The Speculist: Some People Pay More than that for Cable


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Some People Pay More than that for Cable

A few months back, Sally asked whether formal schooling will become obsolete. In one sense, I don't think formal education is going anywhere. For the foreseeable future, people are going to need the credentials that an official degree represents. And for that, they have to be "formally" educated.

However, Like Sally, I do believe that the delivery mechanism for education is going to change. Education is about to become massively less expensive and more available.

Via today's Kurzweil feed, we see this wonderful headline:

College for $99 a Month

The author is less than completely enthusiastic at the prospect. He worries about about how universities can carry on as research institutes and stewards of civilization if they lose their cash cow -- undergraduates paying waaaaaay too much for basic information.

Personally, I think they'll find a way to evolve. Anyhow, having college graduates make student loan payments for most of their adult lives so that universities can view themselves as "stewards of civilization" feels like a bad deal to me.

Frankly, I'm tempted to drop my Direct TV and start working on a new degree. Cheap, abundant education means we all have the opportunity -- some might say obligation -- to continue the education process throughout our lives.

On the other hand, since I'm not necessarily looking for any additional credentials, I could start taking some courses here and keep my satellite TV. That's what I like about life here in the future. Choices.


"Crucially for Solvig--who needed to get back into the workforce as soon as possible--StraighterLine let students move through courses as quickly or slowly as they chose. Once a course was finished, Solvig could move on to the next one, without paying more. In less than two months, she had finished four complete courses, for less than $200 total."

Here's a key point made by the article: Learn the material, take the test, pass, then learn more material. No ordinary school can provide that kind of custom education. The class as a whole must walk through the material in lock-step. Smart students are bored. Slow students are lost.

Plus, as this student found out, classes without a classroom can be much, much less expensive than with.

This aspect of online education has the potential to further speed up accelerating technology, considering how many technical and engineering students could be taking at least part of their training this way.

Here's another education story posted on the same e-mail newsletter from

"Cushing Academy has all the hallmarks of a New England prep school, with one exception.

This year, after having amassed a collection of more than 20,000 books, officials at the pristine campus about 90 minutes west of Boston have decided the 144-year-old school no longer needs a traditional library. The academy's administrators have decided to discard all their books and have given away half of what stocked their sprawling stacks - the classics, novels, poetry, biographies, tomes on every subject from the humanities to the sciences. The future, they believe, is digital.

"When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books," said James Tracy, headmaster of Cushing and chief promoter of the bookless campus. "This isn't 'Fahrenheit 451' [the 1953 Ray Bradbury novel in which books are banned]. We're not discouraging students from reading. We see this as a natural way to shape emerging trends and optimize technology."

Instead of a library, the academy is spending nearly $500,000 to create a 'learning center,' though that is only one of the names in contention for the new space. In place of the stacks, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study carrels. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine.

And to replace those old pulpy devices that have transmitted information since Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in the 1400s, they have spent $10,000 to buy 18 electronic readers made by and Sony. Administrators plan to distribute the readers, which they're stocking with digital material, to students looking to spend more time with literature.

Those who don't have access to the electronic readers will be expected to do their research and peruse many assigned texts on their computers.

"Instead of a traditional library with 20,000 books, we're building a virtual library where students will have access to millions of books," said Tracy, whose office shelves remain lined with books. "We see this as a model for the 21st-century school."

All information can be digitized, including audio/visual classroom material, and, of course, books.

Read these two articles together. They'll tell you a lot about how education will be conducted, and is at some schools now.

Home schoolers, take note. These resources aren't restricted to brick and mortar schools.

Where is George Jetson taking the youngsters in the flying car? That's right; to school. I rest my case. Wait, wait! Can you do StarFleet Academy on the computer? Ok, I am done for now.

I don't think the Hanna Barbera folks were quite up to speed on accelerating change. George Jetson worked for a company that manufactured sprockets, whose big competitor was a company that made cogs. (Huh?)

