Hacking Education

I spent a lot of time on this blog in the past month exhorting everyone to give teaching tools to the neediest public schools.  I did that because education is possibly the most important thing we can do for our world and our children.

But I also believe the the public school system in this country is badly broken. And it’s not just the public school system in the US. It’s the entire education system that’s stuck in the past. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately, and I’ve come to believe that we need to completely reinvent the way we educate ourselves. And, of course, I believe that the Internet is the tool we can use to do that.

Yesterday, in an AFP article, Jimmy Wales told a story about:

a recent trip to a slum in India where he "met this young man on the
street who told me that he had used Wikipedia to pass his 11th grade

I’ve been helping my kids learn Chemistry, Physics, Calculus, and Advanced Algebra the past few years. These are all subjects I loved in high school and excelled at. And yet, I cannot remember much of what I learned 30 years ago. But a visit to wikipedia is all I need to refresh my mind and help my kids. Wikipedia is an amazing resource and yet the teachers in my kids’ school deride it as "not reliable". Well I’ll tell you this much, Wikipedia is more reliable than some of my kids’ teachers.

One of the problems with the traditional school model of education is that the teachers are so uneven. My kids have amazing teachers who inspire them and push them to go beyond their perceived limits. I am so thankful for them. But they also have lazy teachers who bore them to death. We’ve all experienced this problem. I even had it at MIT and Wharton, two of the top schools in this country. We need some way for the kids and their parents to take control of who educates them.

My partner Albert wrote an important post that touched on this subject on the Union Square Ventures weblog called Power To The People. In it he said:

To us, this appears to be one of the great constants of the
web. It is taking power away from
existing large institutions and pushing it out to smaller entities and often
all the way to individuals. In the
process it is building up new institutions (such as Google), but the net result
appears to be a distinct shift of “power to the people.”

The existing large institutions in the world of education are the public and private schools, the colleges and universities, the testing institutions that inform them, and the unions and political system that support them. I want to help take all of them down and build something better in its place. I am not a fan of home schooling, but I understand it’s appeal. I do not think I can teach my kids better than others. But I do think my kids and my wife and I need more choice of who educates them.

The tools to do this are right in front of us; peer production, collaboration, social networking, web video, voip, open source, even game play. I think we can look at what has happened to the big media institutions over the past ten years as a guide to how to do this. We will use a "revolution of the ants" to take down our education institutions and replace them with something better. We all have to start participating and engaging in educating each other. I try to do this at times on this blog. If I know something about how to calculate a burn rate, read a term sheet, or manage a portfolio in a down market, I write about it on this blog. In turn, someone reads it and education happens. Ideally, all of this content, and the content being created by my colleagues in the venture capital business will get indexed, rated, and made available in something akin to a curriculum on venture capital. It will be peer produced, open sourced, and it will be better than any class in any MBA school in the country.

The big educational institutions can fight this trend or they can embrace it. MIT, my favorite education institution, has embraced it. They have open sourced over 1800 of their courses. You can study an MIT class for free on the Internet. I’d like to see all of the education institutions in this country contribute curriculum to such a system. And of course, get curriculum from such a system.

You can commoditize curriculum but you cannot do that to teachers. I owe most of what I know to about a dozen amazing teachers I had over the 20 or so years between first grade and grad school. I remember most of them by name and I remember what they taught me. My high school calculus teacher inspired me to go MIT. My MIT Systems Design teacher inspired me to think about complexity differently. My Wharton Speculative Markets teacher got my head wrapped around markets and why and how they work. I would not be who I am without these special people. We need to massively increase the number of students these special people can reach and teach every day.

Again, we can look to the lessons of the media business to think about how to do that. These amazing teachers are superstars who should be available online, via web video, to millions of people. They should not be stuck in a lecture hall teaching less than a hundred kids at a time. We must move away from an economy based on scarcity and embrace an economy based on ubiquity in the age of the Internet. The leading online education companies have been playing this game for years now. And they are good at it. My friend Jimmy runs several lines of business for Kaplan, one of the top online education companies. He told me about a teacher who runs one of his online CFA courses. This guy is a superstar. His courses are fun and engaging. Taking his course is like reading a great columnist or a wonderful book. You want to get back to it because its so engaging. These teachers can make a lot of money and they should. They are the best at what they do. But our education system is not set up like a star system. It should be.

We also need to allow creativity to reign and walk away from the standardized model of education that we are stuck in. Sir Ken Robinson gave an amazing talk at Ted on this topic. It’s 19 mins long so I can’t imagine that everyone has time to watch it, but if you care about this issue, find some time in your day or week and watch this.

We also need to rethink educational testing. I’ve watched my oldest daughter go through the craziness of preparing for and taking the SATs, ACTs, and SAT2s. If you have access to the best test prep talent, you can max these tests. Money can buy scores. That’s wrong. We need some kind of more organic, more authentic system for determining aptitude. I think games can play a big role here.

In fact, I think games can play a big role in a new better form of education. The first time I really thought about this was when I read my friend Steven Johnson’s book Everything Bad Is Good For You. Steven points out that game play is teaching our children skills they could never get in school. Another friend, Bing Gordon, formerly Chief Creative Officer of Electronic Arts, points out that math geeks, economists, and statisticians used to get their first taste of math as kids reading baseball cards, they now get it playing Madden Football. And the amount of math they can get to is at least an order of magnitude more challenging.

As Albert said in the Power To The People post, my partners and I are seeking to make investments around this thesis.

The shift away from existing institutions in education, the
environment and other areas up for change will not be brought about
magically by the web alone, but by companies that use the web to create
the right kind of platform. We believe that these represent tremendous
startup opportunities over years to come and look forward to meeting
with entrepreneurs and teams working to give "power to the people."

We are also going to convene one of our Union Square Sessions events this winter to bring some of the leading thinkers and entrepreneurs who are already hacking education together to talk about where we should be concentrating our efforts right now. This is a big deal, and if we can do it right, it can and should pave the way for a better, more educated society in the coming years. I am excited about the possibilities.

#VC & Technology

Comments (Archived):

  1. Brett Tilford

    Some really fresh thoughts on education here Fred. The education system is something that has really frustrated me. For awhile I was a youth pastor which enabled me to interact with hundreds of teenagers a week and I was astounded that so few really enjoyed learning. I agree that there are certain teachers that really connect with students and do an exceptional job and then of course there are others that don’t, maybe making the curriculum open source and making good teachers into commodities could be part of the solution.

  2. Ed

    This may be your best post ever Fred.Folks, make time to reread, and deliberate on these thoughts. And make time to watch the video by Ken Robinson. It is critical that these changes occur as soon as possible.”Money can buy scores. That’s wrong. We need some kind of more organic, more authentic system for determining aptitude.”This is so critical. You can’t pigeon hole the human mind, without causing tremendous waste.

  3. davelyon

    You’ve really hit home with me personally with this post. This is something I’ve been struggling with for a long while, and continue to struggle with (still in college and hating the poor education system). I feel like I’m learning more online than any of the classes I pay for, and that doesn’t seem right.I’ve recently started designing a web app that I hope will help to solve this problem and to get people who really want the best from their education to succeed. I hate to be that guy, but I’d love to get some feedback on it if you’re interested — especially since you seem to see the problem like I do.

  4. Geoff

    Three cheers for this one Fred “Wikipedia is an amazing resource and yet the teachers in my kids’ school deride it as “not reliable”. Well I’ll tell you this much, Wikipedia is more reliable than some of my kids’ teachers.” So true in the UK too.

  5. Steven Kane

    Great stuff Fred. As one who has been a fan of this blog essentially since inception, let me compliment you — the work, always top rate, is getting stronger over time.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks SteveThe discussions here, on other blogs, and the discussions in our firm areinforming much of what I writeSo there’s a lot of compliments to go around

  6. gregorylent

    ivan illich, “deschooling society” laid these concerns out brilliantly in the 70’s ..http://www.infed.org/thinke… .. http://www.preservenet.com/… .. http://www.amazon.com/Desch… ..the world system for education is broken .. time to change that …. but, there is no money in that, so don’t look for your usual sources to be doing anything about it .. this is really about heart

  7. randallmoeller

    Fantastic post. The video lectures of superstar teachers like Robert Greenberg should be more widely available.Please consider inviting the brilliant John Taylor Gatto to your event this winter; I think the two of you would have amazingly productive discussions.

    1. kidmercury

      yes i second the recommendation of john taylor gatto, dude drops knowledge and keeps it realyou can read his book online for free at his web sitehttp://www.johntaylorgatto….

  8. Brian

    Free teachers from the teacher’s union. It is a shame that superstar teachers do not command higher compensation. I have met a couple of ex-teachers who were great that left public education to make money in the private sector.Something like vouchers might be a good incentive for great teachers to start creating their own schools to teach their way (online tools, larger lectures, etc.).It is amazing how we have not seen any productivity improvements in the education sector in the last 50 years.

  9. TedHoward

    I asked a recent Harvard MBA graduate what he gained from Harvard. He gained a great social network and a mental library of case studies. I have a decent and ever-growing social network, but I lack the cases knowledge. I decided to learn more about the case-based approach by reading some sample cases.I went to Harvard’s website, expecting that some would be free, at least as a teaser sample. I could find no free cases. I can understand the decision to offer no free cases. What I don’t understand is that Harvard wants me to pay them US$7 before they let me read what appears to me to be their sales pitch. “Introduction to Cases” from 1984 is only two pages long. I don’t think it gets less “open” than that.My next thought was to start a movement or project for community-driven case studies. In my notes on the idea, I wrote “Let’s Open Source Harvard’s cases!” You seem to have arrived at a similar thought. I can’t claim to be qualified to author for it, but I’d love to learn from such a resource and could maybe find time to help nurture it.For anyone who can’t find 19 minutes for self-education, I’m off to knead bread while I listen to the Sir Ken Robinson TED lecture. This morning while brushing my teeth, I learned how to do a thoracentesis as my girlfriend prepared for her 30 hour day at the hospital. Get creative and learn.Thanks for the great posts, Fred.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for the great comment Ted

  10. jeffjarvis

    Amen, professor.Talking with our mutual friend Bob Kerrey a couple of weeks ago, I proposed the notion of the aggregated university.Bob talked about wonderful lectures available from MIT. I suggested that we could create a distributed Oxford where lectures come from those educational superstars and local tutors (as Oxford defines them) help students learn and study individually. One superstar educator could end up teaching thousands. Tutors could include fellow students, who sometimes are better at explaining concepts to fellow students since they just learned them.In my book, I also speculate that as students can pick professors, professors can pick students and classes can become more productive, turning out work product — curriculum for the next class (what is education but FAQs) or research to be carried on by that next class, perhaps. Education can become more additive.I also wonder why education does not have its 20 percent rule a la Google: Every student takes one day a week or one week a month or one year in four to create something: a company, a product, a book, an opera. Then universities would act more like incubators of creation and innovation. (And maybe VCs have a role there. Just as Kaplan took over test preparation, industry could take over innovation.)The problem with the testing culture — not just SATs and No Child Left Behind but the culture of primary and secondary education — is that they are now build around turning out every child, the same. The goal of education should, of course, be to discover and encourage a child’s talents and passions and fill in a child’s gaps. So testing itself should be turned around. Rather than trying to prove what you know, they should try to uncover what you don’t know and then respond to that.In my book — thanks to a blog comments by Bob Wyman of Google (ex PubSub) — I abstracted the roles of the university. Bob listed three: teaching, testing (certification), and research. I added the fourth: socialization. In a distributed/aggregated academic universe, teaching can happen in many places. Testing is already happening elsewhere (Kaplan, professional organizations). Research need not happen at the university (though it will still need public and private support). And socialization can occur in many places.One of the great educators I know, Will Richardson, said it eloquently in an open letter to his children, telling them that they didn’t need to go to college.

    1. fredwilson

      Great comment JeffThis is going to be a great sessions event because there is so much to talkabout and so many great people thinking about it

  11. jamtoday

    “I’d like to do to standardized testing what napster did to the music biz”The music landscape today was inconceivable even ten years ago. I think it’s safe to say that our educational model in ten years today appears to be inconceivable – to most people.But let’s not mistake education for music. The music revolution involved replacing scarcity with abundance, in the case of both distribution and production.For testing, the distribution is already covered. It’s not too difficult to imagine taking multiple choice tests on an iPhone, for instance.But the means of production has been the bottleneck. Tests are still made today like they were fifty years ago. If you were to simply keep producing test material by requiring experts to manually research topics and write questions, you’d quickly run into a problem with a capital G.Unlike music, which doesn’t lose value as it is copied, test material does lose value as it is copied. After all, who wouldn’t be tempted just to try Googling answer keys? If the tests aren’t reliable, they don’t have value.Fred, what we need now is a way to produce assessment material much more quickly and easily than ever before. A factory that can just plop quizzes out, one after another….

  12. martinowen

    After 30 years of being an academic in the field of information and communication technology in learning I decided a couple of years ago to be an entrepreneuer. My business model used to be the next grant and the pi was articles in journals few ever read.I have almost certainly burned a few miiion Euros of tax payer money that way. I have realised if I ever want learners to actually use the products of this research I needed a better business plan. It is difficult approaching VC with the “e” word but on the other hand national (or international) and charitable funds do mean that you can bootstrap ideas in ways not available to others. I am pleased that you are willing to go where angels seem to fear to tread.My own area (learning to read) is as big a market as it gets and clearly needs some disruption.I have just come from an EU meeting on validating a policy initiative Web 2 and the learning landscape it would appear that decision makers have greater awareness of sea-change than they have been at anytime in the past (EU has had a good record of central investment – but poor on translating that R & D into action at the level of the student).

