Education Is Broken in an Age of “Human Technology”

It’s all about remaining relevant

Erik P.M. Vermeulen
Jun 9, 2019 · 5 min read
Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

Education is broken. But I still believe it matters. I am convinced of that. Yes, we all know about the success stories of college and university dropouts. But I firmly believe that having a college or university degree will open up more opportunities.

My view of education shouldn’t come as a surprise. After all, I am a teacher. And being a teacher is so rewarding. Helping the next generation prepare for the things to come is always inspiring. But I must admit that more and more, I have come to realize there is a lot of truth in the idea that our whole system of education is broken.

What makes me say this? Let me give you some evidence.

Imagine that you are a teacher. You would expect that, in general, graduate students are better prepared for the future than undergraduates. Sophomores would be more open to new things than first-year students. Senior students would have a better idea of what’s going on than junior students.

How could you expect otherwise? It seems obvious that the more you “go up” in education, the better you get.

My recent experience suggests the opposite.

Not so long ago, teaching first-year students involved teaching the basic, but necessary knowledge and skills. It was fun but could not be compared with the in-depth discussions about society, future trends, and developments with more senior students. The “more senior,” the better the conversation.

But recently this has started to change. The good news is that junior students have gradually become more interested in what’s happening in the world (technological revolution, environmental issues, etc.). The bad news, however, is that senior students are less and less open to thinking out-of-the-box.

And to be honest, I cannot blame them. The content and style of teaching haven’t changed much over the last decade. Of course, we see more technology in the curriculums of schools. Yet, new and emerging tech (and how it is changing the way we live, work, and learn) is not yet made an integral part of most programs. In this context, it makes sense for students to cling on to what they have learned. The last thing they want to hear is that we are currently experiencing a revolution that makes the models, theories, and doctrines they have studied obsolete.

Until now, this approach might have been okay. We have dealt with disruption before and have always found ways to “survive.” And, even though we have become more digitally dependent (we love social media and cannot work without being digitally connected), the way that societies and economies work haven’t changed significantly.

So, why should we worry now? What is different this time? And why do I think the educational system is broken and needs to be fixed?

I could come up with stories about the trend towards decentralization and the explosive growth of technology (for sure, I believe both these things are also true), but much of this involves predicting the future. And we all know how that can turn out.

No, something else is already going on now. Something interesting and important.

Tech is humanizing. There is less and less human interference — think self-learning algorithms and self-organizing neural networks). We can call this “human tech.”

We can see three trends (most of them related to artificial intelligence, Internet of Things and connectivity):

  • Personalization. Technology has made it possible to receive a more personal experience from products and services. The time of mass production is over. Everything is about personalization. The more we use products or services, the smarter they get. They become more and more personalized. We get a relationship with technology.
  • Partnership. Technology is becoming our partner or assistant. If things become complicated, we ask computers to learn how to assist us. Deep learning algorithms encourage the self-learning of neural networks.
  • Interaction. Technology is quickly adapting to us. We don’t need an awful lot of training to use technology anymore. User interfaces are becoming more human. We increasingly interact with tech “as if” we are interacting with human beings. Voice control. Face recognition. Sensors.

In this way, tech is becoming an integral part of our lives without us realizing it. And this is fantastic. It offers so many more opportunities. Convenience. Simplification. Inclusion.

But the age of “human tech” which has already taken off, is dangerous. We need to have a better understanding of what’s going on. Also, we (and the next generation) need to be better prepared for a world in which we seamlessly live, work, and learn with machines.

So, what should be the main pillars of education in a world of human tech?

  • Digital skills. And here I don’t refer to the skills that give you access to and help you interact with tech. It’s more about understanding how human tech works, how it operates, how it makes decisions. When tech is becoming more human, we also have to make sure that it’s behaving as humans expect. But can we trust tech? Security and ethics come to mind. Protection (data, privacy) and regulation must be embedded in the human technology. We can only do this when we have a deeper understanding of what’s going on in “human technology.”
  • Human skills. Here I refer to the skills that computers and autonomous machines don’t (and can’t) have. Communication skills. Genuine (and not imitated) creativity.
  • Teaching how and what to learn. The world is changing rapidly. We have to learn “how and what to learn” in our digital and human tech-related world. The next generation must understand how to learn. It’s also about “self-branding:” How can you distinguish yourself from others? How can you show your creativity? How can you use tech as a self-promotion tool?

The keyword with all of this is “relevance.” In an age of human tech, we must make sure that the next generation remains relevant, and in control. And we can only succeed in this if we continue to ensure that education remains relevant.

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Erik P.M. Vermeulen

Written by

Video Gaming Professor — Uncorporate Lawyer — Middle-Aged Ultra Runner

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +793K followers.

Erik P.M. Vermeulen

Written by

Video Gaming Professor — Uncorporate Lawyer — Middle-Aged Ultra Runner

The Startup

Get smarter at building your thing. Follow to join The Startup’s +8 million monthly readers & +793K followers.

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