The End of Education

As civilization has advanced, education has become increasingly important -- and increasingly pervasive.

This trend is going to continue, until "education" as a separate categories dies, replaced for those who choose to grow by learning that thoroughly pervades life.

Education at the Dawn of the Internet

Young (and not so young) people spend more and more of their lives in school ... and further, education is increasingly a regular and ongoing part of a person's career. The pace of technological and social change is such that it's rarer and rarer for a person to receive, in their youth, all the training they'll need to carry out their work for the rest of their life.

However, our formal educational methodologies seem to have advanced less rapidly than many other areas of science and industry. Our formal education systems seem more analogous to those old-fashioned, fusty domains of industry that haven't yet caught up with the times.

Informal means of education are accelerating dramatically, due to largely to computers and most prominently due to the Internet. Software primarily labeled as "educational" has made a relatively small mark on the world, yet Wikipedia, YouTube, Google, ArXiv, CiteSeer, and other such resources have had a tremendous impact and are doing a remarkable amount to spread knowledge throughout the population of humans with regular Internet access (along with spreading entertainment, nonsense, and a lot of other things).

At the high end, MIT and other universities are putting more and more of their curriculum online. For example: anyone with a computer, an Internet connection and a reasonable high school background can get a thorough education in computer science and software engineering via viewing free online lectures, reading free online textbooks, asking questions on free online forums, and practicing programming using free compilers and development environments, etc.

Internet technology provides amazing and accelerating means to bring people together to allow them to teach each other. Online forums are one example ... another is language learning websites, that allow, say, a Japanese speaker wanting to learn English to connect with an English speaker wanting to learn Japanese, for mutually educational multilingual education.

And the interactivity of many of these knowledge resources is important. A child researching a school project using Wikipedia may notice an error or omission in Wikipedia and update the site accordingly. A child can study animation and then upload their animation to YouTube for others to comment on. The boundary between learning and doing breaks down.

All this is well known. What is not sufficiently discussed is where this trend is leading us.

Future of Education

The schools of the future are going to look nothing like the schools of today. If indeed there are schools at all.

Even given all the educational affordances provided by modern technology, there may still be a value for schools of some sort, for social reasons. But if they do exist, schools of the future will serve more to regulate students' educational interactions with the world at large, rather than to disseminate information directly. Students will learn by doing, and learn by exploring the Net and interacting with people and artificial agents from around the world ... and teachers will be there to gently nudge and guide this activity.

The main reason education isn't this way right now is inertia. And this inertia is very strong, especially in places like the Orient where education is based almost entirely on rote, with minimal emphasis given to initiative or creativity.

But this aspect of society will change -- because it has to change ... because old-fashioned schools are getting less and less useful at preparing people for newfangled society.

Where this leads is to the end of the distinction between education and plain old everyday life. If you learn by doing, and you need to constantly learn while doing anything due to the constant influx of new information ... then where lies the distinction between learning and doing?

This is plain vanilla (or maybe rainbow-colored?), hippy-dippy "progressive education", really -- but what's not sufficiently appreciated is that it's going to happen, not because it's a nice and friendly and creativity-encouraging way to do things, but because it's going to be judged necessary for preparing students to deal with a rapidly-changing and increasingly information-rich world.

And that's without even mentioning the really groovy stuff -- the possibilities for education afforded by, say, cranial jacks feeding knowledge directly into the brain ... or virtual worlds allowing students to try out new experiences in a manner partially self-guided and partially remote-controlled by others ... etc. etc. etc.

These various advanced educational technologies could potentially be shoehorned into the old-fashioned, rote-based, one-size-tries-to-fit-all, learning-separate-from-doing style of education ... but doing so would plainly squander most of their potential.

Education wants to be free ... and free of schools and traditional educational methodology ...

Moral of the Story

And so as technology advances and society adapts, "education" will disappear as a separate category and pervade through life ... for those who want to keep growing.

On the other hand, some folks may wind up choosing to spend their time ignorantly pursuing repetitive pleasures in simulated worlds, or other similar activities. But these folks won't need schools nor much education either. So one way or another, education per se will soon be a thing of the past.

The moral: promote informal learning that pervades life ... it's the way of the future. Use formal learning set apart from life as a tool when it's the most valuable choice given our current situation, but be aware that it's decreasingly relevant as the future unfolds.


  1. I'm a prime example of everything you just talked about, most of my knowledge across the board has been a by product of self Internet education.

    There's a major problem with this, society still is bent on accreditations in terms of obtaining jobs and speaker authority. Even though all the information is there accessible for free what you can do with it can not be approached in your formal settings.

    Regardless a new breed of internet nerds will rise from all of this free information. What they will do with it is the question.

  2. I'm largely self-taught as well, and no college even gives a degree for what I'm good at, which is "war by other means" (in favor of freedom). Perhaps I'll die in "the artilect war". LOL