  13. wh

    I could write a lot on this. Trying to keep my comments short-enough to actually get read, without a ton of luck. Here goes:”Education” has (or should have) two parallel goals:(1) education, in the sense of imparting knowledge and skills(2) certification, in the sense of establishing a particular individual has certain knowledge or skillsSome readers are going to balk at (2), and I’ll happily admit that an overemphasis on (2) can be dangerous, especially when married to an attachment to flawed or misguided approaches to (2) (eg: nclb-like laws). That said, (2) is critical to the practice of (1), and improvements in either (1) or (2) can lead to improvements in the other.Bullet-pointed justification for (2):* a good instructor matches instruction to understanding; if an instructor can’t tell easily tell when a student sufficiently understands a topic, the instructor will move too fast (losing the student to bewilderment) or too slow (losing the student to boredom)* learners learn in a variety of contexts and locations, and often a particular educational setting needs to be reasonably comfortable that a given group of learners has obtained a shared baseline level of knowledge and skills in order to teach effectively (ie: it’s hard to effectively teach a course with prereqs if the students don’t have the prereqs, if “effectively teach” means “at the end the course the students will have learned the material”). With more learning options the need to effectively establish that so-and-so has sufficiently learned such-and-such via this-and-that is going to be a lot higher, at least when interfacing with more traditional institutions (academia, employers, etc.).* radical advances in our ability to determine that a particular individual has such-and-such skills and knowledge open the door to possibilities for radical improvements in educational effectiveness; if you read the rest of this post you’ll see some great examples of this pointSo, great, (1) and (2) are both super-important.I have one proposal and one comment. Proposal first:Proposal: Where possible, establish a standard set of curricula (where curricula = assumed minimal competency), with explicit interdependencies and (the trickier part) some way of establishing competency. The curricula should begin at as simple a level as possible (say, counting) and proceed to as advanced a level as feasible (say, elementary group theory or basic measure-theoretic analysis).The way of establishing competency: two part system (exam + spot-check). The exam is available periodically (anywhere from monthly -> yearly), and should resemble existing standardized tests: designed to take N hours, should be hard-but-doable if you actually know the material. Although amenable to being taken in a controlled facility, it may not be necessary to mandate that only tests taken in controlled conditions are valid; the spot-check system should take care of that.The spot-check system is capable of spitting out (new, randomly-generated) “pop quizzes” on the fly, and is intended to be used as a way to weed out fakers where necessary. IE: of an incoming class, all N claim to have mastered field F. Each student can be given (in controlled conditions) a pop quiz in field F (presumably of shorter length than the full exam), on the theory that even if they faked-or-cheated their way through the full exam the odds of having done that and then miraculously scraping through the pop quiz are low enough not to worry about.This is all a bit abstract, let’s make it concrete. For “Math”, we might have a set of standard curricula ranging from “numbers and counting” through “algebra” and “trigonometry” all the way to “elementary group theory” or what have you. (We already have such a system semi-formalized, we’d be making it more explicit and more comprehensive).We’d be administering a databank of exam questions for each criteria (both concrete questions and question-generators (ie: it’s pretty easy to generate “problems” of the form ax + b = y; where possible use generators and not specific examples); the “qualification” exams would be automatically generated where appropriate (up until proofs become necessary) and then assembled by hand on a recurring schedule (ideally monthly or quarterly) for grading; the spot-checks would draw from the same databases.Math is an easy field to do this for; other hard sciences (stats, physics, chemistry, etc.) and elementary engineering (eg: electric circuits, computer science) are similarly easy (and there’s a network effect if this approach takes off: it’s a lot easier to make a sequence of physics curricula if there’s already a sequence of math curricula out there, etc.).Foreign-language competence could be somewhat of a good fit for this approach, though it’s still hard.The “humanities” (history / literature / arts) are much harder to fit into this model; I’m going to dodge that entirely, there’s no need to design a single system that works well for everything.I’m also dodging the question of “who implements this” (either: the curricula, or the exam databanks / exam grading, etc.) — tackling that is too long.What does this system get you? A couple things:(A) it should be obvious that self-study and homeschooling and so on would benefit from such a system, and the more so the more comprehensive and the more widely trusted the curricula were. Additionally, a curricula decoupled from actual classes — but not the kinda of lame-brained-and-useless “standardized test” like the nclb demands — makes it far easier for “alternative” educational approaches both to demonstrate their effectiveness (if actually effective!) and to get their graduates taken seriously by other institutions (ie: accepted into better universities or graduate programs, or considered for better jobs, etc.).(B) a better approach to evaluation (and therefore: institutional goals) than classes and gradesThis one is complicated, doing the best I can to keep it simple.The educational approach we have now is:* material-to-be-taught is organized into “classes” (of fixed duration, due to organizational constraints)* a given class contains many students (of varying prior knowledge and aptitude)* a given class contains a single instructor (or, at least: a single thread of instruction)Let’s also assume that (within reason, ignoring the problem of “bad apples”):* for a given student S and a given set of material, at a given pace P the student will require at least E = S(P) effort to learn the material at that pace; students will vary in the amount of effort to need to put in to learn at given pace, though the general rule is that S(P) is monotone increasing* over the population of students, the amount of effort an individual student is going to put in (to any course, ever) is approximately normally distributedSo what plays out is:* due to organizational constraints, students in a given class are marched in lockstep through material at a certain pace P* due to variance in aptitude (higher aptitudes = slower-growing S(P)) and in willingness to expend effort, some % of students will have mastered the material at the end of the course and some % will not have mastered the material* those who have mastered the material are assigned “good grades” (As, usually) and those who haven’t mastered the materials are assigned “bad grades” (Bs on down, usually)Now, there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with grading someone’s performance in a course, but as currently done the system shortchanges everyone but that handful of students whose effort preference and natural aptitude coincidentally make the choice of pace a “perfect fit” for them.It shortchanges high achievers by wasting their time: if they could’ve learned the material in a half or a third of the time, that’s months of their life they can’t get back (and it’s actually worse: over the course of a typical education there are several cumulative years of life that go wasted waiting to dot all the is and cross all the ts so as to finally get to doing whatever it is all that education was preparation for).If there were a sufficiently-developed set of curricula+widely-accepted ways to certify oneself as having learned that criteria, the high-achievers looking to move faster would be more able to move at their own pace (and thus: we’d decouple measurements of academic attainment from measurements of performance in a particular training program).It shortchanges low-achievers by giving them no great options, and (to me) this is where an even bigger improvment can be made.Consider someone who gets through the introductory college calculus course with a C or so, and let’s assume this person isn’t a “bad apple” or someone fundamentally incapable of doing basic calculus. What the C actually tells us is this: “working at the level of effort this student was willing to put in, this student was only able to obtain a partial understanding of the material in the time allotted, and should not be treated as having satisfied the prerequisites for any class depending on this course”.Now, the student has a few options, none of them great: – taking the class over again (takes 3 months, maybe only one more month of study needed to master the material)- independently studying the material until mastery obtained (a good idea for the student, but it can be hard to convince third parties that that effort even happened, let alone that the material is understood)- re-evaluating life goals to something that doesn’t have this course as a prerequisiteIn the presence of a robust, trusted way to certify understanding of material, the low-achieving student has better options; I actually think there’s more room for improvement here (both in terms of “improvement” and in terms of societal outcomes) than at the higher-end, because as excruciatingly boring as schools can be for the high-achieving, the lower-achieving-but-still-capable are essentially discarded and left to fend for themselves, as they have educational needs that don’t fit neatly into quarters or semesters.I could sketch up most of the things that’d need to happen to get the ball rolling on this, but I’m not sure how to do it as a business or how to incentivize enough people.End ProposalBegin Comment:Education is usually framed as being about imparting “knowledge” and “skills”.We have a pretty good understanding of what imparting “knowledge” means in this context: there’s some body of facts and relations-between-facts that it’s possible not to know, and so you educate someone by ensuring that they know those facts. We also have a pretty good system already for imparting knowledge (readings and lectures) and for testing purely-factual knowledge (essay and multiple choice and fill-in-the-blank are all adequate, and computerization of tests here is only an incremental improvement on our ability to test knowledge of “pure facts”).”Skills” are interesting: factual knowledge can be a useful catalyst when trying to acquire a skill (ie: understanding the theory of sailing helps a lot when first learning how to sail), but to actually acquire a skill requires a lot of practice trying to accomplish the skill (arguably: no one has really learned a skill until they can actually perform the skill, and have performed the skill at least once).Arguably, skills are far more valuable (in the market, in trying to accomplish anything) than factual knowledge, although that’s not to say that factual knowledge isn’t useful and often necessary.Traditionally, there’s been no effective way to teach skills other than by putting the student through training (either doing the actual task or simplified versions of it) with close supervision from the instructor, and there’s been no way to evaluate a student’s mastery of a skill short of having the instructor closely observe the student’s execution of said skill. (Sometimes a student can practice independently and sometimes effectiveness is intrinsically apparent, allowing the student to self-evaluate; we’re talking about general rules here). Even then, oftentimes fully evaluating a student’s skill is impossible (ie: just how good of a fighter is this blackbelt candidate, really? just how good of a surgeon is this attending, really?…and this master carpenter, just how good of a carpenter is he, really? it can be very hard to know).This form of education makes heavy demands on instructors’ time and attention, which conspire to limit both the instructor’s general availability (the instructor may have very limited time open to teach) and the number of students an instructor can take on at one time (often no more than a few dozen or less). Consequently, the availability of this kind of education has often been very low, and usually candidate students are heavily filtered (eg: premed->med school->residency->specialty training) before being considered; those that don’t pass through the filter aren’t going to get the training.Moreover, the difficulty in evaluating performance in many skills (eg: how good is this surgeon?) other than by getting an expert to make a lot of careful observation of the candidate’s performance limits the viability of alternatives to finding an expert to study under; any evaluation is going to be time-intensive, even if there is some kind of objective standard of competence to be looking for, and often there isn’t…given the time constraint, it’s much easier for instructor to evaluate their own students (they’re already observing them closely), and not a lot of incentive for them to make a real effort at evaluating outsiders.What computers and the internet — as, together, interactive media — make possible is a real revolution both in how we educate people for “skills” and in how we evaluate them for mastery of “skills”, similar to the way that (a long time ago now) the written world and then the printing press made possible a real revolution in how people acquired knowledge: before the written word, knowledge had to be passed from person to person, with all the same time inefficiencies and limitations outlined above for transferring skills; after the written word — and particularly after the printing press made the written word affordable — transmission of knowledge (of the “pure factual” kind, at least) was freed from requiring heavy time investments from those already possessing it (aside from the upfront time required to write it down).What interactive media make possible is a similar revolution both in how skills can be transmitted and in how skill mastery can be evaluated without requiring the direct involvement of someone already having the skills (beyond the initial time needed to make the interactive media).For training, the possibilities are pretty obvious: making detailed simulations (with haptic and tactile interfaces as technology progresses, etc.), allowing the learner to safely practice (at their own pace, whenever they want and however often they want) skills (anything from skiing to sewing to bomb disarming to fly fishing to welding to tai chi), with a computer “trainer” carefully monitoring their performance and providing detailed, individual feedback. The basic challenge here is that simulation software is still hard to write (compared to a book), often fairly limited (in realism of simulation or in realism of interface — we’re a long way from believable tactile feedback in surgery simulations, for example), and of very limited availability in most categories.For evaluating, the possibilities are much more radical.Let’s look at medicine. How does one become a surgeon? Assuming one’s already gone through medical school and been accepted to the right residency on a surgery track, eventually the prospective surgeon is apprenticed to a practicing surgeon, and over a span of many years (depending on specialty 5-12) is progressively allowed to handle more of surgical procedures until being pronounced a real surgeon and sent off to do surgery.How are these timeframes established?It’s not scientific — if a residency in a given field lasts N years, it’s certainly the case that there’s no real scientific evidence that, say, after N years a newly-pronounced surgeon is probably competent but that that’s not the case after N-1 years, and so on.They’re basically rules of thumb, agreed upon by the practitioners in the field as the length of time after which they’re pretty comfortable that a given candidate is ready to practice in the field.Does the system work? Mostly, yes.Is it optimal? Probably not: we don’t actually have a way of determining when a surgeon-in-training is competent as a surgeon, so we can’t tell if trainee surgeons are being “overtrained”, or by how much (months/years/etc).Would it be revolutionary if a trainee surgeon could put on a VR suit and prove competence in a battery of realistic simulated surgeries, and be pronounced a real surgeon after completing a certain amount of real-life training and obtaining a long-enough record of consistently high performance on the simulated patients? Very much so.I picked medicine b/c it’s a field widely seen important and in which the advanced training is very hard to obtain and very much evaluated using rules of thumb and professional consensus. It’s a bad target for an immediate revolution for a huge number of reasons (technology to simulate surgery is too far away; there’s too few doctors already for reasons of political economy, so there’s too many patients in teaching hospitals for there to be time for trainee surgeons to waste in VR; the field is (justifiably) conservative, and will be slow to change even when this happens).The same could hold for any number of skill-intensive fields (anything from manual trades to many lines of white-collar work (like financial planning / portfolio management, for example): rather than relying on crude rules of thumb, competence could be measured much more precisely; even outside of direct economic benefit, a more-generally-skilled populace brings a lot of quality-of-life benefits.End CommentSorry to monopolize the blog. Summary:(a) proposal to start on now: build up a standardized, interlinking set of standardized curricula in fields that are suitable for such, along with infrastructure to certify attainment of the criteria (both full-on exams and spot-checking attainment); make it comprehensive and trustworthy enough, and you begin to decouple educational accomplishment (and measurement of such) from the institutional forms in which it is currently delivered. This is a win for existing “alternative” educational strategies (for obvious reasons), and helps define a better (for learners) “glue” to tie together all the various learning opportunities they come across, all while being able to easily convince others of their attainment.(b) there’s a bright future ahead, as interactive media make it much more possible to transmit “skills” and also to evaluate “skill mastery”. Both skill-transmission and skill-measurement are still stuck in the stone age (need to be done person to person) compared to “knowledge transmission”; that could change soon, with radical consequences (like the press did for basic knowledge, but for skills), but there’s a whole host of technical and institutional challenges to overcome to make it happen.

    1. wh

      Long as that was, I missed one thing.VR-training surgeons: that’s a ways off, no argument.More-realistic training and simulation: much more possible to happen now.We currently know what an “A” in some course “means”, and what a 5 means on an AP test, what an “1600” on the SAT means, etc.; all imperfect-to-flawed, sure, but known quantities.It may be good for little Suzy to play reader rabbit, but we don’t even have an intellectual framework for what, say, a 10000pt run in Reader Rabbit means, and we don’t even have a cultural impetus to assign some value to that accomplishment; the same would (for the moment) hold true for any other (even “better”) educational videogame.There’s a lot of groundwork (culturally, intellectually) in just finding ways not only to make educational software, but in making it “plug in” to existing systems of evaluation and accreditation (ideally without ruining the advantages of such software in the process).

