Introcolonising space or curing cancer become more and more feasible.
There is no reason whatsoever for education to be a scarce resource. Education is a resource of information, rather than of physical goods, and reproducing information is free. In a world of universal connectivity, education can be ubiquitous if it is made freely available online. This is a task for open collaboration.
It is no secret that the schooling system nowadays is in a crisis. Our schools are based on a factory-line model: a child goes in one end, is processed according to a standard procedure and comes out the other end with a certificate. No regard is paid to the person's interests, curiosity, creativity, passion. Students are taught outdated material from a peculiar selection of often irrelevant or downright boring subjects. Their flexibility and capacity to deal with unexpected, non-obvious solutions are not encouraged, and are often actively suppressed. They are not free to pursue their passions and talents. They are not given the chance to apply their skills in any practical way. And worst of all, most students simply hate school. (One study  found that only 10-33% of students report being satisfied with school. The same study found that most students feel their teachers are uninterested in supporting them.)
How can we promote better education? The answer seems simple: make learning truly interesting, more relevant to the individual and make proper use of modern media. An inflexible curriculum only benefits the schools and assessment bodies.
It is becoming ever easier to create interactive 3-D environments such as those found in advanced computer games. With the right scripting for interaction and behaviour, these can make a captivating experience where the student hardly realises they are learning.
It is a crime for education not to be interesting! Luckily, for every module of every subject there are educators (and others) who are truly gifted at explaining and teaching key concepts. We must make better use of these people in conjunction with open collaboration and the latest technology to disseminate knowledge to all who wish to learn, wherever they might be in the world.
Educators who are gifted explainers
Collaboratively generated educational material
Educational material can be created and edited collaboratively, constantly evolving and increasing in both quantity and quality, similar to the evolution of the famous.
Such material is made available free for anyone — teachers or students — to use and customise for their own purposes. This project is in early days, but is very much under way already. Listed below are several sites
- Wiki books
- WikiEducator - dedicated to building a complete education curriculum by 2015
- ck12, free, flexible textbooks for the whole American educational syllabus
- Khan Academy, a series of tutorial videos, mostly of science and maths, explaining concepts very well. Includes a testing feature exactly like the one described below. Not collaboratively generated, but released under a Creative Commons license.
- Udacity, from February 2012, offering high-quality, no-cost, univeristy-level courses focused on computer science
- such as —
- eToys free and open-source software that teaches ideas in innovative ways. Comes as standard on the XO-Laptop which has been given to over a million children in the Third World
- Open University's Open Learn
- P2P university
- Connexions. Open educational content in hundreds of subjects.
- The material from Connexions is being compiled into complete textbooks for college courses through their initiative OpenStax, sponsored by Rice University. The first set of textbooks are due out in March 2012. According to Richard Baraniuk, the founder of Connexions, "If we capture just 10% of the market with these first five textbooks, an estimated 1 million college students in the United States could save $90 million over the next five years"
- on Wikipedia
- Open Culture has lists of online courses
- Wolfram Demonstrations Project. Compilation of interactive visualizations of hundreds of phenomena in science, mathematics, music and other areas. Not collaboratively generated, but released under a Creative Commons license, allowing the elements to be used in collaborative projects.
- ShowMe is an app that allows anyone to record and share lessons using a simple interface of voice recording and a touchscreen whiteboard.
- How much can you really learn with a free online education (Wired)
Stanford University are running an experimental new course from October-December 2011. It is an introductory college course in artificial intelligence, led by Peter Norvig and Sebastian Thrun (a leading developer of self-driving cars). The course is available to all free of charge and combines video lectures with online quizzes and assessments. As of August 2011, over 130,000 people have signed up. In the coming years, courses like this are sure become become more interactive and multiply to cover a greater range of subjects.
Video of Salman Khan of Khan Academy and the teachers of the Stanford online AI Class talking about the new kind of education - free, online, lifelong, curiosity-driven, student-directed education.
Games, worlds and models
Some skills -- such as walking, riding a bicycle, putting a basketball in the hoop, and swimming -- are most rapidly learned by actually doing it, perhaps with someone who already knows how to do it putting your hands in the right place, etc.
Other skills -- such as skyscraper design, aircraft engine-out recovery, parachuting, leading troops into battle, urban planning, etc. -- are generally considered not appropriate for beginners. These skills are today generally learned with a bunch of classroom lectures and simulation. For example, modern flight simulators have a combination of computer graphics (simulating the view out the front window) and robotics (moving the simulator round to simulate the "feel" of climbing, spiraling, rough landing, etc.).
Improvements in computer graphics and robotics can improve education in several ways, including:
- The simulation looks and feels more like reality to the person being trained, so when that person does it "for real" it feels more familiar, and there is less risk of "overtraining to the simulator" -- learning to do things in a way that won't work in reality.
- Simulators themselves have dropped in price and require less effort on the part of the teacher to set up and monitor each round of simulation, removing some of the barriers that keep most people from ever learning those skills.
- Things that were once "too expensive" for beginners keep falling in price, eventually passing the threshold where it's faster and cheaper to go ahead and do it "for real" (throwing away or recycling the early common beginner's mistakes) than to train how to do it in a classroom and with a simulator. For example, "printing a newspaper" is far easier and cheaper today with copiers and computer printers than it was with earlier printing press or even earlier manual copying. For example, "building a chair" is much easier and has less risk of bloodshed using Grid Beam than using raw lumber and a circular saw.