How Mobile Will Disrupt Education

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Michael Saylor: Give a $100 tablet to a billion people. If it lasts for five years, it's $20 of hardware a year. Find the bandwidth and, for $20 a year, you've given them a free education, K through Ph.D. We ought to focus on that, right?

It's $500,000 to go from 6 years old to 22 years old in America, for a decent education; $500,000, and that's public school and typical college. If three billion people live on less than $900 a year in income, there's no way they're spending $500,000 or $50,000 -- probably not even $5,000.

The educational industry is a very entrenched, quasi-unionized organization, so you can probably find hundreds of thousands of people that will come up with millions of reasons why people will never learn from a computer. They just happen to all be biased and wrong.

If you have a question, and you have a choice between asking the most learned man at Oxford with a Ph.D., or asking Google (NASDAQ: GOOGL  ) , a 6-year-old can tell you, "Ask Google."

If you look at Khan Academy and Khan's speeches he gave for the TED Talk, he says, "I tutored my cousins, and that's a rich man's prerogative; I can quit working and tutor my cousins, and they get personal service."

He said, "They moved away, so I started uploading the videos on YouTube, and I very quickly got feedback that they liked the YouTube version of me better than the real version of me, because they could start and stop the YouTube version, and they could get up and go to the bathroom or they could go play, or go to dinner and come back, or they could watch it five times."

These are all things you can't do as long as there's a person involved. That led to Khan Academy, and pretty soon you've got 100 million downloads, and why not a billion downloads?

One of the epiphanies of life is, Archimedes knew algebra, so presumably algebra's been taught the same way for 2,000 years, which makes every single algebra teacher on the planet someone who's acting, technically, in a comparable fashion to a Roman schoolteacher.

What's the definition of inefficiency or stagnation? It's when you're doing the same thing the same way for 2,000 years, and yet you could have one algebra teacher that teaches algebra well.

You could create a program that runs on a tablet computer, and I would say not only would you eliminate every algebra teacher on Earth for the rest of eternity, you could probably teach algebra 10 times better on the tablet computer than you could with a flesh-and-blood person, and you could probably teach it to all 7 billion people on the planet.

There's 1 billion people on the planet that can't even read, right? What hope do they have, if you can't read?

I think that the promise of technology here is to automate out tens of thousands, or hundreds of thousands of processes that, right now, are expensive in human capital, or expensive in financial capital, or expensive in some kind of energy requirements.

I think this mobile wave is about the developing world leapfrogging the 20th century, going directly to the 21st century. All the capital investments we made in the Western world that were so expensive, they're just going to be irrelevant. There's a great, great chance to unleash the power of billions of human minds to create things.

I know I'm running on in my answer. I may not even be answering the question you asked, but I'll still say it anyway.

I think the world needs, not 100 million teachers that teach subjects between K-12. I think what the world needs is 100 million Ph.D.s that all have a discipline in attacking a different type of cancer or a different bug, or a different astrophysical problem or mechanical engineering problem or civil engineering problem.

Because the stuff that's going to kill us is going to be a strep-resistant bug, or it's going to be some kind of crazy influenza, or it's going to be the inability to find clean-burning energy. It's not going to be a lack of algebra skill.

That's the promise of this. Engines that will empower billions of people to do something other than manual labor.


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  • Report this Comment On January 08, 2013, at 2:26 PM, steveo250k wrote:

    No doubt edcuation will change (and is changing) because of technology and that's good. But there are some pitfalls that this article seems to gloss over. The biggest danger is if we have one mind teach everyone, everyone learns that one mind. One mind is not perfect therefore everyone will be flawed in the same way. Think of inbreeding.

    Watch the movie "Stand and Deliver" for an example of this.

    Also, it's great that I can pause and rewind a section I didn't quite get the first time. I use this all the time. But what happens when someone just doesn't understand what the teacher is saying? We can listen to the same thing for 2000 years, but just because it's repeated over and over doesn't mean it's evenutally understood. I'll often replay something a second time and if I still don't get it, I'll search for another source on the same topic to see if I understand better the way someone new teaches it.

    In short, record once, playback many times is not a panacea. Variety is the spice of life. So, yes, one good teacher can reach exponentially more students. Just not everyone.

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