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Open education – A new era of schools and universities?

Bryan Smith
Sep 15, 2020 8:00:00 AM

Starting in the early 2000’s, some globally elite universities in the United States began publishing their course lectures online, for free. These lectures were published under creative commons licenses, so there was open access for anyone to view, download, and repost as long as they weren’t making money from it.

This kicked off a concept that’s fundamentally altered education systems to the changing world that we have today.

How it is now, and where this is all going

Right now free education online is viable – perhaps more than viable – in many cases, depending on the individual, it’s preferable to conventional universities. It has this edge mostly because of cost reasons.

Information technology is almost arbitrarily scalable. Distributing bits and bytes to users is incredibly inexpensive, but can easily be life changing to those users, depending on the content.

What this means is that premium learning materials that facilitate the best teaching and learning not only can be put online for free, but actually have an incentive to compete with each other when they’re in the space of the commons.

Counter-intuitively, this typically gives the successful free courses a higher quality than any given paid course material.

More recently, education systems themselves have developed something called open educational resources or OER. Teaching and learning is happening online, where teachers and students are connected in virtual spaces.

This is not just a trend. It’s a fundamental shift in how learning takes place.

Expanding access to education

As this continues, higher education will have a focus on expanding access to education. Instead of a few top-tier universities dominating the space for qualifying students for industry, we may eventually see an open education consortium.

This may seem like a long-shot, but some universities are playing around with the idea now. There are blocks of time that some institutions and businesses set aside for similar purposes like open education weeks.

Google, famously, devotes about 20% of their workforce time to developing whatever workers want to develop. Although only about 10% of Googlers are using it, this ‘hands off’ approach has led to products like GMail. Imagine what other great ideas will come out of such a paradigm shift?

A new outlook on educational opportunities

This shift in educational material being more open and readily available has implications beyond just how to get people jobs. It fundamentally changes an approach to problem solving that people may take.

Before, you had to front-load all the training you needed to do in order to approach certain problems. You had to go to university for years and years, and acquire most of the knowledge and skills that you would use in the field. This has been the working theory, and it has been changing steadily over time. 

Now, the education system doesn’t act primarily to train you for any particular job. The education system as it is now acts as a filter to classify students on levels of aptitude. College is basically a hazing ritual, and very little of the skills you actually use in your profession come from your university training.

It’s a terribly inefficient process that results in huge amounts of debt, and significant disparity because it literally splits society into class structures. This is where the term ‘class’ when referring to a university class actually originates from.

Experiences on the job

You no longer have to front-load training. Most of your actual training comes from on the job experience, but more importantly than that, since virtually any technical skill is freely available online, entrepreneurs can approach problems that are beyond them and gain the specific knowledge they need at every step of the way.

The information online to teach those skills is orders of magnitude less expensive, sometimes free. Counter-intuitively, since these online courses take virtually no investment, and can reach an arbitrary number of people, the educator can actually make quite a bit more money, too.

In fact, there’s virtually no need for a middle-man institution at all, since online you can connect with an expert consultant operating independently. This means that more people can get education through just taking on problems and using the internet to connect teachers and learners.

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