    2. fredwilson

      I agree with the summary although I have to admit I lost you in parts of thelarger comment

      1. wh

        Thanks for taking the trouble, I know you’re a very busy person; I wish I was a clearer writer. I’ll only trouble you a little further. If there’s one thing I wanted to be sure to communicate, it’s this:If you want to napsterize the educational establishment, focusing on availability of learning materials is helpful but not really “napster”-level disruption; there’s already a plethora of freely available materials, and even if you personally do nothing further there’s going to be even more such materials in the future.What napster did was take an existing institution’s previously-exclusive authority and make a mockery of it; in so doing the public saw just how much richer a range of possibilities technological change had made possible, even if the napster approach wasn’t perfect (it wasn’t) and even if the existing institution had the law on its side (it did).The real exclusive authority the educational system has, right now, is accreditation and the corresponding ability to grant widely-accepted credentials both big and small (getting a diploma in a particular field is big; completing a class with a particular grade is small).To napsterize education, then, you need to somehow seize that credential-granting authority (or at least: make that authority non-exclusive), which would mean being able to offer some widely-accepted alternative credential system, or do something else that accomplished the same things; this would decouple measurement of educational attainment from the current institutional framework for granting such certification, and create an ecosystem in which alternative approaches can bloom.To illustrate the difference: it’s pretty neat that the kid in india passed his 11th grade exams just from wikipedia; it’d be a lot neater if there were a richer framework for measuring educational attainment that’d, say, let him self-study all the way to becoming a practicing EE with enough credibility to get hired as such…right now no one outside of India even knows what an 11th grade Indian education contains.To set up the system of standards, I’d propose establishing an independent (from any one institution), standardized series of progressively-more-advanced syllabi in those fields for which such a sequence is possible, like math; these syllabi would loosely correspond to the standard progression of courses a student takes, but be built around measurable outcomes (can solve quadratic equations; can work an integral), not necessarily standard blocks of time. These syllabi are matched with some facility for generating exams, of two types: longer exams, to certify attainment; shorter pop-quiz type tests, used for in-person spot checks as a way to weed out fakers. The sequence of syllabi should be as comprehensive as possible, from elementary to parts of college.Ideally, this would mean that that Indian kid could say “I used Wikipedia to learn my maths all the way through Standard-Multivariable-Calculus and physics through Standard-Classical-Mechanics, and I’ve been accepted on scholarship to Tufts”, because everyone all over the world would know what it meant to have obtained those standards.I don’t know how to turn the generation of those standards and corresponding examination tools into a profitable business venture, so I can’t be of much help there. I do know that peer production and open source works best when there’s a strong shared vision (like a protocol to implement or a technology to copy); having clearly-defined educational objectives would add a lot of focus to such efforts.

        1. fredwilson

          Got it. This did it for me:To napsterize education, then, you need to somehow seize thatcredential-granting authority (or at least: make that authoritynon-exclusive), which would mean being able to offer some widely-acceptedalternative credential system, or do something else that accomplished thesame things; this would decouple measurement of educational attainment fromthe current institutional framework for granting such certification, andcreate an ecosystem in which alternative approaches can bloom.²I just needed something I could sink my teeth into and that paragraph did itfor methanks

          1. Anselm

            Credential-granting authority is the heart of the matter.As an university professor, entrepreneur and MIT alumnus :), I am struck by the “structural obstacles” represented by the “accreditation need” and “brand value” of specific institutions … by analogy, “accreditation” and “brand value” play the same role as patents do in the technology space of keeping capable competitors at bay. Educational institutions have the power to grant “degrees” which can be used as “currencies” to qualify for certain jobs. Any new educational venture has to take this account to be successful.

          2. Kyle Mathews

            On this subject, Paul Graham’s recent essay on the changing nature of credentials due to the increase in the number of small firms is quite interesting.http://www.paulgraham.com/c

        2. fredwilson

          By the way, I reblogged my favorite part of this comment on fredwilson.vc

    3. Jon Sackler

      To your first point, check out http://www.achievementfirst.org. AF is a charter management org creating great public charter schools in low income communities. They have the curriculum and data management piece down. The curriculum is well defined so teachers know what is expected. They do a computer-based formative assessment every 6 weeks to identify specific student remediation issues, and they act on that data. They also develop an aspirational culture where student achievement is cool. The result is dramatic — within a couple of years, students who enter years behind grade level catch up. Visit the classrooms and you will see some inspired students. The kids read and write about 3 hours each day and demonstrate a sophisticated understanding of difficult material. The music program is outstanding. Town Meetings are like major sporting events, where kids cheer the winners of major academic contests (like the crowning of the King or Queen of Decimals, Fractions and Percentages).

  14. Ed

    This issue isn’t going away. If we don’t let it, that is.And it crosses both sides of the aisle.After my mother founded the Speech, Language and Hearing Clinic at Children’s Hospital Boston,She was tasked with taking the City of Cambridge MA, S, L & H Department from non existent to functional.She used the same kind of creativity Robinson talks about in that videoto elicit motivation and hope from the kids, all the while requiringthe naysayers to discreetly witness sessions with kids, and then with the staff she trained.Kids were placed in classrooms for the retarded because of speech and language deficiencies!! Think of how truly sick that was. They got speech therapy, and then A’s!Fast forward; they went from 1 part timer, to a world class departmentof 40 full time therapists, and were modeled by most states,and countless other nations.How? NO ‘one size fits all’ approach.But it isn’t always over ‘there’ somewhere.This brilliant, motivated woman who ached for these kids,didn’t see what our own suburban Boston town was doing: ‘one model/every kid.’They called me below average, and labeled me “unmotivated”. Later, with a real hippie of a PhD, at a new school,I tested in the top 1% of the US. WHY? Because she was a Ken Robinson.If you care about your world, your children’s world, on having a truly ‘Meta’affect on it, watch the video.But Thank the Fred Wilson’s who blog this cogent, seminal thesis on a Sunday morning.Think, care, take action, based on it or tomorrow is condemned. It doesn’t amtter if your kids are at BB&N then Harvard.They’re in this world. And the next Ghandi, or JFK, or George Washington is one f’d up test, one negative-spectrum teacher away from oblivion.Make a donation here: http://www.avc.com/a_vc/200…So that everyone is ready.

  15. lucaf

    As a tech entrepreneur (and more recently as a father) I’ve had education in the back of my mind for a long time, and your post resonated very strongly with me.The education system is obviously broken and obsolete, but the fix it isn’t obvious. Figuring out how to bring the 21st century to education is a great opportunity to make a remarkable contribution to mankind.Please keep us posted on the session. If offered the opportunity to participate in person, I’d happily make the trek to NY.

  16. Sean

    It would seem that a piece of the solution is to decouple education from the institution. Let industry determine what the acceptable level of knowledge is for a specific position/occupation and then make that information available along to any who want to learn it.

    1. jeffjarvis

      Sean,Part of it is already uncoupled as in the example of Kaplan teaching programming. There is still a place (I hope) for academic pursuit: curiosity, research, thinking, knowledge for knowledge’s sake. That may still come with a university — except not with one university but from a distributed choice of them, eh?

  17. Jon Bischke

    Hey Fred. *Amazing* post. The very things you’re writing about is where about 98% of my mental energy has gone over the last several years. Your thesis is right on the money and I’ll add the following things as conclusions that we’ve come to about education and the optimal solution to its ills.#1 – It has to be open. Virtually everyone who has approached the online education space has attempted a closed approach. Companies controlling curriculum, setting prices and creating (usually big) spreads between what they pay teachers and what they charge students, etc. Yet when you look at just about every big web success story it has a pretty significant degree of openness. eBay, Wikipedia, YouTube, Flickr, etc. The list goes on and on. It’s actually pretty hard to think of a big web property that isn’t open.#2 – It has to be community-focused. Educational models of the past have been transaction-focused. Get people to come to your school or tutoring company and get them to pay you money. Have them only show up for stuff when it’s stuff they paid for. But transactional models are not how the rest of the Web work. The rest of the Web (at least the successful sites) leverage communities. They’re places where people want to spend all day, regardless of whether or not they’re “doing something”. They’re places where people make friends which sometimes mirror friend relationships in the physical world and which sometimes don’t.#3 – It has to allow the best educators to scale. Your point about the best instructors teaching less than 100 kids at a time totally hits the mark. Examples like Megastudy in Korea have shown what can happen when you allow the best teachers to leverage themselves through technology (the top teacher for Megastudy made $2 million last year…that’s not a typo). iTunes University and some of the others adopting open source/open courseware models for education are doing a good job of this (even if they’re not open or community-focused).#4 – It has to be about economic empowerment for the many, not the few. The fastest-growing web platforms give people the promise of economic empowerment. eBay of course and more recently Etsy in the product space. Google with AdSense which empowered thousands of content producers. Even Facebook really started moving with the app platform which gave at least the promise of economic empowerment for app creators. Build a platform for economic empowerment around education online and you’ll see some amazing things happen.#5 – It has to be fun. Go to some to the “top” online education company websites and ask yourself, how fun is this? In order to compete with all the other things vying for attention these days and the amazing energy that’s been poured into user experience with stuff like video games, music sites, etc. education start-ups have to take the same approach. Most of the sites in the space (ours included) just aren’t enough fun yet. That will change but it has to made a priority.Two final comments:Fred, I’d love to participate in your event this winter if possible.If anyone is interested in having an impromptu dialogue on this topic tomorrow night (11/3) I’ve set up a session for 7 PM PST. Here’s the link:http://edufire.com/classes/…This is a topic extremely near and dear to me and it’s completely awesome to see so much energy going in this direction.

    1. fredwilson

      JonThis is a great set of groundrulesI endorse them wholeheartedlyWe’ll let you know when hacking education is happening

  18. jseliger

    The tools to do this are right in front of us; peer production, collaboration, social networking, web video, voip, open source, even game play. There are more problems with these generalities than you acknowledge: peer education works only to the extent someone knows something about the subject in the first place, collaboration to the extent both parties move toward an equilibrium directed at learning, “social networking” appears to be a random buzzword, and so on. (See some of the education links in this post for more.) Furthermore, translating generalities into gritty reality would probably bring them vastly closer to current educational methods than you might think, much as RFPs tend to be poorly written thanks to the nature of the system implementing them.Some of this comment is informed by my own recent experience teaching freshmen composition at the University of Arizona, and I doubt most students there would be helped by the things you describe. Granted, that might not be their purpose—elite education might be—but it’s still worth noting. Education has changed; in my classes I’ll assign some Paul Graham essays along with others from the book, for example, and I try and move more toward a peer education model. But it often doesn’t work if students can’t articulate their own thoughts, closely read for content, and the like.If you’re curious about more, drop me an e-mail. I’m not sure I’m necessarily “hacking education,” but I’m trying to, albeit from the inside.

    1. fredwilson

      Jake ­ thanks for the commentI will plead guilty to generalitiesThis is only a blog post and I am not really an expert in this areaMore than anything this was meant to say, I am open to learning more soplease bring it onI love that you are incorporating some of these ideas in your classfred

  19. Adrian Monck

    Fred – from my perspective running a journalism grad school I’d say a lot of learning is done by students amongst themselves.The social network is not just a bolt-on – it is the learning experience.That’s why good students want to get to elite institutions. Not to access the most inspiring teachers, but the most inspiring peer group.

    1. fredwilson

      Great pointThat was very true of my experience at MITI had never met such brilliant people and all of a sudden I was surroundedby them

    2. BillSeitz

      Yes, even at the elite public high schools in NYC, like Stuy, there are known to be some horrible teachers, and 1 principal quit specifically based on lacking any power to fire anyone.

  20. johndodds

    The greatest education hack would be to reverse the thinking that the certificate at the end of the process is the goal. Education is only truly successful if it fires a life-long desire to learn.

    1. fredwilson

      Life long learning is where its at for sure

  21. Hestia

    As the parent of two now-grown ADD kids, I can definitely relate to this discussion. We moved to a top-three (in the nation) county so that our kids would have a good education. Didn’t work. The school system did not know what to do with kids who didn’t fit the mold. The school psychologist actually wanted us to sign a permission form to put them into therapy to deal better with boredom! One of their teachers advised us to put them in private school, because they would be so discouraged by the local school system that they would drop out. We did that for elementary and junior high, then put them back into public high school, in a magnet program.What worked:- buying lectures from the Teaching Company. Our kids loved them from high school on; they may be too detailed for younger students. I love many of their professors and still buy a lot of them. After listening to two courses Greek and Roman history, our kids had no problems getting A’s in history classes. These courses were way more interesting than the materials offered in high school. This pattern continued in college, because the lecturers are way better than most college other professors.- getting some good, entertaining, compelling games, such as Rome: Total War. They learned geography, civics, military history, etc. So many lessons were there and no nagging was required.- getting tons of books and having them around the house. When one son was interested in WWII, we got all kinds of books about military strategy, Churchill, whatever. He found the ones that interested him and did a deep dive. He became an expert on the Battle of Midway and on Patton’s strategy.- getting one son an internship to help a high school teacher teach elementary Geometry and algebra. In the process of helping to teach, of course, he learned the material in great depth.One son stayed in high school just to play sports. Whatever worked!The bottom line is that kids learn through many venues. Don’t focus on the schools; build an environment. The schools should First Do No Harm. They should not shame kids, bore kids, get in the way of kids’ learning. They should provide enough structure so that kids can learn through multiple modalities. I think that a Montessori High School would be awesome.We put a huge amount of effort in picking the right college for our kids; all different ways of teaching, different sized schools, different focus, etc. Why in the world does that only apply to college?

  22. brooksjordan

    “I believe our only hope for the future is to adopt a new conception of human ecology . . . Our education system has mined our minds in the way that we’ve strip mined our earth, for a particular commodity.”That line is at about 18min 15secs into Ken’s TED video.What I love about this way of putting it is that it says that education is not just about getting more people more “knowledge,” it’s about the healthy and sustainable way to cultivate the resource known as the mind. The mind would be a limitless resource if we treated it that way.I also absolutely love the idea of teaching children how to learn and then letting them choose from a whole range of open sourced curriculum and teachers. That is what many of us are doing on the Web as adults right now. And that’s how I wish I could have done it in school.

