Can We Truly Make Education Less Painful?

Will its current pain points still exist 30 years from now?

So you think the education system is broken?

Well, you’re certainly not the only one. With our current Education system, we cannot be assured of a future where we, humans, will still thrive like we previously have. Ultimately, the way we are educated dictates future outcomes, whether positively or negatively.

What is Education currently?

This used to be an easy answer. Yet at the turn of the 21st century, things became vaguer. However — and as always — here’s what Education really is:

Education is the process of facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits.

What has changed in recent years isn’t what Education is but rather how we interpret and implement it. Like anything, it has evolved with the rest of civilization, but as discussed here, that evolution has not been rapid enough for humans to catch up to Artificial Intelligence (AI).

Nowadays, how does one receive education?

Modern-day Education is a mix-and-match of the following channels:

  • Schools;

  • Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC);

  • Youtube;

  • Books;

  • Podcasts;

  • Blogs;

  • Question/Answer websites; and

  • Search engines.

*See Appendix A for complete details on how we use these channels to receive Education.

Think about how things were different only 10 years ago…

Much different right?

10 years ago, schools and books were pretty much the only two on the list. And if things changed at such a quick pace, what do you think Education will look like 10 years from now, let alone 30!

And that goes to prove there’s a problem to solve.

If we could previously take care of our Education problem with only two sources, why is it that we have more than eight sources now? Is it utopian to think that current Education can be narrowed back down to fewer sources and still yield 90% of the result?

Current Education pain points

Now that we’ve got a good idea about what Education currently is, and now that we have an idea of where evolution is taking us, what are the things Education needs to address for us to remain relevant in the not-so-distant future?

Through numerous interviews I’ve done with various experts and non-experts, these are the most pressing pain points of modern-day Education:

  • It’s hard to learn;

  • It’s unclear what to learn currently and going forward;

  • It’s hard to find the right resources to achieve your learning goals;

  • It’s unclear how to measure progress towards your learning goals;

  • It’s difficult to figure out how to practically apply knowledge acquired;

  • Finding the right purpose for learning is sometimes ambiguous;

  • It’s hard to catalog information for later retrieval and retention;

  • It’s hard to stay consistent with the application of knowledge;

  • The sense of community is going away (outside of schools);

  • It’s costly;

  • It’s lacking proper mentorship;

  • It’s unclear how to measure the impact of what you’re learning;

  • It’s difficult to cater to people’s different learning abilities;

  • and more.

Let’s dig a little on each of them:

It’s hard to learn

Some skills seem so impossible to learn. If you want to learn “chemistry”, that will seem like the hardest thing to learn because it’s a subject and not a skill. Most people have a hard time making the distinction. Deconstructing skills into smaller sub-skills is a skill in itself. If a skill takes longer than 15 hours to learn, people tend to give up.

It’s unclear what to learn currently and going forward

Most people have a hard time figuring out how to connect past skills, current skills, and future skills. At the time of writing this, there are no guides on how each skill is linked to one another, though there are attempts to make it happen.

It’s hard to find the right resources to achieve your learning goals

As we saw in the “What is Education?” section, there are so many resources you can learn from. We are at an age of over-information and finding the right resources to achieve your learning goals in more ambiguous than ever before.

It’s unclear how to measure progress towards your learning goals

Outside of the school system — and sometimes even within it — we don’t have a clear and universal measuring system to judge how far we’ve come along in anything we learn.

And it’s very unclear what the learning goals even are! Just passing the test? Or something more? But then what?

It’s difficult to figure out how to practically apply knowledge acquired

A lot of the material one learns remains only that, knowledge. It’s much easier to learn about something than to do something, and because of that, a lot of people are too scared to put their knowledge into practice. Practice requires experimentation, and not everyone is comfortable with that.

Finding the right purpose for learning something is ambiguous

This is especially true in schools. Because you’re part of a curriculum set by the school or the government, you are “stuck” with courses you really couldn’t care less about. What’s bad is that you learn things that you perceive to have no value, yet in reality, it has tons in your future life. Education as we know it doesn’t give us a good reason for teaching us what we learn.

It’s hard to catalog information for retrieval and retention

Our number one way of cataloging information is by taking notes, either on paper or on a computer. From an early age, we are told to take notes when learning something new. But how? This is not something we learn growing up.

It’s hard to stay consistent with the application of knowledge

Consistency in anything in life is just very hard for humans. If it’s not to fill a need, we procrastinate doing it. Part of the problem here is likely linked to the fact to its hard to measure progress on things we learn and what the impacts of having learned it will be.

The sense of community is going away

With traditional schooling “losing” popularity, we are losing a sense of community in our lives. For all the things people complain about with schools, it’s rarely about the community. With MOOC, YouTube, and all the other avenues mentioned above, none of them have community figured out. They’re not even trying, and maybe it’s not up to them anyway.

It’s costly

This is part perception, part reality. To get a quality education, you don’t need to break the bank. We’ve detailed all the different ways to get an education in the section on “What is Education currently” and most of them are free. Higher education through school is where things get expensive, sometimes reaching tens of thousands of dollars for a one-year program.

