Want to fix education in the United States? Create a tool that focuses on learning.

Many of you don’t know me, or what I stand for, but I’m a Product Manager by trade. My perspective is that you can build tools to solve big issues, provided you do enough research on what the problem is. I’ve built many tools over the course of my career to solve large and complex issues for the biggest company in the world, from communication, to training, even including critical operations. And now, running for public office in the US in the future, I want to do the same.

Someone told me long ago that running for office required me to stand for stuff. So I want to stand for learning.

How does one practically stand for learning? By standing for Education? I don’t know that the Education issue can be solved by throwing more resources to charter schools and less to public education (and vice versa). So let’s back up and identify the real problem.

What’s the problem?

I posted a comment on LinkedIn and Facebook two months ago that started with a problem statement and question:

“68 percent of Americans 25 and older do not have college degrees. Is this failure?”

There were a lot of keyed-in responses (especially some from friends I didn’t expect to hear from).  I especially enjoyed the TED Talk by Sir Ken Robinson, as well as an article written on LinkedIn by Matt Fowler, opening the discussion of alternatives to college learning.

There are many options for college, but the fundamental problem of learning still resonates as part of its DNA: K-12 education exists so that you take advantage of 13-16 and beyond. And with only 32 percent of people finishing their 16th year, it might be time to think up a solution that’s COMPLETELY different.

So… how do we fix education when it is failing people at a worse rate than marriages in the US? Easy. We use a small amount of taxpayer dollars to create something that focuses on learning, introducing a self-service to you as an American citizen.  This system should SUPPORT the Education system, and all of our working industries as well.

What would we make?

We need something that can support the actual way people learn… real learning vs. simple institutional support and assessment. CREDIT: Brazil Scientific Electronic Library Online

It would behoove me to have a system that would allow me the following:

  1. Store my interests and skills to share at my choosing to schools and industries
  2. Show me those who have the same interests and skills (and are willingly sharing this information) in order to hone my craft
  3. Provide me a method for peer-based assessment on those interests and skills so that those interests can EVENTUALLY become skills. Those assessments are there for me to share as I see fit.
  4. I want something like this from the very beginning of my life, where my parents are fumbling through putting stuff in there (interests and skills), and at a certain age, this gets turned over to me to start updating. Then I own it till the day I die. I put interests and skills in from my early days in education, all the way to the end of my days in my nursing home (going to the bathroom might be my top skill at that point, but hey, it’s still a skill).

That’s it. That’s pretty much all this would do.

Great. This sounds cool. So… how would we build it? What would we need? Who should own it long term?

In order to make a case for what we need and who should own it, I need to point out that this needs to fill all four requirements above. I’m willing to change my theory on the case I make below in order to make a better system. But nothing like this exists today in the scope I’m talking about (especially point 4). And so we start from scratch!

Without further ado, let’s make the case for something helpful and real.

We need the greatest minds in ontologies, word associations, and contextual learning to determine the guts of this system.

I expect many people reading my last sentence to start glazing over with boredom. But I suppose that’s part of the point. Do you think most people would argue with an ontologist about the algorithm that comprises the association of words? No. It’s boring. Most politicians don’t care. And if they DO care, they’ll get involved to help question issues at a level where they would have to hire an ontologist. That’s a win in and of itself.

It turns out that the way we teach machines (i.e., Machine Learning) would actually be the way that we would keep track of our own goals, interests, and skills throughout our lives. I want a system like this for myself that could point me in a direction by connecting dots I might have forgotten about, like a skill I used to utilize but no longer do.

It could help to solve the general welfare of our country by encouraging small businesses. Lots of small businesses.

The premise of this point is not based on real data, because nobody can do research on something that doesn’t exist. But imagination is at a shorter supply than it has to be because kids are being told at a young age that there are only certain paths in which they will succeed. Enough is enough.

Sir Ken Robinson, between all of his hilarious colloquialisms, relevant experiences and insight, says the following: “We’re now running national education systems where mistakes are the worst thing you can make.  And the result is that we’re educating people out of their creative capacities.”  We need to open up the creativity that our democracy affords us, take advantage of the best of humanity, and start dreaming. The tech industry does this (and is encouraged to do this), and so should the rest of the country.

