused on the ability to memorize things?

Seriously. JFGI — Just Fucking Google It.

Isn’t it more important to have the ability to find and understand information in the first place, than to be able to remember it?

If so, why aren’t we teaching that ability instead?

Google and the importance of understanding english

I would say that being good at googling is potentially one of the greatest skills a person can have. It gives you a fast lane to knowledge.

Anyone can google things, it’s not very hard. But someone particularly good at it get such an advantage over someone that is average or bad at it.

Think about two people that are roughly on the knowledge level where one is twice as good att googling. Imagine how much more knowledge that person will be able to absorb. Imagine the knowledge gap between them in 1, 5 or 10 years.

This also highlights another important learning factor that is sometimes overlooked and/or underestimated. That is the importance of understanding at least moderately advanced english. This is especially important for people (like myself) born in non-english speaking countries.

English used to be a language needed to communicate with people from other countries. It still is of course. But I’d say that today good english skills are maybe even more important for learning.

Regardless of what native tongue you speak, there is indefinitely more content out there in english than any other language. Hence the size of your wisdom source depends largely on your english skills.


Add to that the fact that the best information tends to be in english as well. If it isn’t from the beginning it is usually translated to english sooner or later.

This means that mastering advanced english doesn’t just give you access to more content, but content of higher quality as well.

Buckle up traditional education

So, how will traditional education will be affected now that there is so much knowledge available by simply searching on Google? What value does traditional education provide when knowledge is available whenever and in pretty much whatever form people want it.

And more often than not; for free.

For someone who doesn’t like reading books or listening to lectures there are audiobooks, podcasts, youtube videos, articles, blog posts, infographics etc.

“Yeah, but you still need a teacher to tell you what you need to learn?” some people might object.

Surely that’s the case. But googling “what is important to know about X” is fairly likely to give you good indication about what is relevant to learn on the given subject. This is especially true if you make sure to collect data from several sources and use at least some kind of source criticism.

All and all, the question for traditional education to answer is:

Why should we go listen to a teacher (that is likely to have limited personal experience on the topic) when there are world class experts out there spraying their knowledge all of the web?

Some people might object object again here and say that being an expert at something isn’t the samt thing as being good at teaching it.

True. But Google usually helps out with that too. Because in order for information to be top ranked on Google it’s not enough if it’s profound and high quality. It needs to be presented in a digestible way as well.

Ok, but what about inaccurate or subjective information? How could we ever trust Google the way we can trust quality checked literature in schools?

This is a valid objection. And even though it is unlikely for inaccurate and/or extremely subjective content to remain top ranked on Google, we can never be 100% sure.

But honestly, even if one or two articles or blog posts aren’t 100% accurate or a bit too subjective, once you have consumed enough from different sources you probably have learned more good stuff than bad.

Not to mention how useful it actually is to learn how to filter bullshit when looking for information.

Traditional education can still be the shit

Now let me make one thing clear here; I don’t think traditional education is obsolete or just waiting to die. But I do believe that it will have to step it up in order to stay relevant.

Some things I believe will be crucial for colleges and universities are to:

  1. Be aware of the fact that they’re not only competing with each other anymore but with Google, Youtube, Coursera, Khan Academy etc.
  2. Shift focus from teaching people what to learn, to how to learn.
  3. Figure out how they can become the number one way for people to learn throughout life, rather than the way to get a degree.
Matt Damon’s character in Good Will Hunting exposes a showoff trying to impress girls

Again, the problem with traditional education isn’t that the format is broken. The problem seems to be the focus.

After all, few things can compare to listening to inspired, competent lecturers that really know their topic. To this became more clear to me than ever when I took a Stanford University course called ‘How to Start a Startup’.

The people talking were all successful Sillicon Valley entrepreneurs with lots of hands-on experience. Few people in the world probable knew more about what they we’re talking about. A lot of them were also charismatic and funny and made everything really easy to follow

So again, when university courses are in fact great you probably can’t beat them.

But it’s probably worth mentioning…

That I never went to Stanford. I found the course, with all 20 classes, right here on YouTube.

Oh, and yeah since it’s on YouTube it’s completely free.