How Technology Is Changing Education from Wine into Water

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For centuries, education was scarce and costly, reserved for the privileged few with the right and the need to take advantage of it.

Today we support universal access to education as a basic human right–but old mindsets are hard to shake.

Deep down underneath, we instinctually regard education as a limited resource, an expensive elixir to be doled out carefully, and only to the worthy. You can see this mindset in the entrance exams and aptitude tests that supposedly separate the strong from the weak, so only the “best” students get the best education. You can hear it in the shrill arguments about what to spend this precious resource on, liberal arts vs. vocational training, humanities vs. STEM.

Quality education need no longer be a scarce elixir. It can be as accessible as water–it’s certainly as necessary for our health.

The game changer is technology, which is having a profound effect on our ability to deliver a high quality education to every person on the globe.

  1. Information is more available. An ancient scholar would faint at the thought of all the educational content on the Web. On YouTube alone, you can learn about everything from boiling an egg to building a space station.
  2. Instruction is less expensive. The obvious examples are free or inexpensive online courses, apps, and degree programs. But more importantly, technology is enhancing the productivity of expert teachers, enabling best practices such as personalized learning and one-to-one tutoring that have always been too labor-intensive to be sustainable.
  3. Learning is more efficient. New insights from cognitive and learning science, coupled with the tremendous power of educational software, can help every learner succeed. They can also eliminate tremendous waste from the system–all those hours prodding students to pay attention and stay on task, when the task was the wrong one all along.

We have a long way to go, but these are good reasons to believe that every dollar and every hour we spend on education will be increasingly beneficial. This, in turn, can vastly democratize access to quality education.

This is important, because our scarcity blinders have us focused on the wrong thing. Squabbling about humanities vs. STEM is like fighting over the apples that have fallen to the ground, without finding a way to harvest those still in the tree. There are bigger questions we need to be addressing.

Education is the key to transforming our world into a future that’s peaceful, equitable, and sustainable. Let’s start by understanding that technology has changed the game.

This post was originally published as part of “Good Education Is Hard to Find–and Five Other Myths” in Education Week.

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