  23. Ethan Bauley

    One of my favorite “Education 2.0” anecdotes comes from a reference made by John Seely Brown in his article “Minds On Fire”:A college professor in a writing course assigns 20 students a 3-page paper. The professor asks all the students to publish the paper on a personal blog (which the students assume is for the professor’s eyes only). The professor keeps the blog URL’s private for this first paper. After the students submit their second paper (via their blogs), the professor sends out an email to all the students with the url’s of everyone else’s papers.What happened? Criticism in comments, classmates reading each others’ work, etc. For subsequent assignments, the quality of the writing went through the roof because students knew that peers would be critiquing them (in addition to the prof).Two axes that I’d like to see addressed while we’re hacking education:1. Tactics (like the above) that enable existing teachers in existing institutions to dramatically improve learning (maybe this is just a system for sharing “what works” among instructors; my wife teaches 3rd grade at a great school and it drives me insane how much primary research and experimentation she still has to do. Open-source lesson plans has to be the future)2. New institutions or protocols that enable individuals to self-organize self-directed learning AND receive credit for their work. I’m not really buying the “who needs tests” “who needs degrees” “who cares about scores” line of reasoning. Recognition for pure intellectual pursuit (in the absence of a proven application of that knowledge) is still really important.Thanks for a great post, Fred.

    1. fredwilson

      That’s a great anecdote. Can you send me a link to Minds On Fire?

      1. Ethan Bauley

        here’s the article:http://connect.educause.edu…i paraphrased the anecdote but you get the idea ;-)jsb has some other good resources on his home page, including anarticle called “How to Connect Technology and Passion in the Serviceof Learning”http://johnseelybrown.com/i got to meet dr. brown back in the spring…very cool!

  24. Matt

    All of the attempts at hacking education that you reference in your blog post are useful and interesting, but they are not sufficiently dynamic. Online courseware is nice, but as I learn from online courseware, I am not helping others learn. As I contribute to Wikipedia, I’m unable to leverage the community of users interested in a particular topic for anything other than creating and improving encyclopedia entries related to that topic.I’ll be contacting you shortly to discuss how my startup called Jabbik solves some problems that existing offerings such as Wikipedia leave unsolved. Jabbik is to books as Wikipedia is to encyclopedias. Our deliberately vague pre-launch site: http://www.jabbik.com, our occasionally less vague blog: blog.jabbik.com.

  25. daveschappell

    Fred, you’ve disrupted my entire day — instead of making progress on my list of to-dos, I’ve spent 20 minutes re-watching the Ken Robinson video, and another hour staring out the window thinking about what we’re all doing to change the education lifespan in this country, and around the world.I’m a big believer in encouraging the process of lifelong learning, and empowering experts with tools to help them reach their audience, whether that’s in real-world forums, online learning communities of all kinds, or in one-to-one exchanges. Everyone’s an expert in something (or many things), and there are people out there looking to learn — we just need to help them connect the interest-dots and encourage them to collaborate.I’ll be checking in to participate in Jon Bischke’s Edufire chat tonight (http://edufire.com/classes/…, and I’d love to have someone from TeachStreet participate in your Union Square event this winter.As an aside, we’ll be expanding TeachStreet to the Bay Area in the next 2 weeks or so — will be exciting to see how some coming modifications are received!

  26. Glen Moriarty

    Hi Fred,I remember an earlier post where you discussed the need for educational games to be used to promote learning. This post seems another step in the primacy that education is playing in your thinking. I’m delighted to see that an investor sees value in this both as a huge revenue opportunity and an amazing opportunity to help our children, our country and the world.The market size is truly ridiculous. Information week puts eLearning at 52 Billion in 2010 and growing (http://www.informationweek….. Christensen (yes, that one), Johnson and Horn have provided more figures, charts, and data to illustrate just how ripe the educational system is for disruption. I highly, highly, highly recommend their book: Disrupting Class: How Innovation Will Change the Way the World Learns (http://www.amazon.com/Disru…’ve consulted with Michael Horn a couple of times and I think that he’d be a phenomenal thinker to invite to your colloquium series. He is really sharp, humble, and has been thinking through these things for years.At NIXTY, we’ve been working hard on solving these problems too. We are still developing our service, but would love any feedback on our thinking and/or intro video that you can find at http://www.nixty.com. Finally, for those of you who are more academically inclined, I’ve got an intro post up for a journal that will be coming out in January. You can find that post here: http://mfeldstein.com/web-2…Fred, I am also very interested in attending the seminars you put on. I’d also be delighted to help out in any way that would be helpful. I see cooperation as a critical aspect to solving this puzzle so would love to be a part of a dialog and effort to help solve these problems.

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks GlenJust bought the book.Very excited because I love Christensen

      1. Glen Moriarty

        I’m with you. Christensen is one of those rare thinkers who can really use theory to illuminate real life business things. Refreshing. His work with Horn is pretty fascinating. If interested, you can find out more at the InnosightInstitute.org.

  27. abachman

    “I want to help take all of them down and build something better in its place. I am not a fan of home schooling, but I understand it’s appeal. I do not think I can teach my kids better than others. But I do think my kids and my wife and I need more choice of who educates them.”You’re putting homeschooling in a kind of funny box here. I have no intention of putting my children through one day of compulsory education, but that has nothing to do with a desire to teach them myself, or the any sort of belief that I (or my spouse) would make a better teacher. That’s an all too common assumption, though. Homeschooling just has a bad marketing department.On that note, I think you see where the desire comes from–escaping a broken system–but you’re not giving credit to the options that become available when you take back the 8 hours x 200 days x 12 years that traditional education requires of children in this country. It’s so much bigger than MIT OpenCourseware and Wikipedia. Those things are great resources, but whether we have them or not, the system is still broken, backwards, and inhumane.I personally am most inspired by authors like John Taylor Gatto and John Holt, who would probably argue that what we need is not an improved, expanded, or reformed education system, but less or no education at all. The first chapter of Holt’s Instead of Education lays it out pretty well (link to books.Google page): “My concern is not to improve ‘education’ but to do away with it, to end the ugly and antihuman business of people-shaping and let people shape themselves.”The important effect that the information tools you bring up have on education is that they remove the need for it. Learning is not education, and education is not required for learning. People will realize that the institutions are not necessary. This is so much bigger than reform.

    1. Glen Moriarty

      Abachman, homeschoolers are huge innovators in this space. Recent #’s suggest that this collective group is as large as 2 million and growing. Through consulting with several homeschooling agencies, I’ve learned that there is still a need for a practical way for curriculum to be shared online, a way to log student hours to meet state requirements, and a way for parents to feel safe and involved. I see homeschoolers as one of the main groups that will drive this disruption. Other groups include those seeking AP courses in rural and urban areas, lifelong learners, and continuing education for professionals.

      1. abachman

        That’s refreshing to hear from someone who’s in the business. I am way to one edge of the homeschooling movement (“unschooling”, officially), but I know the desire for curriculum is strong. You summed up the reasons well: 1) state requirements, 2) parental comfort level. The shift away from antiquated, static requirements-based education will hopefully weaken number 1, but number 2 will be an issue for another few generations after that. Change will continue, but until we reach utopia, I’ll do right by my children as best I know how and encourage all I can reach to do likewise.To be specific, what I’m most critical of is the K-12 system. Outside of that realm, personal choice is so much more influential in how learning is allowed to unfold. I, as an adult, can choose when, where and what I want to partake in, but we rarely extend that courtesy to children.Good luck with Nixty, by the way, I will definitely be looking into it.

      2. fredwilson

        Here’s a question I have about home schooling: how do the kids develop thesocial skills that attending school with other kids teach them?

        1. gregorylent

          kids have them (social skills) naturally and school often diminishes them through social pressures derived from the lowest common denominator and popular “culture”

          1. robsanchez

            I was raised to view school as social education, not as where I received knowledge. For learning, my parents encouraged us to read and explore on our own and we would have dinner as a family to discuss current events and the world around us. There was always a culture of education and a high value on learning but it was emphasized that learning is personal. School was a game that had to be played to get you to the next level.It is definitely possible to create a social world for kids that are being home schooled. Work/play groups can be set up, local sports teams can be joined, there are many options. As far as kids having social skills naturally, like all things in life social skills must be developed and maintained or else they will atrophy. I have met many kids from both home schools, public schools, and private schools that have difficulty interacting in a social environment because they were never in social situations that caused them to grow.

          2. fredwilson

            I think of it similarlyWe send our kids to school to develop sociallyAnd make sure we stimulate them outside of school to learn what they don’tor won’t learn in schoolI am not saying they don’t learn in school. They do, particularly withcertain teachers.But you cannot rely completely on schools to teach your kids, you have to doit.But I have not found anything that can compete with school to develop a kidsocially

          3. Shawna

            I think the real question is what kind of socialization do we want for our children? School puts children in a confined space with kids of the same age with one adult for 7 or more hours a day. How is this considered the hallmark of good socialization?Children who are homeschooled interact with diverse groups of people in real life settings. They are exposed to real life social situations while they help shovel the driveway on a snowy day, talk to the storekeeper at the local store, play with other homeschooled kids at a playgroup or organized activity. The truth is that children who are not in school are open to having a much wider set of social experiences than children who spend the majority of their childhood in classroom with kids of the same age. Many of the homeschooled kids I have met are able to interact with not only kids their own age, but older and younger kids as well as adults.Here is an article that summarizes some of the research on socialization and homeschooling.http://learninfreedom.org/s

          4. gregorylent

            the most socially adept kids i have ever know are village kids in india, running free for years, then some school … they all get along with everybody .. old and young

        2. Glen Moriarty

          Homeschoolers are often part of a larger community. This can be part of a church, civic group, or homeschool co-op. They have a lot of socialization opportunities, but are often sheltered more than kids who attend public or private schools. In religious settings, you’ll sometimes here kids referred in a negative way as ‘so homeschool.’ The idea being that they are less socially adept. Clearly, many kids who are homeschooled are very socially adept and quite advanced academically. Some, just like in public school settings, are not.

        3. randallmoeller

          They develop social skills by going on play dates, participating in group activities like athletics and scouting and Linux user groups and science clubs, and taking some classes (e.g., art classes at a community center, music lessons, etc.). Some homeschooling families would say the social skills learned in schools are largely negative ones, such as how to conform and how to brown-nose.Fred, you might like Grace Llewellyn’s Teenage Liberation Handbook, a wonderful book about homeschooling.Rabelais also had some brilliant ideas on what learning can and should be like — Book I, chapters 23-24 of Gargantua and Pantagruel describe the life of a 16th century homeschooler. Plenty of field trips to observe adults doing real activities, learning math through card games, studying biology by examining plants in the wild.Thanks for starting a great conversation.

    2. kidmercury

      you nailed it. nailed it! school is for suckers. if you want an education, drop out, get a job, an internet connection, buy some books, and start teaching yourself. school is about turning you into a robot.

  28. Josh Maher

    This is great and some kind of reform is definitely needed……..But if you remove the institution of the university, how do you ensure a level playing field of the graduate? How do you demonstrate the knowledge you acquired? Furthermore, as an employer, how do I guage the well-rounded education of my employee? Can you easily guage a really bright individual through a short conversation (perhaps if they are passionate you could, otherwise you can’t).Despite these critical problems of open education at the University level. The real problem that needs to be addressed is at the level before University (and the idea in those student’s heads about what life-long learning is). Students in the Elementary through High School levels are pushed too hard to meet the standardized tests that you mention Fred. There is no time left for open exploration, guided self-taught learning, or the difference between team based activities and individual activities. No passion for learning and exploration is emparted on children in the same way that it was in decades past. Perhaps the internet and television is partly at fault here, and perhaps a majority of parents are as well. But teaching my 8yr old to memorize times tables is far less valuable then inspiring him to learn them on his own. Playing on the internet is worthless unless the children are learning a real skill of some kind.The inspiration and explanation of how this knowledge fits in the world (which is the key thing that everyone remembers “good” teachers for), is second and the memorization is first.So yes, we do need to re-evaluate the system, but no, I don’t think starting at the University level will make much of a difference unless the elementary-high school systems are addressed..

    1. Glen Moriarty

      Josh, in your first paragraph, you bring up some excellent points. I think for most people in the developed world the traditional accreditation process will continue to serve as a heuristic or shorthand way to vouch for their academic background and competency level. However, for people beyond that – people in trades where academic degrees are less relevant (ie., computer programming), and people in countries where the accreditation infrastructure isn’t yet crystallized — there is a need for a parallel accreditation system that scales provides a way of measuring a person’s academic experience and competency. George Siemens, and others, have written on this under the heading of open accreditation. I see this as a key part of any enterprise that is really going to help shift things. If interested, then you can read more on our company blog.

    2. fredwilson

      Good point about starting at the start

      1. robertogreco

        Great post, Fred, and a great set of comments here as well. Here are a few of my thoughts:Starting at the start does seem to make sense. However, if universities continue to use the same sort of admissions criteria (grades and standardized tests primarily), high schools will continue focusing on preparing their college prep students for just that. Subsequently middle school schools will continue to prepare their students for high schools with that focus and on down the line. From my point of view down here in the sixth grade (as teacher), even at a progressive private school, the anxiety that parents have about their children getting into the ‘right’ high school which will get them into the ‘right’ college leads them to demand what you could consider traditional teaching as opposed to the open exploration, self-directed learning that we try to serve up. In a sense we already start at the start in many schools (think quality pre-school and kindergarten programs that are hands-on and exploratory), but university admissions expectations start trickling down and take over somewhere between first and fourth grade. By the time many students hit middle school, they no longer see learning as just being human, but rather as something they are told to do.All this leads me to wonder what the best approach is. Should we overhaul the entire system at once (a system-wide reset of expectations) or start from the top down or the bottom up. Most likely we should offer as many options in as many communities as we can. Within a varied system different approaches can be tested, but I’m also guessing most parents are understandably not so willing to sign their child up for an experiment. In the mean time, and as noted elsewhere in this thread, many of the parents that have the means and the time and the interest in trying something different are turning to homeschooling. That’s why my wife and I, like abachman above, have chosen unschooling. We value the personal choice it affords our children and the flexibility it provides to our family. I too recommend taking a look at the work of Holt, Illich, Gatto, and Llewellyn. So many of their ideas are even more possible now with the tools the web provides.Which leads me back to my classroom (first year at the school) where, as much as possible, I am attempting to incorporate some of the principles of unschooling, a variety of web tools, and most recently the game of Superstruct into an environment that allows for self-directed, open-ended, cross-disciplinary projects that are worked on both as individuals and in collaborative groups be they in the classroom or on the web. That often means allowing learning to be messy.

