School and University: A Packaging Problem

A thought occurred to me in the kitchen today: I really miss formal education. I know, half of readers click away after reading that. The rest of you might enjoy this.

This is a thought experiment in which we consider a different way education could be presented.

A friend of mine once said, “If I was a rich man, I would still attend university classes — just different ones.”

Currently, you generally sign up for four years of full time classes, which take place Monday through Friday, between 7:30 am and 6pm (if you’re lucky). There’s a lot of benefits to receiving your education, but the way its packaged turn it into a nightmare.

What if the packaging was different?

What I am about to describe might not replace a full formal education. It would work as a supplemental or leisure activity. But keep in mind that leisurely learning has produced some of the world’s greatest thinkers (Nicholas Taleb comes to mind).

My impression of the way universities and teaching worked in the days of Plato and Aristotle is that you could just show up, but I actually don’t know for sure. Someone fill me in if you know.

Suppose you had rooms designed not only with attention in mind, but comfort as well. Plan the experience from the bottom up as something attractive, with decorated walls, food to eat while listening to the instructor, and time for discussing the material with classmates. It should be an exciting experience.

Next, do away with grading. No formal marks of any kind, just feedback on how you are doing with the material. People would be encouraged to learn from each other while class is not in session. This forces students to make social connections (networking) and learn through teaching each other.

Let’s part ways even further with traditional education: Make each and every class completely voluntary. Courses should be timed so someone can attend when they like. This would have a bigger impact on peoples’ experience than you might imagine.

Would there be homework? I’m not sure. But if you respected your professor enough to show up by choice, for the sake of learning would you avoid the work? Probably not. There might also be social pressures to study the material, since it would be a gathering of like minded people who are interested purely for learning. They become your friends, and eventually, you have a relationship — and you don’t want to disappoint by not reading the material.

The idea’s intent is to give adults a chance to benefit from returning, briefly, to an improved classroom setting. The mental exercise of writing essays and discussing abstract concepts has value. Reading works as a replacement, but it doesn’t cover retrieval of the information at all, which is important for solidifying the material.

This does loosely describe a seminar, but those aren’t enough fun, and the setting is usually all wrong.

Changing the packaging could make learning an entirely different experience.




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