It’s lacking “proper” mentorship

Students who go ask questions to their teachers during tutoring time get higher grades in their test. One-on-one guidance just might be the greatest way to learn anything, yet in the 21st century, finding a mentor to guide you is one near-impossible endeavour.

It’s unclear how to measure the impact of what you’re learning

After you’ve learned a new skill, it’s unclear how much of an impact it has on your life and the that of people around you, or even at work. Some skills are more obvious and may lead to additional sales for a company, but most are ambiguous. Do they bring happiness? How do you even measure happiness?

It’s difficult to cater to people’s different learning abilities

Schools have been trying to tackle this with a mild level of success. In its current implementation, maybe school just isn’t suited to tackle this. Schools are trying to be the be-all-end-all solution for education, but that’s unrealistic to put 30 kids in a single class and think they will all learn the same way.


These are actually only a few of the major ones. As a result, I can’t help but think about the following questions:

We touched a bit on the last question in this article. Now let’s address the other two.


What pain points will still be relevant 30 years from now

It’s possible that jobs and careers as we know them will be a thing of the past in 30 years. Likely later, but it’s still a possibility.

The way evolution is going currently, more and more people are working on a multitude of smaller projects at the same time. The freelancing economy is booming, with Upwork and Fiverr getting most of the shares. As such, the younger generation doesn’t talk about pension, they talk about working on things they love doing. If they start hating what they’re doing, they change.

That’s not what the current Education system prepares people for. It prepares people for a job market, which Millennials don’t care much for anyway.

Gallup report found that 21% of Millennial workers say they’ve changed jobs within the past year — a percentage that’s three times higher than non-Millennials. In addition, 60% of Millennials report that they’re open to new job opportunities. And only half of Millennials anticipate that they will still be working at their current company one year from now. Due to this propensity for job-hopping, Millennial turnover costs the U.S. economy $30.5 billion annually, according to Gallup estimates. — reflektive.com

This is only a tiny part of the report. The statistics are really scary. If hopping from one job to the next is that costly, what’s the point of even preparing “students” for the job market. This is unsustainable today, imagine later.

If jobs and careers are a thing of the past and skills are favoured over a diploma, then we can assume a few of the pain points from above will be taken care of “automatically”.

What’s the point of paying thousands of dollars for a diploma if it won’t allow you to work on things you care about?

We could go through the whole list, only to realize that most pain points would be a thing of the past if only Education moved from diploma to skills. From there, most others could be solved with Artificial Intelligence (AI) and BioTechnologies (Biotech), assuming someone starts working on those soon enough.

With that said, to some degree, most of the pain points will still be present, but we’re likely going to be presented with a new set of challenges. As much as I’d like to predict within 30 years which of the pain points above, I simply couldn’t be right about any predictions. It’s fruitless to even try.

A good exercise then is to collectively think about it, year after year. Each year, we should review where we stand on the evolution of these pain points and others. We need to evaluate the direction things are going and do our best to sway the boat in the right direction. The right direction being, in this case, helping people thrive in the 21st century.

How will solving these pain points help us thrive 30 years from now?

The question still remains as to “if” solving these pain points would even help us thrive 30 years from now. In this article, we analyzed how AI has a high chance of becoming superior to humans in many aspects we’re currently thriving on, like imagination and adaptability.

If we solve these pain points, then, are we “safe”?

That really depends on how we define our “purpose”. During and after the Industrial Revolution, we’ve given a lot of importance to work employment. Jobs, in a way, became our purpose in life. It’s not rare to see someone going into retirement only to get a job back. Life without a job is boring and has no purpose. Such is most people’s perception of life, especially in the “western” world.

If jobs and careers and similar notions are a thing of the past, what remains?

We’ve neglected our own species far more than previous generations, favouring materialistic goals over anything else. Rarely will you hear someone on their death bed mention they regret not having bought a Lamborghini. You will, however, hear them say they regret not having spent enough time with the people they really cared about.

Given that, solving the pain points above could mean a happier life for all. It could mean we’ll have more time to dedicate to people that matter to us. That’s assuming changing current mentalities is something we can do in a relatively short time. With AI and Biotech, we just may be forced to, for better or worse.

So is the purpose of life to be happy?

No one will truly ever figure this answer out. But whatever meaning you attach to it, solving the pain points above will either bring you closer or further to it.

We all thrive differently. “Thrive” means something different for everyone. Some people thrive very well currently. Some will thrive more tomorrow.

If we continue with the mentality that jobs and materialistic gains are what make us thrive, then we better make sure to solve the issues above before AI takes all our jobs.

Is the future bright?

A bright way to see things is that whatever happens, we will adapt. We always have. That’s what made humans thrive all these years and it would be surprising that we can’t adapt this time. Sure, for the first time we’ve created something that adapts better than us — AI, but that doesn’t mean we’re becoming irrelevant.

Education is the root of our society, and potentially the meaning of life itself, so we should constantly be aware of where it stands and how it can make us thrive as a species. We’ve “ignored” it for too long that has had negative impacts on our lives and our futures.

But again, it’s not too late. It’s never too late to improve something. It’s never too late to take action and do something, anything, about things we’re not happy about. It’s now time to make Education what we want to be!