    3. Hestia

      Agree – universities are not really the problem – it’s K-12. A lot of really brilliant people are lost before they get to university. There are many choices and pathways through college, not nearly enough for K-12.

  29. Karen E

    I’ve been waiting for this post for a long time. It’s wonderful. I remember thinking while reading through the options on the Donors Choose list, “wow, these schools are so broken that the teachers are here begging for a ________ (video camera, whatever). And it’s just not like Fred to be connecting with things that are so broken.” So, good! Now you’ll be listening to all kinds of entrepreneurs speak about how to build the ‘environments’ that commenter Hestia describes above, and scale ’em. Hallelujah! And vote on Tuesday! Bring a folding chair to wait it out! Amen!

    1. eyebeams

      I have all the same reservations. I recently posted on this on the UK scene and gave some practical ways forward based on six years consulting in the Education field. The Site also has concrete video and audio exemplars of practitioners joining up to use new social media to effect change as well as groups outside of institutions doing very similar stuff. The time is ripe for change but it needs a top down facilitation of bottom up practice and competency. This article http://www.l4l.co.uk/?p=110 in response to this one by Josie Fraser http://fraser.typepad.com/s… – we have all the same problems here as well. But sometimes it does seem like we are not being heard.

  30. Cory Levy

    As a high school junior, awesome post! Education prepares you how to think no matter what the eventuality is. However, the education system in America needs to be fixed. I can relate to having a boring teacher.. I have a total of 8 teachers and one of them is lazy.. Majority of the class believes we would learn more from sitting in the library reading the textbook.Interesting fact – kids in Japan and Germany have between 220-240 days of school in the year. Here in America we have 180 days. My school (Jewish day school) has something like 120 full days of school..

  31. Lisa

    As an elementary teacher in Canada, I agree with most of your post. I believe that there are many teachers who are themselves afraid of technology and have not learned how to help facilitate student learning this way. There is so much information available to students now and if they are taught to take in new information in a discerning way, the possibilities are endless. I also agree that there are many problems with the traditional educational system, especially when it comes to standardized testing. Those tests are not at all a measure of true knowledge.I guess my reservations about the open model of education that you are discussing come when I think of younger learners (elementary, junior high, and maybe even high school). As a teacher, I care so deeply about the students whom I am entrusted to teach each day. Many times people have asked me “what do you teach?” and I answer “children.” The amazing teachers that you talk about do not just have a passion for a subject, they have a passion for teaching. It is just as important for me to observe my kids playing at recess and learn about their home lives as it that I know what strategies they use to decode words in a story. I just don’t think that you can get the same personal interaction in a virtual environment as you can in a physical classroom. Skilled teachers create an environment of trust, friendship and a community that fosters learning. So many kids spend their time playing video games (which I agree can be great learning tools if developed properly) and online (again which is amazing if they approach the abundance of information with a critical eye) but lack social skills with other children. I love your ideas about education, and I do agree, but I think we need to remember that developmentally kids also need those interactions. I don’t think that I would call myself “amazing” but I know that I have made a difference in the lives of children. I don’t know if I would make this same difference if I wasn’t physically there. I would love to think so, but I really don’t know. I also truly believe that if demands (testing, large class sizes etc) were not so high there would be many more amazing teachers. Many teachers want to do better than they are doing but feel that when they try they are beat down by the traditional system.

    1. fredwilson

      LisaYou are bringing up an issue that I have really struggled to get a handle on­ the physical location and the socialization that schools provideI am not thinking of a world in where kids sit at home in front of acomputer and learnBut I am thinking of a world where we have more choicesI don’t pretend to understand how to put this all togetherBut I am sure we can if we commit ourselves to it

  32. Graham Glass

    Hi Fred,Great post! We’ve made some good progress towards this goal at http://www.edu20.org. The next steps for us are adding “learning channels” for asynchronous teaching/learning, and spreading the word. We’d be interested in participating in your event!Cheers,Graham

  33. Ed

    What could change, if Manny Ramirez lost half of his salary to attract a team of tremendous teachers to a major high school. We double their pay overnight, plus incentives.(I know we’re talking education here, but won’t a healthy educational model lead to thinkers who would re-prioritize society across all spectrum?)What if LeBron James agrees he’s overpaid and we give another $1,000,000 to the best team of pediatric oncologists in Ohio?What if Tom Brady (and Gizelle) agreed they were grossly overpaid, and we built very excellent centers of care for our abandoned and poor elderly HUMAN beings.What if Barack saved $100,000,000 in advertising, and we added classrooms where 1 teacher to 37 students “just ain’t cuttin’ it.”?What if Exxon/Mobil donated $10,000,000,000 to educate new parents, (least privileged first), on the ‘Ken Robinson’ model?See, it has to be wholistic. A society that that truly accepts, understands and enriches our next generations mindsfrom the earliest ages, is necessary to make the thoughtful changes and priorities noted by everyone above, viable. Those same youths will have to then learn and adapt during higher education, the needs of the infrastructure they wish to be employed with.But that’s okay. By then they’re who they’re supposed to be, and competent at it.

    1. gregorylent

      agree … the entire culture is out of balance .. and people asking for “change” have no idea what that means ..

    2. Guest

      I wonder why chose to pick on athletes. What about CEOs who run their company to the ground, yet find a way to insulate their bonuses and “golden parachutes” (such as the Wa Mu ex-CEO)? Or fund managers (VC, hedge, LBO, etc.) who get their 2%, despite negative returns year-after-year that decimate their investors, among which, mind you, are college fund endowments (talk about “investing in education”).If you you are into this “redistribution” thing, you should start from the incompetent parasites that quietly suck out the blood from the productive forces in the economy, rather than the star athletes who put butts in the seats and make tons more for their owners than what they take in as pay…

      1. Ed

        Actually, I’m not into redistributing anyone’s anything. And I’m slapping my forehead for forgetting the prime example I could have used last night; filthy major CEO’s.I’m not talking about taking from them now, and giving it to others.That’s communism, ans we could end up with it tomorrow.I’m speaking of a priority set, where billions aren’t spent on ignorant beer ads,which fund the TV time, which fund the prima donna athletes while we ask 28 year old cardio thoracic surgeons to work 90 hour weeks without a mistake for the same ANNUAL dough Ramirez makes in an inning!

        1. Guest

          look, I am sure you are an outstanding person, very decent on a conscious level. I just find it ironic and a bit tendentious that one would write a comment on what is wrong with the culture and start with the salaries of two black athletes…It is these subconscious residuals in Americans’ psyche that make tomorrow such a monumental day. I am on the other side of the globe and am getting goose-bums already… For anyone who have lived in America, this is just unimaginable. I am taking Wednesday morning off to watch CNN.

          1. Ed

            Hehe. The residuals are not racial I assure you, having been on the receiving end. The residual resentment of overpaid athletes like Ramirez making multi-millions while being idolized by our youth, has nothing to do with color.It is much more visceral in my case; I am cursed with being a dyed in the wool Boston Red Sox native. :)Thinking abstractly for a moment, can you envision a society where we have World Series and Super Bowl like parades because of, and to celebrate the team responsible for ‘THE’ breakthrough in curing breast cancer? AIDS? Diabetes?I am speaking of an education system which appreciates the unique thinking and voice each human being is born capable of, edifies them with with knowledge, choices, and a priority set which encourages and rewards truly beneficial innovation.I see a youth hungry to solve to the impending food and water crises across Africa and other continents. Not just another generations coveting a spot in the NBAwith Mercedes and Mercedes necklaces.I ache for a society where:- billions are NOT spent on child pornography,[and the commensurate, horrific human wreckage]; where such a thing is so abnormal that it isn’t sustainable.-Where the billions spent on advertising cigarettes and alcohol are spenton the neurosciences, solving addiction, mental illness, [skyrocketing]sociopathic tendencies, etc, instead.Why do you think Ritalin and Adderol, and Strattera are enjoying massive profits?Do you think there is a change in the genetic make up of humans, within just a generation or 3? Or simply that deficient attention as a common ill was suddenly recognized? Yes, the biological determinants were overlooked in the past, and yesthe actual pace of life now, especially for our youths, is conducive toa mindset which prohibits deep attention being afforded to anything more than briefly.But- WE made it this way. We tell kids in the public schools; “sorry that you don’t understand this key concept within the mold, the proscribed track for everyone, and within the allotted minutes. You fail. And we’ve branded you in your records permanently”.I don’t care if the person is a black Asian like Tiger Woods, or white as it gets Bill Gates.Our priorities are screwed up. {←That’s where I’d use the f word for emphasis, if not for respect for Fred and readers}.Why didn’t Warren Buffet reroute some of his billions in McDonald’s earningsinto creating a truly healthier menu at the Golden Arches? Consider, in the aggregate, the divergent effects on a nation’s health from those disparate models.If we educated our children effectively in the schools regarding theirown Earth suits, perhaps McDonalds wouldn’t have flourished.Maybe Buffet’s legacy could have been of the man who funded and spurred innovation in the food industry, so that the tens of millions of adults and children who eat fast food daily wouldn’t be poisoning themselves, daily.Perhaps those same food labs [he could have created] could have also shared their gleaned knowledge for sustainable food sources elsewhere?You see, it is not only letting the hyper active child dance, when she’s notborn to be a chemist. It is hoping she will beautify with a ballet school that brings thousands more children to a healthy passion, rather than an education system that says “some of you should learn to dance because we need more Vegas strippers”

      2. fredwilson

        Good pointBut I don’t think of CEOs as starsJust overpaid white men in suits (for the most part)

  34. Justin Reidy

    Great post, and great comments. As a former political scientist turned software developer, I think we’ve barely seen the tip of the iceberg in the way technology will change the more entrenched parts of our society. Education is certainly in need of a change – as Sir Ken points it, it is built around the needs of the industrial revolution, and as such is at least a century out of date.BUT! Economic inequalities will make some of what has been discussed here difficult to implement. Even if the greatest of teachers are made ubiquitous and freely accessible, I’m not sure how children can be educated if they lack the foundations of language or mathematics, let alone the basic family and social structure to enable them to learn. There are ways around this – perhaps making schools into institutions that foster personal and social development within a community setting, while providing equal opportunity to the technology that enables learning – but that would require a DRASTIC rethinking of the nature of a school, and one that would have many parents concerned about schools taking too aggressive a line in their childrens’ lives.Fixing education will require a COMPLETELY outside-the-box solution, and will require the input of technologists, teachers, psychologists, and creatives. (And shelter from the existing vested interests!) But we need to let the brainstorming begin!

  35. aweissman

    I believe that real innovation in hacking education will come from doing alot more than making materials accessible online — it will come from making connections, in a data-accessible way — by and among information and people.In other words, the innovation will come through using what I have called”outside in” services – ones that don’t start with the proposition that learning, or education, begins with an institution. Indeed, these services explicitly or implicitly reject that proposition and instead posit that the student, the learner, can also be at the core of education and learning (not an institution).As we all know, many interesting applications have been developed to address the problem of managing data-types in an always-connected, Internet-centric environment. Some of these data types are new and digital (digital music and photography, for example), and some are old and analog but are now being delivered and consumed in a digital world (news and information and search).So we’ve seen applications such as Flickr to manipulate the data type digital images. iTunes and Last.fm to manipulate digital sound data. YouTube for more streaming moving images media. Wikipedia for “objective” information. Google for search. Facebook and MySpace for social community. Huffington Post for the news. Delicious for web pages. Etc.Real, real value will created by taking these phenomena and applying them to education.

  36. Aaron@iPadApp

    Hi Fred,First time comment here. How about a follow on post on ‘Hacking Finance’ : )

    1. fredwilson

      Good suggestion aaronWe have a few hacking finance investments already, including wesabe andcovestorBut we can and should do moreI’ll work on it

  37. Danny

    I think you’re on to something. I recommend this youtube trailer: newamericanschoolhouse dot com

  38. Daniel Tunkelang

    Even in a “star system” I just don’t see teaching scaling like goods associated with extremely high concentration, like pop music, professional sports, or running large companies. Fortunately, I don’t think most teachers are in it just for the money. But I think the problem is that many of the best and brightest are drawn to professional with scalable goods that can translate into high compensation. Maybe there’s comparable money in educational software or media (e.g., writing a best-selling novel that inspires kids to read). But teaching, at least as we know it today, is inherently at the retail level.

  39. Daniel Gibbons

    My understanding of why education is broken is a little different. It gets broken mostly long before kids even attend school. There is a fairly direct correlation between socio-economic factors and educational achievement. A lot of the rest of it is immensely important, but mostly noise around the real issue. There are always amazing exceptions that prove this rule, but if you create an underclass, and have an economy built around widening not shrinking gaps between rich and poor, educational opportunity inevitably is vastly different depending on your personal socio-economic circumstances.This is an unfashionable view these days, with our belief that the market generally fixes most things, but huge numbers of kids simply don’t have the luxury of the kind of emotional and financial support from family, friends and their extended community to have good odds of getting a great education.That doesn’t mean the solution is to throw money at the existing system, but I think it does mean that fairly massive government involvement is required. Perhaps it’s a combination of providing additional tax breaks for corporations that provide “no strings attached” investment in public education (i.e. not investment that requires the use of their products in textbooks…), combined with incentive schemes that bonus over-achieving teachers, and allowing public schools to excel at one thing rather than be mediocre at everything. I don’t know what the answer is, but the technology through which education actually gets delivered is a very small piece of really solving the problem.The second part of my long-winded comment relates to critical thinking, and the Wikipedia point… I do understand the concern about Wikipedia, but not because it is accurate or not accurate. Instead my concern is about the culture of education as learning facts rather than interpreting facts. A lot of the recent graduates I meet seem completely incapable of any kind of analysis, a product of education as learning the answers to multiple choice questions, rather than forming coherent arguments supported by facts. It reminds me of that bit in Brave New World about the failed experiments in sleep teaching that lead kids to be able to recite that the Nile is the longest river in Africa, but unable to answer the question “What is the longest river in Africa.”I’m disturbed by the way in which we’ve come to view education as a training ground for the workplace rather than a place to acquire and enhance knowledge. Give me a super-smart graduate with a degree in History or English Lit over someone with a Bachelor’s in Business or Commerce any day of the week.

