A non-comprehensive list of everything wrong in education

What is education?

The terms learning and education are often used in close connection, but what is the actual difference between them? Let’s take a look at the text-book definitions:

Going Deeper

Nonetheless, this definition of education is quite shallow. It does not allow us to distinguish between different types of education, nor does it provide a way to capture the nuances in which knowledge is transported through education.

Detour: small glossary of education

While talking about education, there are several key concepts that are worth defining.

Education in detail

In this section we will look at education from two perspectives:

  • Society Perspective — Where do we learn these skills and what are they used for?

Psychological Perspective

There is a vast space of concepts in psychology related to learning. Most of them focus on the act of learning rather than education, as it provides a more atomic element to study. (Even though there is also research on educational aspects, such as curriculum composition)

Example of classical conditioning (Source: Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0)

Society Perspective

From the lens of society, education is categorized by the influence of society on the learning process. One of the most common definitions contains these categories:

  • Informal — Education outside of a structured curriculum. It is driven by exploration and more practical oriented learning approaches.
  • Non Formal — Provides an addition to formal education to provide an extension of skills usually after the end of formal education (e.g. through seminars or workshops)

Towards a nuanced definition of education

Now that we have taken a look at the existing definitions, we can use these different perspectives to come closer to the core problem of education. As stated in the beginning of this article, our goal is to create a definition that takes the context, means of knowledge transportation as well as the social aspects into account. While the psychological perspective focuses on the learning experience of an individual, the social perspective is mostly focused on the context of learning in the society.

Example of a timeline of education & learning through-out the life
  • Curriculum Driven →Fixed goals and structures that are enforced during the learning process. Usually provided by an external authority (e.g. mentor or teacher).
  • Skill Driven — Learning with a clear goal to acquire a specific skill
  • Through Theory →Learning from predefined sets of knowledge as well as logical deduction and alignment with existing knowledge.
  • Through Practice →Learning certain skills through repetition (e.g. shooting hoops).
  • Work Environment → Driven by practical needs to generate skills for economic success. The social structure is usually more peer to peer.
  • Private Environment → Can be driven more by curiosity to explore certain subjects with the goal of self-enhancement. Social structure can vary from isolation to mentor or small learning groups.

Classify types of education

Now that we have a more nuanced theory for education, let’s try to use it in order to classify the existing approaches to education and outline potential flaws.

Classification of the education approaches mentioned above [Note: these classification are based on my opinion as stated in the text above. I measure the membership to each element of each dimension independently, i.e. they do not add up to one]

Problems with education

We will use this classification as the foundation to talk about the actual problems in education. From my point of view these are:

How can you use this?

In my opinion it is important to have a good understanding of the state of education in order to work around the shortcomings. This allows you to adjust your learning goals to be more aligned with your actual life goals.

  • Try to combine multiple approaches of education (such as book learning, experimentation and learning by doing) to get the best of all worlds
  • Do not let your educational path be too strongly defined by degrees, as they provide an incomplete gateway into the industry and might lead to a focus on the wrong skills (e.g. learning prose and poetry to go into computer science)
  • Be relentless in your learning!

Conclusion

In this article I tried to give a short overview on how we can better classify existing educational approaches through a multiple dimensions, including environment of learning, medium of knowledge transportation and context. From there we used this approach to identify the shortcomings and problems of existing approaches. This leads to a series of questions on how we can provide better education at scale, including:

  • How can we build a better gateway between industry and education?
  • How can we improve the engagement and curiosity of students?

Data Scientist with a research background in AI. I read a lot and like knowledge-exchange. I write about education and technology. Always looking for ideas.

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