Future is free
Reading Chris Anderson’s book FREE – The Future of a Radical Price, makes one think that these powerful principles could be applied in education and training.
Phase 1 – Free knowledge
In fact, it already has. In 1991 the encyclopedia industry was worth an astonishing $1.2 billion, Britannica being the market leader with sales of $650 million. In 1993, Encarta was launched for $99 and in the same year Britannica laid off its door-to-door sales force. Within 3 years Britannica had dropped to $300 million and the overall encyclopedia market had shrunk to $600 million, of which Encarta had $100 million. So a cheaper price not only revolutionised this market, it decimated the market. Along came Wikipedia and the market shrunk again, with Encarta canned completely in 2009. The end result is a market where the cost to the learner is ZERO. However, the availability of free encyclopedic knowledge base, that is bigger, better, broader, in more languages than ever before won the day.
The really interesting economic point is that the real money that would have been spent on expensive sets of rarely read Encyclopedias, can be spent elsewhere. It’s redistributed. We as customers get to keep our money a well as getting a better product.
Phase 2 – Free teacher created content
Now that lectures are being recorded, and distributed, often for free through YouTube EDU, iTunes U, Open Learn, MIT Courseware and others, anyone can have access to this level of instruction. See previous post. The advantages are obvious. In fact these recorded lectures, are in the end better than their live originals in all sorts of ways supported by the psychology of learning.
Google and its many services has also given us access to a wealth of resources, especially in searchable print. Project Gutenberg and others have given us hundreds of thousands of free books. You pretty much get an answer to any question you pose.
Phase 4 – Free formative teaching
This is the tricky one, but formative feedback is improving greatly in online content, especially in simulations and games. There’s plenty of evidence to show that many learning tasks can be completed without teacher intervention. It’s simply a matter of designing top class content.
Live teaching is not a necessary condition for learning. In fact it can be a condition for stopping learners from learning. If e can take some magical motivational dust from games and other media and apply it to learning, we’ll make great gains.
Phase 4 – Free accreditation
At some time in the future, the technology will be able to provide free assessment. Let’s face it, current types of assessment in education and training are often fairly crude. It’s no great stretch of the imagination for it to be largely automated.
The first problem is unique identification. Iris scanning, fingerprints, digital photographs and other cheap techniques will make this very cheap.
As for delivery, the online delivery of assessments, which avoid leaks, can be varied from person to person and really does provide high quality assessment, is already possible.
This frees people up to take the assessment when they’re ready, and not just when it’s convenient for the organisation. It’s about attainment not attendance.
I, for one, am already a ‘free learner’. I don’t go on courses, don’t use teachers, yet learn daily online (and offline). I know from the many other people I encounter online that we all read, click on links, use reference material, do academic research, email, blog, Facebook, Tweet to improve our knowledge and skills. The future is free.