The Future of Education


Within two years a radical shift will begin to occur in the world of education.

While many people are making predictions about the direction that education systems are headed, we have found the best predictors to be hidden in the participative viral systems springing to life in the online world, such as iTunes and Amazon. These bottom-up approaches are quick to develop, participant-driven systems that are closely aligned to the demands of the marketplace.

In this paper we will focus on the key missing elements that will cause the disruptive next generation education systems to emerge. These missing pieces will likely be created within the next two years through private funding and will cause a dramatic educational shift in less than five years.

The primary missing pieces are a standard architecture for an organic courseware module and the software necessary to build this courseware. The solution to these missing pieces will be a participative courseware-builder that allows the general public to create courses on any conceivable topic. We expect many companies will attempt to solve this problem, but the market will quickly gravitate towards the one it likes best.

Once the market begins to gravitate towards a favorite courseware-builder, a number of new systems will be developed to grow the courseware library, build integrity, make it universally distributed, archive results, and add functionality.

Lessons from the Ancient World

During the time of the ancient Greek civilization, several mathematicians became famous for their work. People like Archimedes, Pythagoras, Euclid, Hipparchus, Posidonius and Ptolemy all brought new elements of thinking to society, furthering the field of math, building on the earlier work of Babylonian and Egyptian mathematicians.

A few generations later the Romans became the dominant society on earth, and the one aspect of Roman society that was remarkably absent was the lack of Roman mathematicians. Rest assured, the scholarly members of Roman society came from a good gene pool and they were every bit as gifted and talented as the Greeks. But Roman society was being held hostage by its own systems. One of the primary culprits for the lack of Roman mathematicians was their numbering system – Roman numerals and its lack of numeric positioning.

While it’s easy for us today to look at Roman numerals and say that it was a pretty stupid numbering system, it was just one of many inferior numbering systems in ancient times. But the feature that made Roman numerals so bad was the fact that each number lacked specific numeric positioning and was in fact an equation, and this extra layer of complexity prevented people from doing higher math.

Roman numerals were a system problem, and a huge one at that. They prevented an entire civilization from furthering the field of math and science.

Romans were so immersed in their numbering system that they had no clue that it was preventing them from doing even rudimentary math such as adding a column of numbers or simple multiplication or division, a feat still handled by abacus. It also prevented them from creating some of the more sophisticated banking and accounting systems and restricted academia from moving forward in areas of science, astronomy, and medicine.

Ratchet forward to today. We live in a society where virtually everything is different from the days of the Roman Empire. But what seems so counterintuitive to most is that we are even more dependent today on our systems than the Romans ever were. Most of these systems we take for granted – systems for weights and measurement, accounting, banking, procurement, traffic management, and food labeling. With each of these systems we are much like the Romans, immersed in the use of these systems to a point where we seldom step back and question the reasoning and logic behind them.

Our systems govern virtually every aspect of our lives. They determine how we live and where we live, what we eat and where we work, where and when we travel, how much money we will make, the job we do, the friends we have, who we marry, and even how long we will live. But much like fish not understanding what water is, we seldom step back to fully understand the context of our existence.

As a starting point, one question we should be asking is, “What systems do we employ today that are the equivalent of Roman numerals, preventing us from doing great things?”

This simple question is very revealing. It has a way of opening a Pandora’s box full of friction points, inefficiencies, and flow restrictors that we contend with every day. Our systems are what control the flow of commerce, govern our effectiveness as members of society, and create much of the stress we face on a daily basis.

After studying American systems and applying this “equivalency to Roman numerals” test, it is easy to conclude that we, as a society, are operating at somewhere just between 5-10 percent efficiency, maybe less. The upside is huge.

So what are some examples of restrictive systems that are preventing us from doing great things? Here are just a few examples:

  • Income Tax System – The income tax system is currently the mother of all boat anchors, slowing commerce and the pace of business to a crawl. Currently somewhere in the neighborhood of 64,000 pages in length, the United States tax code in use today will stand as a shining example throughout history as one of the world’s most incomprehensible systems.
  • Half-Implemented Metric System – We are using a half-implemented metric system where we are purchasing cars with 3.2 liter engines and filling them with quarts of oil.
  • Keyboards – We use keyboards that were designed to slow the speed of typing by placing the most frequently used keys randomly across the face of the keyboard. Keyboards in any configuration are an extremely inefficient way to transfer knowledge from one person to another.
  • Laws – We now have more laws on the books in the United States than any country at any time in history. There aren’t even any good estimates as to the number of laws on the books in the United States. With each city, county, state, federal agency, and taxing district able to issue their own regulations, mandates, ordinances, rules, and law, we have created a legal snake pit of intertwined and overlapping rules that we are expected to live by.

Lest you think the United States is the only country with system problems, consider some of the major issues plaguing other countries:

  • Chinese Alphabet – The number of Chinese characters contained in the Kangxi dictionary is approximately 47,035, although a large number of these are rarely-used variants accumulated throughout history. Studies carried out in China have shown that full literacy requires knowledge of between three and four thousand characters.

So as you can see, we are a long way from optimizing the systems that govern our lives. The freedom that we value so highly in the United States is only a fraction of what it can be if we begin to seriously reinvent society one system at a time. And the system that we see as the highest leverage point for improving society is our education system.

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