To understand the future of education, it’s interesting to think a little bit about the past of education. If you were to go back 500 years, very few people got an education. But those that did, say a prince, a member of the nobility, tended to get a pretty good education.
They would have a personal tutor or oftentimes an army of personal tutors. And they would adapt to the prince. If the prince is having trouble with a concept, the tutors wouldn’t say, “Well, the curriculum says we have to move on.” They say, “OK, let’s make sure you really understand that, because you’re going to be king one day. Let’s make sure you’ve really mastered these ideas.”
As you get into the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the Industrial Revolution is happening. A bunch of countries said, “Hey, we need to think about educating more people.” It was a massive revolution, and a very positive one. Countries like the United States, Germany, Japan, and the UK were asking how they could provide free mass public education. This was a new idea. And they said, “Well, we can’t afford personal tutors. We can’t give them the education that the duke’s child got. But what if we use some of the principles of the Industrial Revolution?”
Principles such as, we apply process; we move people at a set pace through it. Some of the “product,” which would be the students, will end up ready to be doctors, lawyers, or engineers. Some of them could do these types of jobs. And, we need a lot of labor in the factories. People need to know how to read manuals and whatever else.
As a result, we saw huge gains. We went from low literacy rates to near-universal literacy rates in much of the developed world. It’s no coincidence that these were the countries that were the first to develop.
That was fine for the Industrial Revolution. But now, we still have that same education model. The structure of the workforce is fundamentally changing because of automation, AI, and those technologies. You won’t need as much physical labor. You won’t even need this kind of white-collar information processing filling up these skyscrapers right now. All of that’s going to be automated.
So the world we’re going into must be a mastery-based world, where students have to be able to have the agency to fill in those knowledge gaps as necessary. What happens in universities today is that if you sit in that chair for three hours a week, you get three credit hours, and you go to the next class.
Instead of it rewarding seat time, we need to ask, Does the student know it yet? If you know it, here’s your proof. Show that to the world. And you’ll get jobs and you’ll go to grad school. If you don’t know it yet, it doesn’t mean you’re not smart; keep working on it, and you might know it eventually. This type of learning won’t stop when you’re 18 or 21. It’s going to be a continuous process.