It doesn’t cost a whole lot of money to make. It requires brains.

The system I’m talking about is a roadmap that needs to continuously be refined. While it doesn’t take a whole lot of money upfront to build, it will require some of the leaders in the industry to gather together to create an agreed upon ontology that will be the basis for identifying subject matter experts in any given field. And it requires constant refinement and different perspectives. Some of these leaders could be Michael C. Jensen from Harvard, Tom Gruber from Apple/Siri, leaders within Korn Ferry, or some of the greatest minds in Corporate and Educational Competency Based Learning and Assessment, like Shelley Harwayne, founder of the Manhattan New School.

It seems to me that, something that could have a profound impact on education that doesn’t cost a whole lot of money would be fiscally appealing to Republicans, and the public service that it offers would appeal to Democrats. I would LOVE to engage anyone from either party to debate the value of this type of system.  But I’m pretty sure that the only group that would hate this is Libertarians because “fight the man.”

 

The US Government should maintain this. But a person’s data should be privately owned by that person.

Let’s be frank: this system and data needs to exist long term, and unless you’re the Shirley Plantation or the Zildjian company, a private company probably won’t last as long as our Federal Government. This system should be around for the next 200 years, allowing humans to outpace artificial intelligence by deeply exploring innovative waves in STEM and beyond.

Philosophically speaking: why shouldn’t our Government own this system? The government is supposed to be the group looking after our infrastructure. The government funds the building of public roads, but it doesn’t tell people where to drive. The government funds public libraries, but it doesn’t tell people what to read.  This philosophy is very important, and we must do our very best to protect the data from Deep State. Your data is yours. You share what data you want, and when you want.

Isn’t it in our best national interest to have the smartest, most passionate people, well-versed on their domains of knowledge, always having a guiding light into learning more things that are interesting to them?

Now… we just have to trust that the minds in our government are qualitative enough to be able to create and improve this type of system. We’ll need an infrastructure for this. Quite frankly, we need a Secretary of Education, fancying themselves as a technologist, who also thinks outside the box.

Why can’t a private company own this?

We have a Federal Reserve and National financial system. Why don’t we have that for Education? One theory is because Hamilton became the Secretary of the Treasury while building the Federal Government in the late 1700s. The first Secretary of Education (Shirley Hufstedler) was sworn in almost 200 years later under Jimmy Carter, long after the Federal Government had been established. CREDIT: Associated Press

There are two reasons why I’m not sure this can be owned by a small business:

  1. Businesses don’t last for hundreds of years, typically. They change with the times and market drivers. This needs to last about as long as Hamilton’s financial system, perhaps longer.
  2. The driver behind this system should be the desire to further the human race in education.  There isn’t a great deal of money that can be made from this as a core business. Sure, you can attach other business models to this to make money off of the premise (recruiting services, talent partnerships, etc). But we need an entity who is able to garner resources to continuously improve this, much like our public roads and schools.

4 Replies to “Want to fix education in the United States? Create a tool that focuses on learning.”

  1. Very interesting premise. The first problem we must overcome is, how do we get past the lack of ambition the current society has? Too many seem to be willing to accept what’s given. Then how do we trust the current leadership in government to focus on the improvement of the people they lead? They seem more interested in retaining and increasing their power.

    1. Great question, James. In order for this idea to take hold, we MUST have a government who has the general welfare of the country in mind. While that means something different for everyone, I think we can all agree that the government needs to at least play a role in the building of our country’s infrastructure. Alexander Hamilton showed us a great example in his debt plan.

  2. It’s worth a shot. Is there a smaller model that this could be tried on? A small school with innovative minded parents and the resources to give the extra focus to these elective studies.

  3. My thoughts run along the same line as James Grandon’s. There are a few of us that would pursue further education. I often use the internet for that purpose, but there are so many whose lives and interests revolve solely around economic survival, self medicating and/or mind numbing television.
    Living in a very rural area (60 minutes from any fast food chain), our wages usually start at $8 an hour. Many of us need two jobs just to pay bills. Those who have young children still at home simply get home and collapse, just to repeat the process daily. Would they pursue further education? Could they!?
    I’m interested! I’d also try to light the fire of excitement for learning with everyone in my life that I care for!

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