  40. Jesse

    A good education starts in the family. Good students have a positive attitude toward learning and they understand the importance of education. Parents have a responsibility to develop these values in their children. Blaming the education system without even a mention to family values is the same old ineffective approach we’ve been taking for years.

    1. Daniel Tunkelang

      In the same vein, I think parents get more vocal about ideological disagreements with the curriculum than they do about the failure of the schools to teach their kids how to think. I wouldn’t be thrilled to have my daughter be taught material in school that conflicted with my worldview, and I imagine that’s just as true for folks on the other side of any ideologically laden issue.. Nonetheless, I’m actually more concerned about her getting a solid education. I can talk to her about religion and politics at home.

    2. fredwilson

      Family values is such a loaded word. I would never use it on this blog.

      1. Jesse

        After reading that again, I agree. Perhaps “consumer responsibility” or “individual responsibility” would work better for a bottom up approach. The internet gives individuals access to the same resources institutions used to hoard to themselves. An open source school should sprout up to organize a web based curriculum for under privileged students.

  41. James Byers

    Fred, I believe one “revolution of the ants” — the bottom-up adoption of consumer web technologies in classrooms — is already going strong. We started hacking education at Wikispaces in 2005, but it might be more accurate to say that education hacked us. We decided to give away our premium services to K-12 educators, and it’s probably the best decision we ever made. More details are on our blog, we’d be happy to offer any of the data we’ve gotten along the way to advance the conversation. http://blog.wikispaces.com/

    1. fredwilson

      Awesome stuff. Thanks for sharing it with us

  42. Jason Beckerman

    This is an incredible post in addition to awesome comments.At Teach The People, we’ve worked on this topic for the past two years. We were recently awarded the Facebook Fund Grant, and have launched publicly as of today after a 3 month private beta.Most of the comments on this post reflect varying ideas of how the model of education should be organized (learning centric vs teaching centric). Our model encompasses both methodologies, as well as giving the power to build community and scale on both sides of the equation. We have some exciting announcements coming tomorrow. We would love to know what you think.http://apps.facebook.com/te

  43. scott

    Keep in mind that the needs of higher ed are different from the needs of K-12. In higher ed I would think that the publishing business model could be extended to lectures with professors working with editors from publishing houses. Replacing lectures with multimedia productions validated to be the most instructive material available would provide more time for office hours and lab work. In K-12 it is all about tools. I would like to see industry leaders sponsor and provide input on curricula and tools. Others might object to pre-roll ads inserted into educational video podcasts. As long as the sponsors are not evil I think ads could work at all education levels to identify the most effective types of courseware and the teachers that are best suited to present the material.

    1. grahamje

      Very interesting, worthwhile discussion. A lot of different threads to unravel and work through. I don’t have time to respond properly right now but some of you might be interested in the blog I wrote on ‘creativity, innovation and the standards agenda’ – http://generalpraxis.blogsp… – (out of the UK context, but with some points that I think might easily apply to the US too) back in 2007.

    2. fredwilson

      Yup. The thing I’ve taken away from this discussion is that we’ll need verydifferent approaches to educating high school and above from middle schooland below

      1. grahamje

        That’s right. More than that I’d separate it out into an approach for compulsory education (i.e. K-12 in US terms) and post-compulsory education. The needs of young people (pre-age 16 or thereabouts) and young adults/lifelong learners are slightly different. For one thing we need to look at how kids get to become digitally literate. Secondly we need a much more radical approach to the design of learning environments/schools. Futurelab (http://www.futurelab.org.uk/) in the UK has done a ton of stuff on this. Thirdly we need to leverage the power of the web to enable lifelong learners to communicate and collaborate. Loads of stuff in the pipeline all over the planet on this.

  44. Teresa Wu

    This post speaks my mind exactly. I’m a University of California San Diego student, and I recently blogged about this very subject — I ended up fleshing out into my latest column for the newspaper (you can read it here: http://ucsdguardian.org/ind…. I urged my peers to explore the internet as an educational tool; as the first generation to have such information and such access at our fingertips during our academic careers, we’re wasting opportunity if we don’t seek it out.I’ve been frustrated with my public school education at UCSD, and I’ve experienced very few of these teachers you speak of — the ones who redirect our paths in life and that we remember 20 years later. Nevertheless, I’ve gotten a very valuable, albeit haphazardly thrown together education of sorts through my own self-prescribed studies.There’s a certain stigma attached to learning from the internet that needs to be renovated — there’s far more dynamic and critical thinking that comes out of engaging in this open-source type of learning than there often is in the classroom. I would even venture to say that I often learn more about technology, media, and culture from a day’s worth of shared information on my Twitter stream than from a day in the lecture hall.Though I’m graduating in less than a year, I hope this education hack comes to fruition sooner than later so that the classes following will be able to reap the benefits. Thank you for bringing this to light.:)

  45. Daniel Weinreb

    I could not agree more. My son is going through the same thing at Lexington High School, in Massachusetts. It’s a wonderful school — there’s nowhere else I’d rather have him go — but there are always a few teachers who just aren’t very good at teaching, or at least don’t teach the way that works for my son. At MIT, there was a huge range, from amazingly great teachers (Gerry Sussman, Arthur Mattuck, Judith Thompson) all the way to teachers who would induce deep sleep in minutes. The Internet is often overhyped, but this is an area where it is already making a real impact.

  46. Marco

    Fantastic post and fascinating comments. Coincidentally, just came across this in my feeds today (Presentation on “learning 2.0” from John Seely Brown – Deloitte Center for Edge Innovation). Interesting and very relevant…http://www.johnseelybrown.c

  47. kapil1312

    Hi Fred, 1. Very inspiring post. Thanks. I am a teacher from India and one of my objectives is to make science education open, affordable and accessible in India. 2. Many universities around the world are following the MIT path of opening up their courseware . Within few years, I feel that we would have complete course material for almost every subject we can imagine in variety of formats on different platforms. And if hollywood movies can be dubbed in local languages, why not MIT lectures in Hindi or Mandarin ? 3. A lot of content is already available in text, audio and video but it needs to organized around “open source curriculum” to bring some kind of order & value. For eg: How can I integrate your blog post on “managing a portfolio” in my personal finance class ? I did a small & simple project(www.pankap.com/jeetv) where I aggregated hundreds of science videos from video sharing website like Youtube and organized it according to subjects. More than 25,000 students & teachers visited the project in India. Possibly, we need a friendfeed for education. 4. I am very passionate about tutoring & testing. One paper which I recommend to understand the deeper implications of traditional tutoring on country’s economy and rich-poor divide is “Korea’s war on private tutoring” at http://www.worldedreform.co…regardsKapil Bhatia

  48. Kevin Prentiss

    This is what I get for not working on Sunday : ) so late to the party.I’m focused on High School / Higher Ed.There are a couple of pieces to this and it’s helped me to break them into a simple frame:A learner centric model: Say education is X + 1 = Y, where X is the student, + is a relevant recommendation, and 1 is the content. (The X variable includes topic, level, maturity, preferred learned style, etc.) Y is accreditation that can be understood and valued by others.X, then, is a student’s relevancy profile. It acts as a filter for the increasingly low cost online content. (Shirky says we need better filters, we’re talking about the same thing.)http://popego.com/ is one of my favorite recent examples. RSS to APML (or similar) is technically easy and a great start. (Except students don’t RSS, I’ll come back to that.)The “+” is the recommendation. Think Amazon.com book recommendations or iTunes Genius. This is where the defensible network effects are. Popego is pretty, but their trick is easily duplicated. Doing this well requires knowledge of X, behavior and feedback of other similar Xs and access to a massive store of content to filter. This last step is getting easer with semantic web, RDF, open content, and APIs.A quick note on recommendation in education: Ideally students move from extrinsic social motivation (what are my friends doing? how can I be cool / normal?) to intrinsic topic motivation (I love science and want to read on my own!) over time.Schools should facilitate this transition into life long learners. Most do not and are not designed to, as outlined by Gatto, Dewey and others.We need a recommendation system that can flex between social (extrinsic) and topic (intrinsic) based on where the learner is at. Facebook is purely social and stuck at the lower half of Maslow’s. Delicious is purely topic and barely registers with students. There’s a massive gap in between the two. The winning + will be a variable blend of their different types of required motivations and data sets.”= Y” for accreditation. This is completely dependent on whether the student is extrinsically or intrinsically motivated. Ebay style or disqus ratings work great for students like @teresawu in the comments above. Intrinsic means public participation. This is the main reason I’m interested in higher ed, higher proportion of intrinsic motivation makes a new “Y” model more likely.To me, the + is the most interesting place to look for Christensen’s disruption. Blending the social streams should dramatically expand the adoption possibilities into the current non-delicious users.Some of this is already modeled in your portfolio – Wesabe is basically the same structure applied to finance and disqus, keeping comments with the user, is the right student centered information architecture for a dynamic X.

  49. Michael Lewkowitz

    Excellent meme and convo – looking forward to seeing what comes out of the Hacking Education session. Here’s the result of another related session that folks might be interested in:The Captetown Declaration (http://www.capetowndeclarat…”The Cape Town Open Education Declaration arises from a small but lively meeting convened in Cape Town in September 2007. The aim of this meeting was to accelerate efforts to promote open resources, technology and teaching practices in education.Convened by the Open Society Institute and the Shuttleworth Foundation, the meeting gathered participants with many points of view from many nations. This group discussed ways to broaden and deepen their open education efforts by working together.”

  50. geekstack

    You might not have heard about the Open High School of Utah – it’s an online high school opening next year with completely open content. It would allow the best content to bubble up and allow improvements to curriculum to work their way back into the system. I wrote a summary of it on the blog for my new company GeekStack:Open High School of Utah

  51. tpc472

    Great post Fred! You might be interested to check out http://www.rSmart.com as a company supporting open source applications for education like Sakai, the next generation collaboration and learning solution. MIT has been a founding member of this community as well.

  52. SamJacobs

    I’ve been thinking recently about the concept of ‘teachers’ and whether we need to reform our vision of ‘teacher’ as a core profession or as a feature-set of a well-rounded successful person or, to Fred’s point, if we need to increase the scalability of great teachers to enable them to reach a broader audience.The Internet and technology tools will undoubtedly help people learn more and better but it does seem hard to replicate the experience that a great instructor can have on a willing mind. So then I solve for more great instructors. But in a fluid market I always come back to the fact that the opportunity cost for a great mind to spend all their time teaching will always be too high. So then I try to think about how to parcel out a few units of time from successful people so that they can teach and educate without having to make it their vocation.Beyond technology, it does seem like an investment that the culture needs to make as a society. Which is why government is probably the tool to aggregate the collective social will in this instance and a cultural tradition of service and education through programs like AmeriCorps may make an impact.

    1. Hestia

      Agree; I know many successful professionals who would be interested.I taught a seminar at our local junior high on National Engineer’s Day to show kids what systems engineering was about. The kids enjoyed it, evidently, and parents found me at the grocery store for weeks afterwards, saying that their kids wanted more. But, the school said that they could not afford to continue the seminar because of No Child Left Behind constraints. I’m looking for another way to work with these kids.

  53. Jeff Lucas

    While this may seem a rather bureaucratic contribution, the link below is to a policy piece released a couple of weeks ago by Andy Rotherham of Education Sector and Sara Mead of the New America Foundation through the Brookings Institution on a proposed role re: innovation in education from a federal investment angle.http://www.brookings.edu/re…Might be some implications for having an impact at scale given our badly Balkanized secondary education system, or it might just reinforce your opinions of what the problem is. . .

  54. wilfredw

    The impact of a distributed, web 2.0 style education will be even greater for countries who suffer from infrastructure/man-power constraints. I have a vision of having the best English teacher say living in Freetown and the best maths teacher say living in Lagos, both making their materials (videos, digital-text books) to children going to school in Ghana.

    1. randallmoeller

      Right on. And kids from Ghana (as well as Chicago) could also access the best Mandarin teachers in Beijing and Shanghai, the best math tutors in Singapore …

  55. ZenProfit

    Fred [Howard L. sent me]:My $.02.As someone who excelled in my time and rose(?) to law school graduate, I was determined to “buy the best” for my kid. For the first 7 years public school wasn’t ‘good enough’, so it was private school. When the private school underwent management changes, public school turned out quite rewarding (it helps to be in a top 5% school system in the state).While I completely agree with your premise that the entire educational system needs to be overhauled, it would be self-defeating, I think, if the kids currently in the system had the rules changed on them during the game. Although not the Utopian ideal, the goal of a ‘higher education’ has always been to raise one’s position up the social ladder, not learning for learning’s sake. This was achieved through either obtaining a well-paying position high up the food chain or marrying into money. This is human nature. Unfortunately, ‘buying’ a good SAT score is a small price to pay as a first step towards that goal.Neither “No Child Left Behind” nor Wikipedia nor Google University will change that.

    1. fredwilson

      I don’t believe in maintaining the status quoI believe in obliterating it

  56. markslater

    WOW – finally.I don’t mean that as a criticism, but a compliment.In the words of yourself and Umair from a few years ago – how do you microchunk education and send it relentlessly to the edge? god knows this needs to happen:i think its the single greatest bottleneck to opportunity for all Americans.

  57. JustAnotherVC

    Glad to hear Fred recognizes the system is broken and read the many interesting ideas about tweaking the learning model. The teaching model hasn’t really changed in 100 years. But the realities in education are no different that any other area of life. The US has a Soviet-style public education system. There is NO innovation simply because innovation requires taking risks, taking risks requires uneven rewards, uneven rewards are anethema to all unions.If the government controlled all the infrastructure to make shoes, wouldn’t everyone have sore feet?Improving K-12 education substantially has more leverage than any of the Gates Foundation projects.Interesting that Fred supports the presidential candidate that is heavily backed by the teachers union…

    1. fredwilson

      I am not a one issue voter and I suspect you aren’t either

  58. Richard T

    In seventh grade I wrote a paper defining a system with similar structure to what will likely come of this blog’s path of thought.I think it’ll be an uphill battle until a very strong, free solution to the current education method is available, and people know about it.I’m a web designer and programmer. I’ve been thinking about building a solution to this problem for a long time, and I’m now looking to research education methods, then I’m going to build my solution for making a reality the “Open Source Education” I dreamt of years ago.Glad to hear there’s more people out there who want to shake things up and make them better.