Let’s do it!

Appendix A: Modern-day Education Channels

Schools

Schools have been estimated to have been around for about 3,500 years. It gained tremendous popularity during the Industrial Revolution when specialization became an important part of society.

In most countries today, it is common for kids to go to school from a young age and learn the basics of languages and math. What we take for granted today was uncommon even in the beginning of the 20th century. Worldwide, the rate at which people get educated through schools and universities is higher than it has ever been.

For the most part, schools haven’t changed much from the Industrial Revolution. Around the world, most use a similar system to:

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According to current society, stopping at grade school typically leads nowhere career-wise. In many countries, companies will not hire you if you have only finished grade school.

Finishing high school opens up some opportunities for “basic” jobs. While in North America, you can get employed without a high school degree, in countries like India, good luck finding a job if you don’t complete grade 11.

The school system is so ingrained in our society that, without a degree in some subjects, you may never get hired even if you manage to learn it by other means. Getting employment in another country without a diploma is straight-out impossible in some scenarios, even if you may have practiced the discipline for years in your own country.

Whether we like it or not, schools still are, to this day, a cornerstone of the Education system around the world.

Massively Open Online Courses (MOOC)

MOOCs gained popularity only about 10 years ago when the term was coined by Dave Cormier. Some of you may not be familiar with the term but might be familiar with players in the space, such as, and in no particular order: Udemy, Coursera, EdX, Lynda (LinkedIn Learning), SkillShare, MasterClass, MentorBox, Udacity, and many many more. There are new MOOC platforms coming out almost every week.

Today, for better or worse, “teachers” of MOOC tend not to be traditionally trained teachers but rather people like you and me who have expertise in a specific field. This lead to a new “breed” of people who call themselves educators. And why shouldn’t they? They are, after all, facilitating learning.

Does that mean that being trained in the art of teaching is irrelevant in the 21st century?

We’ll get to that later in this article.

Youtube

Youtube is the most popular online video platform due, partly, to the size of its catalog. If you want to learn almost anything, you can simply search on Youtube and it’s almost certain you’ll find a few videos to help you.

Want to fix your plumbing? Youtube it! Want to learn how your new oven works? Youtube it! Want to learn how to tie your tie? Youtube it!

These are simple examples, but you can learn very complicated skills like painting from following tutorials on Youtube. You could, armed with Youtube and a lot of practice, be as good as the famous Leonardo Da Vinci. Before Youtube, it would have been a massive endeavour. Granted, it still is, but much less so than any previous generations.

Another reason for its popularity is that it’s free. It’s hard to argue with a free, quality education.

Yet a problem remains with Youtube: it’s really just a search engine for videos. If you want structure or the most relevant next course of action, you’re pretty much out of luck. While you can organize video collections to some degree, the tool wasn’t meant for the creation of “courses”.

Books

An older but still very relevant way to educate oneself is through reading books. While less visual than the previously mentioned methods, books tend to provide deeper and richer content.

With the advent of more complex technologies, one would expect there might be a decline in the interest of books, yet the truth is more and more people read and more and more books are available. In 2014, Amazon listed 32.8 million books for sale. That number just keeps increasing at a faster rate than ever before.

Books are structured and can be digested at your own pace. Some people can read many books a week and some only a few every year. Everyone has their own pace and have different takeaways from reading the same book. Many of the popular books also get translated into multiple languages, making it a very accessible medium. It’s also generally cheaper compared to schooling.

Podcasts

Podcasts are not particularly recent but gained in popularity in the last 5 years. In 2016, Tim Ferriss reported that his show was downloaded more than 100 million times, and this has not slowed down. The latest numbers indicate 300 million downloads on his website. Outside of massive successes like Tim Ferriss’ show, there are now over 660,000 podcast shows available online.

The most interesting aspect of podcasts is the human factor. It usually favours monologues or dialogues between two or more people, showing important life lessons from a relatable person.

Blogs

What started out as a simple idea to share your personal thoughts has now become a prime way of educating oneself. Thanks to it, people from all walks of life can write their own stories to inspire and educate people.

And because anyone can do it, it’s diverse in topics and authors. Thanks to blogs, you can learn pretty much anything. The pitfall, however, is that you have to be careful what to trust because, after all, it’s not always written by an expert on a topic. Sometimes, it’s hard to distinguish between opinion and factual information.

Still, a lot of people favour blogs because they are less academic, more personal, and more practical. You may not get all the answers from a single blog, but combine multiple sources and you can get a solid grasp on a subject.

“Internet”

I’m grouping anything you can search for here; any answers you can get through using Search Engines like Google and Bing, Question/Answer websites like Quora and Stack Overflow, and encyclopedia websites like Wikipedia and WikiHow.

We’re all familiar with the saying: “Just Google it”. I’m guessing it’s the number one way to find any type of information in this day and age. The vast majority of times, however, it hardly falls in the category of “learning” and is more about “one-off” answers.

For long-term learning, internet research is perfect for building a repertoire of resources on a subject you want to learn. While the one-off answers you get on Google or Quora are good, to this day, you are likely not going to build the core of your education from these answers.


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