Posted by: crudbasher | March 21, 2011

Education Reform is About Time – Part 3

This is my final part of a series of postings about time and how human longevity is changing many things in the world. Today we finally get to talk about how education will be changed. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2.

Time is a gypsy caravan
Steals away in the night
To leave you stranded in Dreamland.

Rush – Dreamline

(cc) rubyblossom

Suppose you just found out you have to give a presentation in 24 hours on Ancient Egypt. Assuming you aren’t an expert already, I bet you would freak out right? Now suppose you had to give that same talk but you had 6 months to prepare. It would totally change the way you prepared for it wouldn’t it? Time changes the way we view things. As previously discussed, the almost doubling of human life expectancy from 1900 to today has been the cause of great change in society. Our current economic system is based on the assumption that people only live till their 40s. Retirement was something enjoyed for a brief time. Today, it’s not unrealistic for people to retire for 30-40 years. Assuming a working career of 40 years that means you have to earn twice as much as you live on in order to maintain the same standard of living in your retirement. Inevitably, people will start to delay retirement in order to work longer. Because of improvements in health care, that will be a realistic goal. So, let’s assume for a moment that a person will work a 50 year career. Does anyone really think that the education you completed by the age of 23 will suffice for your whole life? Me neither. Let’s explore this idea.

Ages 1-5

Most articles I have read about the formative years of a child stress how important those first few years are to overall educational success. With modern technology it should be possible to provide each child with a computerized AI tutor, practically from birth. This tutor will interact with the child like it’s a toy at first. I believe that each child is gifted in some way.  By exposing the child to some simple tests and games the tutor can watch for any aptitudes to emerge. It can also detect any areas of slower development so intervention can happen as soon as possible. Parents can also instruct the AI as to which sorts of talents they want to encourage but it’s unclear to me how much influence they will have. A system like this will provide individualized tutoring at the earliest possible age.

Ages 5-12

This next phase of development is very important. As much as I favor individualized instruction, children at this age will need a lot of structure at first. Therefore it’s probably still necessary to get them together in an actual class. These classes though won’t be organized on age, but rather on skill level. Each AI will still be monitoring the child’s progress so standardized tests will finally be extinct. (yay!) Important social and group skills will be learned in these years. Collaboration will become increasingly more important as the century rolls on so might as well learn it early. Teachers will become facilitators and will have much more time to work with each individual child. A nice bonus here is that teachers that fit well with certain students can act as mentors and follow children through their schooling.

As students demonstrate mastery of skills, they will be advanced to new classes, but each student can take as long as they want. The days of having essentially a production schedule are over. If you are going to live over 100, you had better take your time getting the early years right.

Ages 12-18

While the exact age will be different for each child, eventually they will take control of the direction of their education. Children are intensely curious when they are very young. It’s only when they get to the factory schools that the curiosity gets discouraged (see Ken Robinson). Hopefully, with this individualized approach, that curiosity will remain even in teenagers. As they build on the skills they have learned since age 1, they will be in a good position to decide how they want to start a career. Each student will also be developing their own Personal Learning Network (PLN). This is an everchanging network of peers, adults, mentors, teachers, social groups and learning resources. This will serve to guide the student, and help them access learning resources as they need/want them. The PLN will grow and change their whole life. Seeing as this will be a very mobile technology, learning will happen any time and anywhere. Even today, kids are expecting to be able to do things when they want to. They send texxt messages any time of the day. Netflix provides movies on demand and their PVR is recording shows so watch whey they want. Learning should be no different. If a student is a night owl, then they can work at night. Most likely they will have a cohort of friends from around the world anyway so time will become even more flexible than it is now. Using their PLN they will make professional connections and be able to take classes from universities from around the world. I think teachers will be a lot more freelance than they are now. There will be no such thing as a good teacher or a bad teacher. There will only be the right teacher for your student. Having education moved online will allow connections to be made like that.

There are 2 important thing to understand about this educational process.

  1. There is no rush. When the student is ready to move on, they will know it.
  2. There is no final degree at the end of it.

No Degree? What!?

Right now universities are having to deal with budget cuts but the problem is one of thier own design. Right now you go to school and get a degree. That degree is basically saying to the student “You are done here, our relationship is finished.” In fact many times the only real contact the university has with Alumni is for fundraising.

If people can expect to work 50 years, they will have a constant need for additional training. Universities can offer this training to anyone, anytime. A university should create a learning partnership with their students that lasts a lifetime. If you have an income stream for their whole life, then you don’t need to charge so much for the first 4 years. College becomes much cheaper because you never graduate students.


But how do you know what a person knows if they don’t have a degree? Well let’s be honest, just because you have a degree doesn’t mean you are the right fit for a company. I think in the next 10 years you will see a revolution in assessment. Hiring a new employee will involve social media, psychological profiles, computerized skills assessment, ePortfolio work and mentor recommendations. This blend will provide a much better idea as to what a prospective employee can actually do. Right now, many businesses are outsourcing their employee selection to higher education. I think they will take back that job.


  1. Because people are living so much longer, people will work longer and change careers several times. Therefore education will need to be lifelong.
  2. Also because of longevity, we will have time to personalize education for each child.
  3. Universities will eventually move to a “lifelong learner” business model rather than a 4 year degree model.

There is a lot more I could talk about but for now I’ll leave it here and let it simmer. Thank you very much for reading to this point, and I would love to have some feedback on these ideas!


  1. […] Disruptive, Futurist, Technology « Education Reform is About Time – Part 1 Education Reform is About Time – Part 3 » LikeBe the first to like this […]

  2. The idea of interactive AI tutors is great, but I think there’s more to it than transistors and good programming. We are, after all, still social animals, and we have eons of evolution behind us – a wholesale change can’t happen over the course of a few years with so fundamental. I see more of a blended model, where technology facilitates more and more of data tracking and capture, enabling people with more actionable results. For example, using speech to text in classrooms or social service settings to capture all the data about an individual, then apply best practices to what that data indicates, and have the knowledge worker (teachers and social worker, respectively int his case) make a decision about what’s best – hopefully in collaboration with the “client” (student or social service recipient).

    • Hi Changetech,

      It can be hard to believe that we can have a social relationship with transistors and good programming but people talk to their cats and dogs all the time. 🙂 I do completely agree that with more data, we will more be able to reach kids in need sooner. At what point though does a human have to become involved? For knowledge broadcast, let the machines do it. I think the part that machines have trouble with is questions that don’t have an easy right or wrong answer. You can learn a lot just by asking the question as you can get from the answer. I do think that AI will play a central role in most learning. The only question in my mind is when.

      Thank you so much for commenting!

  3. […] Education Reform Is About Time – Part 1  Part 2 Part 3 […]

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