Unfortunately, the folks who made Star Trek weren't much better. Ever see Janeway's laptop? (Item 8)

In the Dancing and Printing Sandwiches era, formal primary school will be one option. There will be many others. There will be even more options for secondary and higher ed, most of which will be highly decentralized and individualized.

And if we ever have one, I bet the first two years of Star Fleet Academy will be entirely on the computer -- or rather IN the computer. Virtual reality will open up (literally) whole new worlds of educational opportunities.

I'm excited by the two points that Sally emphasized: "Learn the material, take the test, pass, then learn more material."

and, "classes without a classroom can be much, much less expensive than with."

BUT, thinking back on my college days, the big reason that time had such an impact on me was that 1) I was out of my parents house and on my own for the first time, and 2) I was making great new friends who were also out on their own for the first time, in a campus environment.

I can't overemphasize how much fun that was. So, here's my vision - a physical campus where students get together: Dorms, student union, gym, intramural sports, etc. But its all to facilitate online learning - from whatever providers a student chooses. Groups of friends would probably get together to take classes. But its all at their own pace and they are in the driver's seat on price negotiations. If one online provider is not giving enough bang for the buck (or is charging too much buck for the bang), the students move on to another provider.

Think of that movie "Accepted," but with computer learning.

I bet a small struggling college could experiment with this model and find a way to make it work.

I can't overemphasize how much fun that was. So, here's my vision - a physical campus where students get together: Dorms, student union, gym, intramural sports, etc. But its all to facilitate online learning - from whatever providers a student chooses. Groups of friends would probably get together to take classes.

Might work! That way you get the college experience -- which is a good experience, although not the only possible good experience, or even necessarily the best experience for everybody -- and still capitalize on more efficient models of providing education. Similar "schools" might be established to support kids who are home-schooled or micro-schooled.

Additionally, there might be models where college-age kids enter the workplace, go into military service (or something like it), or do that travel-the-world-for-a-year thing, all while furthering their education.

As long as youngsters have to be away from home during the day (because no one is there), they may as well be in school (bricks and all).

As long as youngsters have to be away from home during the day (because no one is there), they may as well be in school (bricks and all).

Sure, but as long as we're going with more of a Jetson's thing, I think we should lose the bricks and send them someplace like this. Granted, that's a house, but the school of the future ought to have that basic shape. Plus the school uniforms should be shiny jumpsuits (somebody in the future has to wear them, and I don't want to.)

And should we shave their heads? Just asking. I never could understand why people in the future have to be bald. Shiny jumpsuits I can sort of get with (again, as long as I don't have to wear one.) But baldness? For everybody?

Oh, man! That's my top secret idea! You see, instead of school factory buildings, we need a house for every neighborhood (maybe two, depending on how many youngsters around there), and see, everybody can walk there, and be close to home, and school in a home or small building instead of a factory looking building. No bus expenses and other savings, and think of the convenience. And there could be a gym and sports facility per x amount of school homes. I can't stand the uniform thing. I think everybody should pick their own clothes and haircut (maybe some restrictions).

Here's a new gadget school kids can put to use in the Jetsons world we're speculating about. I thought combining an e-reader with a laptop with Internet connection would be a natural:

"We're getting more details about that upcoming Asus Eee-book reader we told you about last month.

The company is looking at two versions: budget and premium, a spokesman for Asus in the U.K. told the Times of London.

But most intriguing is that at least one version of the reader, the higher-end one, would have a hinged spine, opening like a traditional book and closing into tablet form. This design would let users view the text of their book on one screen (turning its pages using the touch screen), while browsing a Web page on the other.

One screen could also act as a virtual keypad, according to the Times report, which would move the device into laptop territory.

The Asus e-reader would have a full color screen, and it may also feature speakers, a Webcam, and a mic for Skype, enabling cheap phone calls over the Internet, the Times reports."

What a homework helper! What a great gadget for writers!

Another possibility is that we could separate the two aspects of college. Education for those who want education and the social environment for those who want that.

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