  59. Ravi

    Hi Fred, check out ck12.org. From the website:”empower teacher practitioners by generating or adapting content relevant to their local context. Using a collaborative and web-based compilation model that can manifest open resource content as an adaptive textbook, termed the “FlexBook”

  60. LCR

    Fred, I am absolutely, passionately on board. I am what I am because some teachers believed in me more that I believed in myself. I loved teaching but left after a few years because kids come last in education today. I’ve been successful in business ever since but long for the opportunity to substantially improve our schools. Washington, DC – under the leadership of Michelle Rhee – is trying her best to transform that city’s schools. Count me in any way I can help.

  61. lucaf

    If you are reading Fred’s post because it was mentioned at the Defrag 2008 conference, come join the BoF dinner tonight on “Defragging Education”.

  62. Ahrash Bissell

    It’s great to see so much interest in your post. And hopefully people are feeling a bit more hopeful about the future given the many different projects and ideas that are already being hacked together and shared here. Here at ccLearn (learn.creativecommons.org), we are working on the basal infrastructure of open education, thinking about core characteristics of open educational resources (OER) at the legal, technical, and social levels. It is our belief that the vision to you put forth is achievable, and indeed is partially in existence already, but that its success depends on creating a truly global and interoperable pool of OER for anyone to use, share, and adapt.The opportunities for customization and innovation that flow from this common infrastructure are nearly infinite, and we believe that there is room for everyone to participate, from individuals to institutions to governments. The key is to allow for free flow of information and for there to be multiple pathways for achieving both learning goals and associated accreditation mechanisms. Some of the comments do a great job summarizing some of the ways that the issues of learning outcomes should be considered separately from concerns about evaluation, quality-control, and evidence of expertise (usually granted in the form of a degree). To date, efforts in open education have primarily focused on the production of OER. But putting free stuff online is far cry from supplanting or even improving on the existing educational system. Along with many other open education projects, at all grade levels and all over the world, we are now seeking to catalyze greater effort toward scaffolding individualized learning experiences, building communities around OER creation and use, and sustaining these efforts through expanded awareness and both public and private support.There are ways of doing this without blowing everything up. It is worth remembering that many of the current institutionalized practices emerged for good reasons, but perhaps need to be adapted to the networked and digital age. As we feel our way along, it is great to read these posts and the comments to get a better sense of where people believe the priorities for action lie. Thanks for getting the ideas flowing!

  63. Michael Ortner

    Fred,You seem to be opposed to homeschooling on the grounds that you and your wife cannot do a better job than the current school system. Given that 2 million out of 60 million kids are currently homeschooled and, on average, their test results are significantly better than those that go through the school system, I’m curious as to why you think you couldn’t do it?For someone who promotes entrepreneurism, I would think that you would be more open to whatever works best for the kids. In case you made the comment lightly and don’t know much about, here’s a decent article written by a homeschooling father that appeared in the Washington Post:http://www.washingtonpost.c…- Mike

    1. fredwilson

      Test results don’t mean it’s better for kidsYou have to look at the whole of the matter

      1. Michael Ortner

        Agreed. Having come from public school (and enjoying it) I would have never considered homeschooling my kids until I started meeting kids who were homeschooled and walking away extremely impressed not only with their education (such as taking calculus and advanced sciences when they are 12-13 and actually enjoying it) but also their social skills, particularly the ability to interact with people of diverse backgrounds and ages. I’m not sure at what age we will stop homeschooling, but for the sake of the kids, I think it is worth being open-minded about it.

  64. leigh

    So I take it the MBA requirement on your one of the Sr. Marketing positions for one of your portfolio companies i saw a while back isn’t really a requirement? I remember thinking i was surprised at the time to see it there. I usually have people tell me why their MBAs aren’t an issue vs. actually wanting someone to have one…. 🙂

    1. fredwilson

      We don’t control our companies and they do what they think is best for theirbusinessBut I would never make a degree a requirement for any hire

  65. Yule Heibel

    Jeepers, what a post — great stuff, and terrific comments, too.I’d like to 2nd and 3rd the recommendations to read John Taylor Gatto (especially “Dumbing Us Down”) and John Holt, et al. Gatto can get a tad too paranoid in his suppositions of what’s behind factory schooling (hint: military-industrial complex brainwashing), but he is just brilliant when he analyzes who gets to speak in the factory school system (hint: it’s not your / our kids).Re. homeschooling: parents — or one parent — will take a hit because you have to scale back your own career. (I know, I did this. It’s …um, painful.) It’s not something everyone can afford to do. Therefore, homeschooling can’t be a universal option, although it’s a great one in many instances.Homeschooling saved my kids, and the socialization question was answered in the comments by others. We don’t isolate adults by age (until we lock them up in “nursing homes”), so I’m not sure what the point of grades-by-ages is all about, except that it answers Fordist or Taylorist model of industrial-age “efficiency.”Perhaps as a way to mitigate what doesn’t work well for some parents or kids in homeschooling we should have co-schooling places, the way we have co-working places. That would be cool for the really motivated ones.I’ll say something about our experiences, if that’s ok. My kids were initially in a 1-room schoolhouse setting — a private school in Salem, Mass., K-through-8, where everyone worked according to their ability, not their age, and everything was project-based. (It was called The Phoenix School). That worked well for a while, but in 2000 we started homeschooling — mostly because of some systemic weirdnesses at the school, too complicated to explain here.Then, in 2002 we moved to Victoria, British Columbia, where both kids started taking regular BC curriculum through South Island Distance Education School (SIDES). We were still homeschooling, but it meant that we started doing the opposite of what at least one commenter referenced when he wrote about unschooling. The curriculum was official BC Ministry of Education material. On the plus side, however, was the fact that SIDES allowed for great flexibility, and kids could complete courses quickly, if they chose to do so. They also had plenty of time for music, fencing, swimming, volunteering in the community, theatre events, getting into civic politics through a youth council, and so on.Now, irrespective of whether anyone in BC uses distance ed., homeschooling, or “real” schools, BC’s Ministry of Education did something pretty radical around 2005 or 06, which affected every kid in BC. It’s still working its way through the system (and it’s completely pissing off the Teachers Union), but it could have a really tremendous effect over time, particularly on what we call “neighbourhood schools” (i.e., actual bricks-and-mortars schools, vs. distance education schools).Here’s what happened: until the changes introduced by the Ministry, a student “belonged” to a neighbourhood school, and was obliged to take all her courses through that school, unless of course she switched to another neighbourhood school. But the Ministry changed the rules: a student can now mix-and-match her courses at will, choosing from *any* school in BC.Let’s say the Chem teacher at your school is really awful, lazy, boring, and basically coasting on re-hash to retirement. Well, you don’t have to take his class. You can instead opt to take Chem either through one of the several BC Distance Education Schools, or even through another neighbourhood school.IOW, the student has become a free agent who no longer “belongs” (financially, as a full-time-equivalent student) to one particular school. Each school is instead funded/ paid by the Ministry for the courses and number of students enrolled in same.This means that Mr. Bad Chemteacher will eventually find himself without any kids enrolled in his classes. He will end up teaching either no one at all, or else find himself teaching some course that’s not his favourite lazy thing to do. On the other hand, the good teachers will be rewarded with students who actually want to be in their classes.Currently, my 17-year-old graduated and is at university, and my 14-year-old decided she wanted to go to a neighbourhood school for her last year, so she’s finishing grade 12 at Oak Bay High School (where she’s sometimes bored by the pace, and her Math teacher has already roped her into tutoring the other kids — who don’t know just how young she is, girls can look so mature so early). This means that I’m no longer home- or distance-schooling, and have (happily) handed my kids over to more traditional systems. They are their own people, don’t take sh*t from anyone, are comfortable around adults *and* children, and don’t care about peer pressure to like binge drinking or the right clothing labels. (Tons of that at high school.)In my new situation (no longer on the fringe or cutting-edge of schooling alternatives), I can’t gauge how well the Ministry’s changes are effecting change at the neighbourhood school level, since Oak Bay is considered a “very good” school with a well-off and vocal parent community that rallies to support the status quo, which has worked well for them and their kids. But I could imagine that the MInistry’s directives are having an impact at schools that have fewer resources: schools in the BC Interior, or up-Island in rural communities, where the chance to opt out of taking a course with a bad teacher and instead doing a course online at another school could be a life-saver for some kid stuck in a boring environment.As I said, the Teachers Union isn’t happy about this, and they’re doing nothing to educate parents and students as to the options. But word will spread.Well, it feels like I’ve spilled far too much about my personal situation here, and I hope that my talking about what we did and where my kids are at now doesn’t inflame the traditionalists who worry that 14-year-olds shouldn’t be finishing gr.12 (believe me, it’s not that unusual). I tell the story simply to indicate that we really have been untraditional, and that I’ve seen “the system” from several angles, American and Canadian, private school, homeschool, distance ed. school, and neighbourhood public school. And while the BC Ministry of Education’s changes haven’t effected an instant change, I see signs that as more kids find out about the new student-empowered strategy (student as free agent), there will be some sort of sea-change.It comes down to respecting students and their choices, too. Life is (relatively) long, and life-long learning goes on.

  66. Ted Murphy

    I have three kids going through middle school and high school here in the US, so I can relate to much of this discussion.I do think there is an opportunity in online learning games — although I would hook them to standardized tests. The ability to quantify progress must be part of the game, and linking them to a standardized test score would make the value proposition clearer.From what has worked for my family, I would suggest a different path. I think that the really miraculous leaps in education come from 1-1 interaction between a gifted teacher and a student. I think that empowering more people to act as tutors in subjects they are familiar with is the way to go.

  67. AdamWaters

    Narrow focus question – As an adult individually interested in and capable of learning online, why is it so hard to find the best lectures, and course materials out there? What would change this?A few ideas…1) We need an explosion in the amount of learning content available. There’s not enough yet. Even with MIT’s 1800 classes online, there’s only a single history course with audio, and none with video. UC Berkeley, Stanford, and the content on iTunes U is still so little compared to the quantity created by the 500,000 college level professors in this country. We need more content.2) We need to apply our tools to find the best of this content. There are good models for how collaborative filtering, rating, and recommendation systems can help us find the bits that are useful and interesting to us individually. We just have to apply them.3) We need to try new business models so publishers (professors, universities, private enterprise) are motivated to create this content and put it out there. Jon’s right, it’s not transactional on a per-class basis, and it’s not a $35,000 annual subscription. I’m not sure the Megastudy model (based on the Korean cram-school business) is right either, but there does need to be a connection between great education and compensation. Can it be ad-supported? Can we have a subscription model that directs fees according to content views? Should the courses be free, but the tutoring, and consulting be for pay? Can this create a cottage industry like Etsy where anybody can offer ‘educational’ information for others? We need to start with open access, and find the revenue around the edge.Anyway, great discussion Fred, would love to participate in a Union Square gathering.Adam

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks Adam great comment

  68. Diane

    Fred,A slightly different perspective from an educator who is working on “hacking” education.Historically, the current K-12 American education system was conceived of and promoted by business and industry at the turn of the last century. Our last major change to the system occured when we shifted from local one-room school houses to large urban factory model schools that were modeled after the very factories where the majority of citizens would find work. In fact, our current school system is not broken, rather it is failing to meet our new expectations, but it is perfectly designed to produce the results it does which were desirable in 1900…to provide the masses with basic literacy skills so they can operate machinery, follow instructions and remain employed. A very small number (10%) of the students are prepared to think and analyze, so they can become leaders and managers and as in any factory model there is always expected to be a certain percentage of your products that are defective and thus waste.Of course, the problem is we no longer need factory workers and we can’t afford to waste people any longer, rather we need a country of thinkers, which our current system is simply not designed to produce. The educational establishment continues to tinker with reform after reform, all of which are ineffective.There is a movement to redesign the system. This time it is driven primarily by those in high-tech. Unequivically the Gates Foundation has made the biggest push with an emphasis on redesigning the American high school. One of the primary vehicles is through charter schools. It is interesting to me that while the comments touch on homeschooling and vouchers, not a single one references charter schools.In 2001 I left the traditional school system which I had spent 10 years trying to reform and started a charter high school in California. The school is completely redesigned to meet the expectations of today’s world which are that every kids must not only graduate, but graduate equipped to be successful in college and modern life. Here is how we are currently thinking about that preparation, of course it is ever-evolving.1. Teachers are faciliators of learning and not diseminators of knowledge2. Learning is social2. Focus on skills and character and let content be the by-productWe agree with you that access to knowledge is becoming less and less of an issue…it is instantaneously available and relatively reliable. An educated person is no longer the one who has exclusive knowledge, but rather the one who makes the most use of the knowledge everyone has access to. What is not available and cannot be assumed is that kids have the skills to make the knoweldge meaningful and useful. As a result we have shifted from “teaching content” to setting up experiences and opportunities for kids to learn and practice skills such as analysis, evaluation, communication of ideas, decision-making, etc… What you may not realize is that when you are teaching your kids at home using tools like wickipedia the valuable lesson they are learning is not chemistry, but rather how to access information, decide what is credible, read for understanding, communicate ideas, hypothesize, etc…Those skills combined with integrity, perseverence, curiosity, courage, compassion and other character traits, we believe will set people up to successfully adapt to our ever changing environment.

    1. fredwilson

      Great commentI reblogged part of it at fredwilson.vc

    2. BillSeitz

      The problems with charter schools are (1) the rate of creation is very slow because driven by govt, and (2) they have to follow lots of the same rules as public schools (e.g. only hire certified teachers, Albert Einstein need not apply)…..

    3. Dan Ostermayer

      then we need robots for the factory 😉

  69. ari


  70. Realm Of Empire

    This is such an amazing cause and I’m thrilled to see what you’ve done to help them! you know I was participating in their 29-Day Giving Challenge – it was so much fun! If you want to napsterize the educational establishment, focusing on availability of learning materials is helpful but not really “napster”-level disruption; there’s already a plethora of freely available materials, and even if you personally do nothing further there’s going to be even more such materials in the future. Kids were placed in classrooms for the retarded because of speech and language deficiencies! Think of how truly sick that was. They got speech therapy, and then A’s! I’d love to participate in your event this winter if possible. I love that you are incorporating some of these ideas in your class. I love many of their professors and still buy a lot of them. After listening to two courses Greek and Roman history, our kids had no problems getting A’s in history classes. These courses were way more interesting than the materials offered in high school. This pattern continued in college, because the lecturers are way better than most college other professors.I would even venture to say that I often learn more about technology, media, and culture from a day’s worth of shared information on my Twitter stream than from a day in the lecture hall. I think people with more money hang out here / know AVC (pun intended). And I thanks for all. keep up the work….!

