The Internet has changed the landscape of Education. Let's take advantage of it.
The best teachers are online, Proof-of-work is the new credentialing
P.S. I’m piloting The Feynman Kids Program where kids can problem solve by building projects in areas they are curious about and learn by doing! For more details and to signup, please see the post below or click on the “Feynman Kids Signup” button.
The Internet has changed our lives in massive ways. Google allows us to access information by typing out a few words instead of driving to the library and sorting through archives. Food delivery apps allow us to order food while sitting at home instead of going to a restaurant. Of course, with any new technology there are both upsides and downsides. In any case, the main point of this essay is not the discuss everything about the Internet, but to discuss how the Internet has changed the nature of education. Most people don’t realize it or don’t take full advantage of it.
[Note: When I speak of “schools” in this post, I’m talking about schools and colleges.]
The best teachers are online
The Internet allows you to learn from the best teachers online instead of restricting your learning from teachers in your school or college. A lot of the best teachers have an online presence, be it through blogs they write, or videos they create, or books they’ve written that you can purchase online. You have at your disposal ideas from the best teachers in the world, so why not take advantage of that instead of fighting for the best local teachers? In fact, the Internet allows you to easily find ideas from the best teachers who are no longer alive. For example, all of Richard Feynman’s lectures are now available online for free for any curious kid who is interested in physics.
A note on the look of teachers online: A lot of people haven’t adopted the idea that the best teachers are online because most of the online teachers don’t have the same feel or method of teaching or credentials as traditional teachers you would find in schools. This, in fact, is likely better because most of the online teachers are practitioners who are passing on their learnings. For example, a lot of investors have given talks that could now be accessed online. Would you rather learn from someone who actually invests money or from someone who merely teaches about investing, aka most professors in college? As I wrote about in my previous post, the problem with schools is that they teach a lot of theory which breaks down in practice. So, you’re always better off learning from people who walk the walk instead of merely talking the talk. And don’t dismiss people who don’t look like traditional teachers; instead listen to their ideas and consider if they’re useful.
Note on Online Schools: When I say that the best teachers are online, I’m not referring to the rise in online schools or Edtech startups. A lot of these online schools have a repository of videos on different topics and subjects (i.e. Khan Academy). Some of them can be great, but you don’t have to restrict your child’s learning to the videos curated by these online platforms - they face the same problem as schools - that is, it’s not necessarily true that they’ve attracted the best teachers to make the videos. So, when you think online education, think broader and don’t be afraid to expose your child to authors or other online personalities whose ideas you’ve learned from. The teachers for children don’t have to be different from the teachers for adults. The best teachers often explain simply such that even a child can understand it.
You can learn ideas that excite you, at your own pace
The best part about learning from teachers online is that you don’t need to coerce yourself to sit through 45 minute lectures which you otherwise would have to in school. If you don’t like the way a certain teacher explains something, then you can try another teacher.
Also, you don’t need to read the entire book or the entire essay or watch the entire video. You can pick out the concepts and ideas that are interesting to you or relevant to you. Again, you are not forced to try and absorb every idea, no matter how irrelevant, that is presented by the teacher in the 45 minute class. In reality, children do this anyway. They just zone out and dream or talk to each other when the teacher in the classroom bores them. Now the child can simply switch to another essay or video.
On the flip side, if an idea excites the child, they can re-read that part, take the time to think about it, watch the video again and so on, instead of being forced to rush to the next concept. What all of this means is that, 1) You can learn at your own pace and 2) You can learn the ideas that interest you and skip the rest. (If your counter is that “kids must learn certain topics even if it bores them because it will be useful to them, please see my essay “The Schools of Today are Failing Us” where I argue for no coercion based learning for kids. Emphasis on points 2 and 6 in that essay)
The best form of credentialing is proof of work
Let’s address the elephant in the room. You’re probably wondering: “Okay, but if my child doesn’t get a degree, how is she going to get a job?” (Btw, the idea that most of us need to get jobs is also a little outdated. The Internet allows more people to work for themselves, so the idea that schools are necessary for jobs in itself might be flawed, but that’s for another day.)
In reality, a lot more people will agree with me that schools are not doing a good job of educating our youth and a form of homeschooling and online education will be far superior than most schools. But the place they get hung up is that schools serve as a form of credentialing to get your first job out of college. In fact, in my opinion, this is by far the biggest reason schools exist, along with the fact that they serve as cheap daycare for parents. Anyhow, in the age of the Internet, this credentialing provided by schools breaks down as well. With easy access to infrastructure, it is now much easier than ever to show interest in a particular job by showing proof of actual work done. Let’s take a few examples:
If you want to get a job as a coder at a technology startup, you can show a portfolio of projects you’ve coded. For anyone familiar with the tech world, this is obvious because a lot of companies will ask for proof of projects coded. In fact, Google does not even care whether you got a degree or not. They simply care about the work you’ve done. This concept can be applied to most other fields as well.
If you want to get a job as an Investor, you can show proof of work by running your own portfolio even if it’s a few hundred dollars. Or you could even run a mock personal portfolio and talk about some of your investments in your interviews.
If you want to get a job in journalism, you show a portfolio of your writing.
The idea is that you let your work do the talking and not the degree. Most companies would prefer this over degree credentialing too because by showing proof of work you’re already showing how you’re interested in a particular field instead of just talking about.
The other question that might come up here is: “Even if companies prefer proof of work more, how will I reach companies in the first place? At colleges, many companies come to my campus for recruiting. This makes it significantly easier to find a job.”
Sure, it might be easier to find your first job at college because of “on-campus recruiting.” But, with so much information out there, including people’s digital identities, it’s easier than ever to reach companies. You could cold-email people, you could message them on LinkedIn, you could see if you have mutual contacts. Yes, it might be more work than letting companies come to you but 4 years of college might not be worth avoiding a little bit of extra effort. In fact, in colleges you are grouped in with everyone else and hence competing with other students for the same jobs. But if you carve your own path by emailing people with proof-of-work, you automatically stand out from the competition!
Another way to show proof of work is by doing internships at different companies and learning through on the job training (the best kind of learning!). Instead of spending 22 years and more focused on theoretical education, imagine if you could spend even 5 of those years working different types of jobs? You’d not only learn quicker, but it would also be a way for you to gauge what you’re interested in instead of theorizing about it. You could try to get companies to hire you for very little or no pay. In many cases, you’d be gaining skills and an apprenticeship that is more valuable than no pay.
Exceptions: Of course, this model of no school does not apply to all fields, and breaks down for highly technical fields like becoming a doctor or scientist. In those cases, it’s likely useful to get your medical degree or PhD, but even so it’s almost always better to include as much on the job training as possible.
Making friends online
“How will kids socialize and make friends if they don’t go to school?” This is another common question. For one, there are plenty of homeschoolers who manage to make friends through activities outside school, through friends they meet in the park, or with other kids in their neighborhood. But, the Internet has also changed how people can make friends!
When you are sitting in a classroom, you don’t get to choose your friends. You are randomly allotted into classes with other people. Your high school friends could have been very different if the random allocation worked out another way. In some cases, the randomness works great - people find their best friends this way! But in many other cases, kids move on to college and don’t really remain friends with their high school friends. This is likely because the high school friends didn’t really share the same interests or worldviews, but they were merely friends because of physical proximity. These friendships don’t materialize into long-term bonds
Imagine instead: You could become friends with people online who shared your interests. You could find your best friends at an earlier age, the compounding could start sooner and you could be friends for life!
The Internet enables you to to find other people with similar interests as you which could foster long-term friendships. For example, if your child is into writing, he could join writing-based interest groups and make friends there. Further, the Internet allows you to be friends with people from different ages, cause why shouldn’t that be the case?
There are 2 other bonuses to being homeschooled or learning online:
When you realize that you didn’t learn much in school or college, or worse, you were taught theory that doesn’t work in practice, you don’t have to go through the effort of having to unlearn.
You don’t have to incur tons of student loans and be in heavy debt. Online learning is free or very cheap, all that is needed is the enthusiasm to learn.
These are open questions I have for myself or questions others ask me when thinking about homeschooling for kids. If anyone reading this has solutions or answers, please let me know! Thank you!
If a child wants to pursue a group sport professionally, how does that work if they don’t go to school or college? For example, in the U.S., from what I know, football and basketball is heavily tied to your college. Can one participate if they are not in the school system?
Can homeschooling work if both parents are working jobs that require them to be in the office?
I think it’s possible likely after the age of maybe 8. Prior to that, my hunch is to say it would be difficult. But I’m sure there are creative solutions here I haven’t thought of!
In my first post, I wrote about how the schools of today are failing us. I noted there that many people have been talking about this problem for a while now, but we still don’t have very many good solutions. I think the reason is that, prior to the Internet, outside of traditional homeschooling, there weren’t many options that were available to counter the problems with schools. The Internet has changed that. In fact, the Internet has entirely changed the landscape of learning, both for children and adults. Of course, it has its own downsides, (I’ll likely write a future post on my thoughts around how to mitigate the downsides of Internet learning) but the upsides are tremendously powerful.
The one thing needed for learning in the age of the Internet is: the desire to learn. And as I’ve already mentioned in the first point of my essay on how schools are failing us, I talk about how schools kill our desire to learn. So, it’s time we came up with better, more effective solutions!
Okay, so I’ve written about the problems with schools and how the Internet allows for better solutions. But what are these solutions?
As I said, I am experimenting with a new model of education based on problem-solving, learning by doing, and understanding the theory of knowledge. It will likely start with a small batch of children over the summer. It’s called the Feynman Kids Program.
If you are interested, please see further details in this post or signup below, and I’d love to send you details and talk to you.
[If you have any critiques of this post or any ideas / solutions on what a good education can look like for children, please feel free to reach out to me, thank you!]
Our minds are so used to thinking of teachers in a certain way that we can sometimes dismiss teachers who don’t fit this part.
My partner is an investor and I often find him watching talks from prominent investors like Charlie Munger or Warren Buffett and picking up ideas that he could apply to his investing. He studied Finance in college, why doesn’t he go back and read some of his notes from the Finance classes instead or find lectures from his Finance professors? Because he knows that in practice, the theories learned in the Finance classes are less useful, if useful at all, compared to learning from investors who have in practice generated large amounts of returns.