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School out, tech in: Welcome to the future of education

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This is a guest post by Dale Stephens, founder of the “UnCollege” movement 

At the 2007 EG Conference for youth and young adults, Kevin Kelly told the audience that 10 years ago no one would have believed the Internet was coming, least of all him.

If someone told us that we would all be connected and have access to literally all of the world’s information, we would have said that it was impossible. What I’m here to say today is that education is being transformed by technology. The future is here, but educators and deans, the ones who hold the gauntlet, are choosing not to believe it.

I run UnCollege, an organization that believes that college isn’t the only path to success. The idea was forged during my time at the Thiel Fellowship program (fellows are given $100,000 to forgo college and “make something amazing”). Of course, many people would disagree with the sentiment that I’ve created something worthwhile. In fact, critics say I’ve created something destructive. Naturally, I disagree.

Why do I believe that college is not the only path to success? It’s the technologies that we’ve grown accustomed to. But the problem is that not everyone is seeing the ramifications of what this access means.

We now live in a “connection economy.” You can access someone just by emailing them. You can connect to people through social media, and I’ve corresponded with, and have met, thought leaders through the Internet. What you’re looking at is, as Seth Godin puts it, “the connection machine.”

I’d argue that the access you get from being connected levels the playing field. Now, you can complete an internship with a Silicon Valley startup, even if you live in the middle of Idaho. Being connected means you get access to people who you normally couldn’t even shake hands with. Now, all you have to do is reach out and you’re in. I’ve gotten backed by the first investor of Facebook, launched a social organization that’s barged its way into the pages of The New York Times and CNN, and have connected with thought leaders I would have never dreamed of speaking with. How? It’s because the Internet connected me to them. Twenty years ago, who knows — if I’d dropped out of college, I may have just ended up smoking pot in my parent’s basement.

But I’ve been able to marshall online resources to avoid that frightening fate. I’d argue that technology has intensified the resources we’ve grown accustomed too so much that it’d be a huge mistake not to take advantage.

Unlike college, the beautiful thing about these resources is that they’re practically free. Online courses, internships, apprenticeships, apps, videos, and essays now offer not only the latest, but the best education you can get.

If you’d like to completely recreate the college experience for the cost of free, you can just use Massive Online Open Courses (often referred to as “MOOC’s”) to replace lectures. These include Udacity, Khan Academy, and M.I.T Open Course Software. (Here’s a list of the best resources we’ve found. Not only are they free, but you can learn at your own pace. You can’t pause real professors.)

Now, we have connection. Now, we have the resources. What do colleges have? They have an arbitrary credibility marker, and besides that, they very well could be broke. But they aren’t — and it’s because we’re still buying into the big myth. Technology has, and will, change education. When you see people looking up philosophical texts on their iPhones, how can you still say that education is limited to the walls of a college?

Ten years from now, speakers will remark on how far we’ve come and how surprising this would have seemed a few short years ago. Technology will make education even more accessible and more reliable than it has today. The real question is, when will the educators in charge finally start to believe that?

dalestephensDale Stephens is the founder of UnCollege.org, author of Hacking Your Education to be published on March 5th from Penguin, and a 2011 Thiel Fellow. 

ABC keyboard image via Elnur // Shutterstock