  71. Realm Of Empire

    This is such an amazing cause and I’m thrilled to see what you’ve done to help them! you know I was participating in their 29-Day Giving Challenge – it was so much fun! If you want to napsterize the educational establishment, focusing on availability of learning materials is helpful but not really “napster”-level disruption; there’s already a plethora of freely available materials, and even if you personally do nothing further there’s going to be even more such materials in the future. Kids were placed in classrooms for the retarded because of speech and language deficiencies! Think of how truly sick that was. They got speech therapy, and then A’s! I’d love to participate in your event this winter if possible. I love that you are incorporating some of these ideas in your class. I love many of their professors and still buy a lot of them. After listening to two courses Greek and Roman history, our kids had no problems getting A’s in history classes. These courses were way more interesting than the materials offered in high school. This pattern continued in college, because the lecturers are way better than most college other professors.I would even venture to say that I often learn more about technology, media, and culture from a day’s worth of shared information on my Twitter stream than from a day in the lecture hall. I think people with more money hang out here / know AVC (pun intended). And I thanks for all. keep up the work….!

  72. csessums

    I enjoyed reading your post. I do have a couple of comments though, that you may not like.It is relatively easy to look at and offer advice to an institution you are not intimately a part of (think: armchair quarterbacking). I noticed that very few of the comments offered are by professional educators, people who work inside the system who, on a daily basis, experience and often work around the noted inadequacies. I think if you actually worked in a school or school system, you might be thinking about this issue differently.Private enterprise can help by providing materials, however, real teaching and learning isn’t only about materials. It’s about teachers, as you wisely pointed out. There is a lot of good research which you probably have not been exposed to that might help reshape your thinking about addressing the needs of schools and learners. I recommend instead of assembling just businesspeople, that you also spend some time talking with expert educational researchers who can frame the issues in a way that could lead to some tangible results (just check with your friends at MIT for a start).Schools and schooling will not be fixed by technology or more money. A school’s success is directly tied to its teaching and support staff. The goal then is to figure out how to recruit and retain the best teachers, to weed out the bad ones, and reinvent the profession in a way that serves all stakeholders best.

    1. fredwilson

      Good advice. For our ‘hacking education’ event in early march we have about half educators (teachers and adminstrators) and about half entrepreneurs and technologistsClearly the solution is not just tech alone

  73. Joel Torres

    Great information. As a future educator and father, it is great to see this movement beginning. The proper education is very vital to the success of our young children. Unfortunately, the politics involved in the education system focus more on standardized test scores and not on the knowledge that a child attains!

  74. the_infonaut

    Fred,Your post title lives on over on Jeff Jarvis’ blog – http://www.buzzmachine.com/…I think its great that you are looking at some of the opportunities in this space.If there’s one group who are comfortable with their position at the vanguard of the new technologies it is those who are in the education system at this very momentCheck out this amazing video for current students – http://www.youtube.com/watc…Never before have the targets of innovation been so in control of the forces shaping that innovation

    1. fredwilson

      Thanks for those linksThis is such an important topicGlad to see it getting some more air time

  75. Howard Rheingold

    You should know about this: http://socialmediaclassroom… is the website for the social media teaching platform that was funded by an award from the MacArthur Foundation. http://socialmediaclassroom… is the online site for the course on virtual community and social media that I taught at Berkeley, using this platform and with the students enlisted as co-teachers and a methodology based on collaborative inquiry. http://socialmediaclassroom… is the digital journalism course I taught at Stanford using the same platform and teaching-learning methods. The students are co-designers of the course as well as co-teachers.

    1. fredwilson

      Wow. That’s awesome. Thanks for sharing it howard

      1. Howard Rheingold

        Maybe I missed it, but I haven’t seen a reference in these comments to Mike Wesch’s awesome video “A Portal To Media Literacy.” I did see a link to his previous video “A vision of students today.” Don’t let the title of the more recent one fool you — it’s about inverting the old teaching as delivery of knowledge paradigm, using Web 2.0 tools and constructivist and student-centric teaching methods. http://www.youtube.com/watc

        1. fredwilson

          We watched another of his videos at the event, but this one is great

  76. JC Hewitt

    Thank you for sharing your cogent observations. I agree with most of your points.Hire a copy-editor for your posts to bolster the force of your arguments. I noticed more than one grammatical error.I say this with all due sensitivity. I am not an editor. I am a freelance writer.Academics will use any excuse they can grab hold of to dismiss attempts at reforming their institutions.Inexpensive tools like the Kindle will be crucial to cut education costs and improve effectiveness, but the primary barriers that we face are legal and social.

    1. fredwilson

      I am hoping for a tool that allows the community here to copy edit this blogI understand and agree about the importance of grammar and spelling

  77. Prokofy

    I’ll bet I know a LOT more than you do about how broken the New York City public schools are because my child actually has to go to one. Do yours, Fred? Another child goes to poor man’s private school — the Catholic school system. Much better. But still, not enough of a challenge.But your notion of applying all the sort of wiki culture/technocommunist thinking that’s already destroyed culture, newspapers, the music industry, etc. — and has urned out a badly-educated insolent and cynical generation of youth — is hardly what will save the schools. Keep it away!Games cannot teach children. Teachers can teach children. And books. Ideas. And the Socratic method. The Internet is a tool, nothing more. It’s not true that “knowledge resides on the network”. It resides in individuals — individuals, Fred — who learned and studied and thought in solitude with texts, not in collectives, and then passed on that knowledge. That really is how it worked — for you, for anybody. Connectivism doesn’t work; it’s a fad.Wikipedia contains “common” knowledge — Andrew Keen is right about that — and knowledge dictated by an oligarch as he explains. Not only is it filled with bias and errors and problems, only a handful of people really actually edit — and make the decisions about controversies around — the tens of thousands of articles. It’s not the democratic institution you imagine — it’s the Politburo with as arcane and non-transparent and not democratic a process as the “democratic centralism” of the Kremlin. That’s not the citadel of learning which should be the only source accessed by our children. It’s *a* source, but an uncritical one that needs lots of challenging thought and analytical skills applied to it.There’s lots of ways that education could be changed without having to spend more money — one key idea is to de-isolate the school building from the rest of the population, stop making it a literal armed camp. Let parents come in during the day to go to classes with their children. Let them come in the evening to learn, let them volunteer to help kids. Keep the library open and fill it more. Heating a building only to shut it down every day at 3 or 5 is ridiculous.Every decade, we’re subjected to some warmed-over theory of the last decade that has finally trickled down from foundations to disrupt schools. Ivan Illich. Fuzzy math. Child-centric education. And now silly wiki “hacking” education. Leave the schools along, don’t impose your ideology.I’m tired of reading about your desire to destroy institutions all the time, just because you have the money to actually acomplish this. It’s morally and ethically wrong. No one has voted on having you do this. It’s Bolshevism.

    1. fredwilson

      The destruction will happen with or without me prokofyAnd I agree with you about teachers, I think I said that they are the mostimportant part of the teaching equationBut we have to figure out how to do it less expensively and with morecontrol for the student and the parentsIf that is technocommunist bolshevisim, then I accept the label

      1. Barrett

        Just read this post again. Very timely for me as I work at Harvard Business Publishing in the corporate learning group and we are in the process of drastically changing our flagship product, Harvard Managementor. We just completed the business case and the research that went into it was very enlightening.I believe that corporate learning is under going a sea change that mirrors some of the things you desire of the schools; collaboration, interaction, ratings, social learning. The funny thing about the corp. learning market is the existence of Learning Management Systems (LMS), that lock people into a traditional method of learning and stunts the ability to collaborate.It is an interesting challenge trying to figure out if we can just bypass the LMS and use the SaaS model or will we have to build two products, one SaaS and one for an LMS.Fred, if you are ever in the Boston area and can stomach seeing something Crimson :), I would love to talk to you.

        1. fredwilson

          I’ll do that barrett. I have nothing against harvard.

  78. daveschappell

    Posting a link to the Hacking Education transcript (using Fred’s earlier bit.ly URL), for ease of finding (may want to insert this in each of your/Albert’s posts about Hacking Education):http://bit.ly/eut25

    1. fredwilson

      Good suggestion

  79. Barrett

    Interesting article on the changing college landscape: http://www.washingtonpost.c…A Virtual Revolution Is Brewing for Colleges

    1. fredwilson

      My daughter sent me a text her second day at college about a new service we are looking at investing in. She said it was going viral all over campus. Her words to me were ‘get on that one dad’

  80. fredwilson

    Yes, I was in Ackoff’s class. It was one of the highlights of my two yearsat WhartonI’ll go find that article. Sounds greatWe’ve talked about grokit beforeI don’t really like investing in the test prep ecosystemI’d like to do to standardized testing what napster did to the music biz

  81. brlewis

    I strongly suggest you do read Ackoff’s article. It could change your thinking. Your post here is clearly and eloquently pointing people in the wrong direction.We need a learning-centric educational system, not a teaching-centric one. The idea of “scaling up” superstar teachers to have one-way communication with more students presupposes that the problem is not enough students getting superstar teachers.What classes did you love at MIT? Were they totally lecture-based? I loved the 6.001 lectures (I took it Spring, 1987) but what I really loved was the labs. The best education happens when it’s interactive in five or six directions. A teacher teaches a student, a student interacts with educational materials, the student gives feedback to the teacher, the teacher adjusts the materials. You don’t get that kind of interaction with a 1000:1 student:teacher ratio.The Montessori method emphasizes the triangle of child, teacher (except they don’t call them teachers; I forget what they call them) and environment, and Montessori schools are highly sought after for good reason. They are incredibly effective at building competence, confidence, and initiative. The founders of Google cite their early Montessori education as a factor in their success.I enjoyed my years at MIT, but it’s no longer my favorite educational institution. My favorite is now the Montessori school my kids go to. It only goes up to 8th grade. I’m amazed, though, at how effective it is. And I don’t think its effectiveness is due to superstar teachers. The teachers are great, but I’ve also known great teachers in the public school system. A big part of those public-school teachers’ greatness was invested in overcoming the weaknesses of the system they were involved in. Montessori teachers don’t have to fight the system; it works with them.So before you undertake to reinvent the educational system, consider that maybe the reinvention you seek was already tried, improved, and fully documented with pictures, in 1912, by an Italian woman. I’m sure her system can be made better, but if you want greatness, start there.There are plenty of things in your post I agree with too, but since you’re from MIT I figured I’d focus on the part I disagree with. You’ll take it as a compliment, right? When we nerds find something interesting the first thing we do is take it apart and see what parts we can break. The last thing you’d want me to say is, “Oh, that’s nice.” 🙂

  82. BillSeitz

    You might also want to read the book Ackoff recently wrote with Daniel Greenburg of the Sudbury school (home of the UnSchooling meme): TurningLearningRightSideUp.http://webseitz.fluxent.com

  83. fredwilson

    I read it Nivi. And reblogged parts of it to fredwilson.vcHere’s my problem with test prep: it’s perpetuating and aiding and abettinga broken systemTesting kids so that they meet some standardized view of what they should beis wrong and is at the heart of a broken system

  84. fredwilson

    ExactlyI’ve not had the pleasure of seeing the montessori method in actionBut I did read the Ackoff piece and reblogged parts of it to fredwilson.vcMy best learning experiences were in large lecture halls with superstarteachers actuallyThat’s what worked for me, when I was on the edge of my seat soaking inevery wordBut I am a big fan of the child centric interactive learning process,particularly in the early years

  85. BillP

    As I have a 2.75 y.o. now, I’m more concerned about education. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the Montessori Method: I’ll definitely check it out. My wife has a master’s in Early Childhood Education so I’m sure she’s familiar.I’m concerned, as you are, about the suggestion of good teachers scaling up in the number of students they reach. The suggestion presupposes that the effectiveness isn’t at least partly related to intangibles such as charisma, “stage presence”, etc. Not to mention, larger class sizes force evaluation methods like the bubble tests that severely limit a teacher’s design options; forget about class projects as a means of evaluation in large classes.I work for a university that is implementing online learning. In our discussions with educators who are experienced in teaching online learning classes, we came to appreciate that much of what works in a class room does not translate well to online classes. By nature, they must be highly participatory or students “tune out”. A teacher can’t rely on the intangibles I mentioned above.It became popular sometime after I graduated high school (1985) to stop grouping students according to academic ability. Instead, schools mix students of different abilities in a system called heterogeneous grouping. What do teachers think about this? The teachers I know are against it because their observation is that lower performing students have a stronger ability to pull down well performing students than well performing students have to pull up lower performing students. Perhaps we should go back to homogeneous grouping?Much related to the point above is that we may want to consider that some students are not going to be academically strong. Our best hope is not training them for college but to make sure they have basic skills in reading and the application of arithmetic to everyday problems. For example, a carpenter once asked me how to calculate how long the run of a stairway should be given height and distance from the landing. His question was important for buying materials. I described the Pythagorean theorem he should have learned in high school.

  86. brlewis

    Look up a nearby Montessori school and see if they have an open house comingup. It’s a must-see. Especially at the youngest levels, it’s surprisinghow capable 3-5-year-old children are of choosing work, doing work, andputting it away when they’re done. I had previously thought that a roomfull of 3-5-year-olds would inevitably be in chaos.Higher ages respond well to the opportunity to do real things too,especially in the teen years. Teens are dying to do something real, but arekept in a largely artificial environment.Those moments on the edge of your seat in a large lecture hall were part ofan overall educational experience that included things beforehand thathelped you appreciate the lecture itself, and things afterward that let youexercise the knowledge and/or inspiration you got in lecture. MIT studentsspend maybe 10-12 hours a week in lecture. High school students shouldspend less time than that. Higher-quality lecture time is a good thing, butgiven the current state of education, reducing lecture time is the biggerneed.