The Future of Education NOW

In many ways, more than perhaps we’re able to realize, developer bootcamps and immersive programs like General Assembly (GA) are pioneering a frontier of education that will become a staple of the future economy. I’ve been witness to the erosion of university systems, not least because of the staggering cost. But also because Americans seem to not want to pay for education at all (evidenced in teacher salaries and school resources). If, at age 16, I’d been given the choice between a four year university and a 12 week program that could land me in the middle of my dream, I would have been a developer by the age of 17.

Unfortunately most colleges don’t do the sort of career placement current generations need to participate in our mobile, global economy. For perhaps the first time ever, and at least the first time in my lifetime, the value of going to college is in question. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. Rather, the value one gets for the money one pays is questionable. Burying oneself in $50-$100k in debt without the promise of a well-paying career soon after? Not an appetizing risk to take and probably not worth it at all.

Alternative schools aren’t a new thing, this is true. There have been on-going experiments in education and they’ve yielded modest results. What’s fresh about programs like GA is that they’re literally helping to pave new territory in education, where career placement of students is as important as the education rendered. Traditional classroom approaches have their place, but the broad application of it seems arbitrary today. For many, the very idea of being four years away from a career is discouraging, even if they can afford the cost. The slow pacing we see in traditional colleges and universities shows it’s age in modern times. In some cases, depending on the field of study, the same education could be had within a year or doesn’t require college at all; at least 50% of jobs in the economy don’t and a respectable portion of them are very well-paying. But currently we’re stuck in an aging system built for 19th and 20th century industrial economies, where the pace of life was set by horses and where a degree was a sure ticket to a higher paying career. Today’s economy is literally powered by the speed of light, as computers and technology embed themselves irreplaceably into our everyday lives.

Today, I can go online and learn anything I want. Any school hoping to stay relevant has to compete with that. We can debate the merits of self-education, the value of having a professor profess at students all day, and the importance of the classroom setting …but students are literally showing up in today’s classrooms better equipped to learn than their teachers. Programs like GA’s address the urgency of relevant education — relevant to the students’ personal interests and relevant to the economy.

Schools hoping to stay relevant are struggling to find ways to engage students’ interests and give them more than a diploma. Schools have to provide opportunity to ply those new skills as part of the promise of a practical education. That’s something traditional universities have become increasingly worse at in the past 7 years.

The future of education is now. It’s classrooms that teach to passion, where students go not due to truancy laws but because …well …they want to be there! It’s lessons that focus on what students want to do today, not what they may change their minds about four years from now. It’s about beginning the career you’ve studied so hard for immediately, without working at Starbucks for a few years first. It’s about spending less tens of thousands of dollars a year without the guarantee of a career in the end. It’s about using the internet and the global market place in real-time, about hands-on learning, about classrooms tailored to the student. It’s about NOW.

Another scary part for students and teachers, however, is there’s no road map for an education like that. There have been alternative schools, but none which offers the kind of promise immersive programs currently do. Schools like GA have to experiment more as they go without sacrificing the safety and quality of the classroom environment. The experience may seem alien at times for those of us accustomed to rote education, but in the near future these programs have the potential to become a more permanent and vital component of the economy, more reliable than a four year education, more desirable to people interested in work. I believe as these programs become more plentiful and available (for all sorts of career fields), students will prefer them above traditional higher learning. The trend has been set for mobile and global education and right now the only institutions responding to this change in the economy are institutions like GA.

I haven’t seen the other developer programs this up close, but I’ve been wonderfully impressed with how much GA does to give students the most while being extremely inclusive, valuing diversity, providing mentorship through alumni and keeping an active roster of passionate instructors. It’s no small feat.

The future of education is, literally, now. I have the good fortune to not only see it come about, but participate in it. I’m a part of that generation of students who were first touched by this new education system. It’s an exciting time!

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