TED and Udemy: Technology Empowers Self-Instruction and Creativity for Children and Adults

Earlier this week, Udemy sent out a tweet about the “Child Driven Education.”  This tweet was about a wonderful video (see below) put up by TED that highlights how children, in “an environment that stimulates curiosity can cause learning through self-instruction and peer-shared knowledge.”  Besides the catchy name, we shared the video because Udemy believes technology is changing how we think about, engage and structure education.  Indeed, our goal is to make education more accessible to everyone: children and adults.  Today, everyone can continue their education in a constant process of self-instruction and shared knowledge without limits.

Changing Values because of success

For all the critiques against the traditional (i.e. the “failed”) education system, people often forget the origins of the traditional system of education made sense at one time.  Education was treated as a mass production line to ensure basic skills when society (often poor) desperately needed to educate, well, the masses.  The system imposed a pipeline from grade school to secondary studies; then when one retired, there was the Learning Annex!  Seriously, there was some variation, but the rules were pretty rigid and clear.  Consequently, the system left huge numbers of people behind; that’s no longer acceptable.  Today we can educate everyone, young and old.

The old utilitarian approach to education, i.e. mass education through directed learning, is particularly unsuited to the challenges and opportunities of today’s global society and economy.  The old system of education sacrificed creativity and self-instruction because those attributes, in brutal terms, cost too much.  It was cheaper to provide a top-down directed approach to education.  Today, however, success requires society to cultivate student attributes of creativity, self-instruction and sharing knowledge.  Luckily, as Professor Mitra video discusses, those are attributes human hold in abundance.

Three cheers for technology

Advances in technology have created a foundation for a radical change in education.  By allowing everyone to access learning tools at any time, through a variety of means, an individual can now spend the necessary time to develop their skills at their own pace.  This applies to adults as much, if not more than to children.  Children must spend the time to master basic skills.  Adults however, must spend the time to master advances skills to become experts.  Online education empowers any adult to become an expert in unique and heretofore unimagined ways.  Thus, it stands to reason that empowering self-direction is even more important as people get older.

Companies like Udemy, and others like it (such as PrepMe), are all striving toward that end: to empower individuals to learn.  But in addition to allowing children to direct their learning, Udemy wants adults to keep learning as well.  Udemy believes that humans thrive on learning and problem solving.  Adults as much as children need an environment that facilitates a dialogue of learning and instruction.  By creating a platform to make education more accessible to everyone, Udemy hopes individuals can embark on a lifetime adventure of learning and instructing others.

Looking to the future

The changes in how society thinks about and approaches education are exciting.  But perhaps the greatest irony is that the traditional education system was the parent of its own doom.  The very education system we criticize today for punishing creativity and self-instruction, for failing to meet new higher standards and for abandoning too many of its children, is the same system that gave rise to the technology that promotes new opportunities in education.  One can only wonder and anticipate what will come next.