Alex Chiri's Blog

A perspective on education

This is merely a collection of quotes from a very interesting book on learning and education: Leveraged Learning by Danny Iny. Still, I found it useful to post here a selection of these to build a superficial picture of the author's perspective on the current state of the various types of formal education and its future. I recommend reading the whole book for a more in-depth view on the subject, but also on how to build and deliver a better learning experience.

The gist

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The current predominant type of education is ineffective and serves the wrong purpose. Education is no longer something you do mostly at the beginning of ones career, but it is a constant activity throughout the whole life. The current education institutions will most likely not be the ones delivering the education of the future.


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current education is woefully out of step with the needs of the modern world in pretty much everything, from the curriculum itself, to the structure through which it is delivered, to the way it is packaged, to the incentives for changing and improving it (or not), to the outcomes that it does (or doesn’t!) deliver.

We tend to forget that formal education was basically established as a buffer. This buffer would keep children out of the workforce but would—at the time—teach them as if they were already some kind of cog in an assembly line.

Education, like the restaurant reviews, police officer’s uniform, and doctor’s lab coat, is a signal.

The working world of the present and future is simply out of alignment with the substance that education once signified. Part of the reason is the lecture format that most colleges still employ, which isn’t an effective structure for most students.

lectures are among the least effective pedagogical devices known to man. That’s one of the biggest ironies: that most every class I’ve taken on “cutting-edge adult learning” has been taught using all the modalities (lectures, trivial homework, facile tests) that aren’t cutting-edge adult learning.

Bryan Caplan, professor of economics at George Mason University, put it this way: ... Most of what schools teach has no value in the labor market. Students fail to learn most of what they’re taught. Adults forget most of what they learn.

The biggest strike against higher education is its legacy of success, and the blindness that creates the need for change.

A transformation

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if students don’t experience a real transformation, there’s no point to the education. Which is especially tough, because transformation for one person might not be transformation for another.

For learning to be truly transformative, then, it has to be customized around the unique strengths and opportunities available to the learner in question. Which has the added benefit of being more engaging to the student, at a time when just holding a student’s attention is getting harder and harder.

Not just knowledge, we need insight

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To succeed in the Age of Acceleration we need soft skills, and the intangible but critical things like work ethic and initiative.

A glaring flaw of most current approaches to education is that they focus entirely on imparting knowledge or fostering proficiency in certain skills. The ability to develop insight is left unexamined.

It’s no longer sufficient for education to impart knowledge and skills. Our rapidly evolving economy and culture demand insight in addition to knowledge.

Insight lives at the intersection of two rarefied abilities: critical thinking and creativity.

What is the future of education?

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The way that education is being delivered is shifting from real-time to semi-synchronous, from just-in-case to just-in-time, from information to transformation, and from mandatory to volitional.

This is the second major transition in the world of education: from just-in-case to just-in-time. Learning used to be something that you did for a long time at the start of your career, but that just doesn’t work in today’s world. It’s so much easier to access information and training when we need it, and conditions change so quickly that things you learned “just-in-case” are more likely than not to be outdated and irrelevant by the time you actually need them.

The transition from just-in-case to just-in-time means that the only people with the expertise that students really need are the ones on the cutting edge of their industries.

not only is much of what we learn “just-in-case” as likely as not to be outdated by the time we need it, but also, as Rohit Bhargava elaborates in Always Eat Left Handed, the odds that we’ll need much of it are almost as slim as the odds that we’ll remember it if we do.

Most likely, education will divide into three categories: foundational, “last mile,” and continuing.

Foundational education is the stuff that everybody needs: fundamental knowledge and skills, the ability to generate insight from whatever else you might learn, and the fortitude that is at the core of surviving and thriving in the world. This is what universities today say they do and even try to do, but fail miserably, in terms of both absolute results and return on the time and money invested.

“Last mile” education (hat tip to Ryan Craig, who coined the term) is the technical training that bridges the gap between a well-rounded foundation and the specific skills that are needed to enter specific career paths. This is currently offered in clunky fashion by law schools and medical schools, as well as by coding boot camps and apprenticeship programs.

Continuing education is what we all need in order to stay current in a world where “anything you learn is going to become obsolete within a decade.” Currently, this is a mess of executive education, learning on the job, self-study from books and YouTube videos, personal practice, certifications from a smattering of sources, and a variety of online courses from a range of providers, with little in the way of oversight or quality control.

we can expect that in the not-too-distant future, a lifelong educational path will begin with one or two years of foundational and “last mile” education, either taken separately or bundled together, with four more years spread over the rest of our lives and careers.

the long tail? This where the bulk of the education we consume over our lifetimes will come from—short and focused courses delivering just the information, insight, and fortitude that we need, just when we need it.

take away some choice, by bringing back start dates, end dates, and deadlines that must be met to remain a student in good standing. In other words, it’s dialing back from a-synchronous to semi-synchronous. This is a key factor why Seth Godin’s altMBA boasts completion rates of 96 percent.

what Bhargava calls “light-speed learning.” In his words, “The road to mastery on any topic gets faster through the help of bite-sized learning modules that make education more time efficient, engaging, useful and fun.”

Who will deliver the future of education?

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If not colleges, who will provide the lifelong learning of the future? From the only place that it can come from: the experts and professionals on the cutting edge and front lines of their respective fields. They’re the only ones whose knowledge and skills will be sufficiently up to date to provide what learners will need.

Generally speaking, those people are gainfully employed at places other than universities. If they moved to full-time teaching positions, it would take only a few years for their expertise to start going out of date.

P. S. As a bonus, here's a quick recording of mine with some of these quotes on education: