Education and the web

TechCrunch has an interesting report about how Bill Gates has been speaking at a conference in Lake Tahoe called Techonomy about the future of education. His central thesis was that, in the not-too-distant future, you'll be able to get a better further education using the web than you could simply at a single University institution.

This is an idea I've had in my head for a while - I remember initiating a discussion on it at the Bettr unconference last year.

One of the key 'problems', to which I don't have a ready answer, is how accreditation for online self-learning (or group-learning) would work. The closest I've come to is wondering whether you could have open exams, where anyone could take them, regardless of whether or not they've been doing a formal course. But what do exams really measure?

I'm not sure Bill Gates had the answer either, but here's what he was reported to have said (via TechCrunch):

[Bill Gates] believes that no matter how you came about your knowledge, you should get credit for it. Whether it’s an MIT degree or if you got everything you know from lectures on the web, there needs to be a way to highlight that.

He also outlined a problem with text books (again via TechCrunch):

One particular problem with the education system according to Gates is text books. Even in grade schools, they can be 300 pages for a book about math. “They’re giant, intimidating books,” he said. “I look at them and think: what on Earth is in there?

According to Gates, our text books are three times longer than the equivalents in Asia. And yet they’re beating us in many ways with education. The problem is that these things are built by committee, and more things are simply added on top of what’s already in there.

WikiBooks is perhaps one attempt at improving this situation, but I'm not sure they're really there yet...

Techonomy have said that they'll be putting video and other documentation of the conference online in the coming weeks, so I look forward to seeing those. In the meantime, there's a short video from the Q&A session.

I think this is an area that more and more people will become interested in - there's a huge potential waiting to be unleashed.

(Image: TechCrunch)