The Future of Higher Education

If there’s a topic you want to learn today, the best tutors for it are on YouTube. YouTubers explain things with the best visuals, best graphics, best animations, and simplest examples. They add interviews, animated maps, images that support the subject, and fast-paced music to their videos. Whether the topic is mathematics, biology, or economics, there is beautiful and descriptive content in almost every language. Best of all, the competition on YouTube is continuously improving what’s available. YouTubers compete to do better than each other and to increase the number of views and likes. Many instructors and professors in classical schools have little chance of competing with YouTubers. Many instructors try to enrich their lessons by using videos prepared by YouTubers in their classic classroom lessons. There aren’t only young YouTubers on YouTube, but also professors, researchers, and TED speakers from the best universities in the world. Therefore, for someone who has a mind to learn a subject, it is enough to open YouTube on a mobile phone. Some of the YouTube videos go beyond explaining the topics and criticize authors, theorists, and experts. The fact that the work reaches the criticism and discussion dimension helps to deepen the content.

The only missing part of learning from YouTube, for now, is classroom discussions. Discussions between a teacher and students are not available in the process of learning from YouTube. However, innovations never end in social media. Don’t be surprised if a social new media, bringing random people and students together for academic debates, soon starts. For example, consider a group discussing cobweb theory in economics. Members of this group do not know each other; they don’t go to the same school, they don’t live in the same country; their only common point is to understand better and discuss cobweb theory. Inside a zoom-like video discussion platform, they find the relevant group, attend one of the scheduled meetings, and discuss cobweb theory with people they never know. This type of social media will also provide the opportunity for classroom discussion on the internet.

Meanwhile, learning through smartphone apps is measurably more successful than the teaching of a professor. In traditional education, the professor teaches and examines student. Although the passing grade varies from school to school, usually a student who scores between fifty and eighty-five on an exam passes. In fact, this grade band indicates that the student has not fully learned. However, smartphone/computer applications are much more successful in learning. For example, a smartphone learning application asks a student 30 questions. The student only answers twenty-five of them correctly; of course, there are five wrong answers. The app does not allow the student to pass to the next level until the student masters 30 questions. Therefore, this student progresses by learning the subjects entirely. In traditional university education, while there are many subjects that the students go through without full learning, there is no subject that is missed or left incomplete in learning with learning apps.

What is the place of knowledge in learning? You might think, “All the information is on the internet, no need to know anything by heart.” This logic is true to a certain extent, but not entirely. According to Bloom’s learning taxonomy, we first acquire knowledge. Then we remember the knowledge we have learned. We recognize it when it comes across in the real world. We use this information. If necessary, we analyze it. We evaluate and combine information to create something new. Now here is the first step to obtaining knowledge; others cannot happen without securing information. I’m not saying that we should fill our heads with information that we can easily access on the internet, but interpretation and creativity are impossible without a knowledge base. Obtaining information through applications plays a critical role in our learning. Now almost everyone loves movies. The directors and screenwriters who create popular films are quite knowledgeable and combine their knowledge to make them. For example, it is not possible to create many elements of Star Wars without knowing the medieval history or knowing Indian mythology.

But will YouTube content and smartphone learning apps replace professors entirely? One of the most critical functions of professors is to help understanding and interpretation. Professors and instructors should stop teaching and play a role in the interpretation. Students should meet with their professors once a week or every fifteen days to discuss topics in a physical class or a Zoom-like platform. Since the student will come to this meeting with full knowledge, the professor will not have to spend time to teach at the meeting.

You may find my thoughts revolutionary, and you are right in that. However, the revolution has already happened to a large extent. Almost everyone checks YouTube to learn something new. Not many people think, “let me go to college and ask a teacher” to learn something new. Recently, I wanted to make a crepe, and I checked YouTube recipes.  All recipes required some rest time for the batter. Three days before writing this post, I found a new recipe on YouTube, which doesn’t require resting the batter. When I decide to learn to crepe, I didn’t enroll in a culinary school. I just did up-to-date research on YouTube. It is up to university administrations to recognize and admit this learning revolution and restructure themselves accordingly. After 2050, the university, as you know it, will either be erased by the realities of the market, or they will continue to exist by reinventing themselves. The situation of private universities is even more difficult. In a world where learning becomes free, it will become increasingly difficult to find some people willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars for a college education.

In business, some institutions started to mention that they don’t look for diplomas anymore; they want to recruit talented people. Peter Thiel and the like are recruiting talent, not graduates. These institutions are few today, but they will increase gradually. The traditional university’s demand will gradually decrease in a world where a university diploma is not proof of learning.

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