education (lowercase intentional)

My university chum Susie travelled from Kalstad, Sweden to enjoy a reunion dinner with Tevis and me on our last night in Oslo. Since she moved to Sweden 15 years ago, she has earned her living teaching English at the University on-and-off. And while on this trip Tevis has been immersed in in launching the Massive Open On-line Course (MOOC) for the Learning By Giving Foundation. Tev gave Susie a quick background on MOOC platforms and we had a very interesting, far-ranging conversation about Education, education, training and community.


Disclaimer: these are my thoughts based on this conversation and conversations I've had over the last few months as Tevis' work has raised my awareness of the new technology available. My thoughts are continually evolving and iI am abbreviating my thoughts for the blog format. Education (with a capital E) has become increasingly about achievement for its own sake. Once there was a set of classic books and ideas that a person had to master to be an educated person. Now there is an ever increasing specialized body of material that a person is tested on to be certified that they have completed for a spiraling number of degrees.  Education has always been about creating an elite class and never seriously about developing the potential of all individuals. In the last century in the U.S. we made strides toward extending public education to all and raising the level of literacy and other skills. But as the general population began to attain a high school education, the bar was raised and a college degree was the new entry level requirement for middle-class paying jobs. SATs and other requirements developed so that if you are a first generation college student, your chance of successfully navigating the system to get into an elite school were just as unlikely as ever. And if you went to a state university a first-generation student is more likely to drop out for not knowing how to access help.  There are examples of effective outreach programs, but essentially Education is about degree attainment and that is purposefully like threading the eye of a needle.

Contrast this with education (lowercase intentional). This is learning for its own sake. When I pursue knowledge or skills out of personal motivation, I am more likely to unleash my creativity and take ideas to new and more interesting places. It is essentially internally driven and can be greatly helped by good mentors and teachers. The true autodidact is rare, and yet there are still enough examples of a self-taught musician, artist or computer genius to remind us of the incredible potential in every human being. Learning communities can greatly encourage and help a learner acquire more education. In my case, USC was a learning community that helped me flourish. I increased my skills at acquiring more knowledge and skills. The community also provided interactions with a greater number of really interesting and unique individuals, thus providing many role models for life-long learning. Obviously Education and education are not mutually exclusive.

The MOOC format has the potential to dynamite Education and make education opportunities and on-line learning communities available to anyone motivated to learn with access to the internet. Right now MOOC courses are free and no academic credit is given. That is likely to change. Already on-line learning is available for credit and on-line education is continuing to figure out how to evaluate student progress and to combine it with mentoring and community to improve the experience. This technology also has potential to transform training as well.  Education costs are losing their relationship to people's ability to pay (like the housing bubble), and so it may be that this technology will help restructure the Education model (hopefully not at the expense of great menotrs/teachers).


Time will tell if Education will transform itself or continue on its current path to irrelevance. I look forward to participating in the Learning With Purpose MOOC that Tevis is project managing. It is not too late to register at  The first class begins the week of July 15 and you have all week to watch the first class on-line at your convenience.

P.S. Our dinner at Ekeberg Restauranten was amazing. Madelen at Thon Hotel got us the reservation and sent us on the right tram. The view was terrific. And we ate a great meal of veal (humanely raised, of course) hake, asparagus. And I had goat cheese for dessert. Tevis' main course below (veal).