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Learning is broken

In my previous post, I advocated that learning for the purpose of making ends meet (making a living) is soon going to be passe. So people are going to learn for the sake of learning!
Knowledge Computer
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This also means that the paraphernalia built by Universities across the globe - that of placement cells, industry-institute-partnerships, alumni programs and all such stuff to ensure that their students get 'placed' in the corporate world  - are soon becoming effete.

But as technology and tech entrepreneurs continue to disrupt methods and means of education; possibly even the basic infrastructure - classrooms, campuses, hostels, dorms, auditoriums - might start becoming defunct. The future of learning will possibly just need an internet connection and a device (laptop or tablet or even a phone) to get connected to the internet.

The shift is not merely converting the physical to virtual. Using the power of 'virtual', apps and services like Byju's or Khan Academy or the likes of Coursera, UDemy and Oxademy are fundamentally altering several other aspects of learning. For example, learning is no more made out of multi-year syllabi replete with a structured set of subjects and a fixed degree you'd get at the end of it. You can learn smaller portions - indeed learn just one subject just the way Steve Jobs learnt calligraphy after dropping out, though it wasn't a subject he could have 'dropped in on' as a part of the course he was taking at Reeds.

Similarly, you don't necessarily get a full scale degree like a B.A. or B.Tech. at the end of these small stints, the objective - at least of services like Khan Academy or Byju's - is to allow you to learn skills which you think you'd like to put use to; not use to seek employment using the certificate you gain.

A phenomenon which is also supporting such bite-sized learning is the rise of entrepreneurship as a Career option. Entrepreneurship is making it redundant for entrepreneurs to seek formal degrees and learn a series of subjects at one time and then put them to work. An entrepreneur works towards building her/his business, realizes s/he wants to learn something, and then simply picks up a course on that subject alone to learn it and put it to work. Learning on-demand, just like hiring an Uber Taxi instead of buying a car!
So, what this means is that 'Learning is broken' - learning as defined by the the established 'authorities' of the world is breaking right in the middle. Governments no more require to set up regulators to recognize or authorize universities, universities no more need to open colleges, colleges no longer need to employ full time professors or publish a set of degrees that they will impart to students or design a curriculum or even build a campus.

Take a leap into future, learning could be transitioning back to the heydays of Indian Gurukul system - just that these Gurukul's will be online. What will be known is not universities, colleges or degrees; what will be known is teachers and professors of repute (the Guru's) and the subjects they teach. Thanks to the ubiquitous nature of the Internet, Guru's could be running a course on several platforms or several courses on one platform. People will take courses from Guru's of repute to learn what they want to, not because they want a degree from the platform which they represent!

This future is clear to me - but what isn't clear is the path to get there. How do we transition from economics of education today which recognizes degrees more than teachers, campuses more than content of learning, curriculum more than individual student needs? How does the industrial way of educating hundreds with the same curriculum change into the knowledge economy world of where each student chooses what s/he learns and gets a customized degree for themselves?

And finally, the entrepreneur in me forces me to think what business opportunities exist in helping the world make this transition? Is it just about altruistic initiatives like Khan Academy or is it in selling apps like Byju's or is it in setting up platforms like Coursera or is it in partnering with established Universities to convert their degrees into online equivalents like Oxademy?

I am seeking answers - comments are welcome!


  1. 1. Today i met IIM old timer professor.. Prof. talks of building the brand of IIM. I felt so ashamed.. Prof. talking of brands impacting education and learning. I could not understand how come brands have value for self realization .. It is the state of professors . 2. Colleges are more known for the sport teams it own, Expert teachers it has.. I dont think these things have anything to do with student learning in the future.3. We need no colleges, no teachers, no curriculum.. Society ! .. Leave the kids alone, they will learn .. Pink Floyds words are really true ! .. Becho .. Seekho ! !


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