Education is ripe for disruption. The expense, the waste, the disappointment, the frustration.
I see this first as an educator and describe it in this paradox: the more I teach, the less they learn. But if more is less, does it necessarily follow that less is more?
Large fees and the pressure for high levels of student satisfaction mean that higher education is in danger of offering less just as paying ‘customers’ are demanding more.
So I’m not surprised that the entrepreneurs are circling. I’m glad that Richard Branson sees the irony of speaking out on education, but welcome his challenge to what we do.
Of course education can be speeded up (I’ll give some examples); but it’s growing up that takes time.
I have taught in two weeks a postgraduate course that would normally take a whole semester. We had classes from 9-1 five days a week for two weeks (that’s 40 hours of ‘contact time’) and assessed students before, during and after the teaching. It was intense; it was exhilirating. We were all in a foreign country which added to the richness of the experience and ensured near 100% attendance.
I also teach on professional qualifications which are taught over several days within a year (or by a mix of online and face to face teaching). This reduces costs and increases effectiveness.
Both approaches work well. But in the former case, these were sophisticated, older postgraduates. In the latter cases, these are practitioners who can apply the lessons to real-world contexts.
The challenge comes in the traditional space for HE – the 18 year-old school leaver. For them, HE still needs to provide a rounded education if it’s to provide value lasting a lifetime. Independence, resilience and team working are some of the soft skills that students gain by leaving home and attending university. That’s before they start gaining any specific vocational skills.
So training can often be quick, but education is necessarily slow because it proceeds at the pace of the learner, not of the teacher.
Besides, time is the most precious commodity we have. We deny our children time by over-scheduling their lives. Adults are denied time by the demands of work, living and family. University students are granted a special opportunity in being allowed time to develop.
Sure, much of this time will be wasted – or spent working to pay the bills. But some of it will be used to dream up a better future or new business opportunities. Creativity demands this cognitive surplus, and that’s surely something Richard Branson would applaud.
Without creativity, we’re just drones.