Having completed a Bachelor’s a degree and now working on my Master’s, I am probably the last person who should be saying going to university is a waste of time.

That said, if anything my experience in university has taught me is that many of the people there have no idea what they are there to accomplish and are enrolled in programs that don’t lead to job opportunities (think Art History). I got the sense that university is viewed as the natural extension from high school, a rite of passage everyone must take regardless of its usefulness or cost. University certainly is useful if you want to become a professional (engineer, doctor) or want to be involved in serious research and academia. But I have seen too many people graduate with and an Arts degree and end up being waiters trying to pay off their debt.

However, a new pilot project in California may be the beginning of the end of university’s status as a required rite of passage. Under this program, university students would be taking ultra-cheap online versions or remedial courses. Not only is this way cheaper, they also found students perform better.

It makes sense. Software programs can do a much job better teaching material for rote memorization. I am learning Mandarin and Spanish vocabulary using Memrise, a web-based application that uses spaced repetition to aid memorization. Online courses from Harvard, MIT or Khan Academy do a much job explaining concepts than pretty much all university professors. Not to mention the ability to learn them from the comfort of your own home and repeat the lesson as many times as you want. Having a good portion of education be based online could significantly improve education and dramatically lower costs.

It begs the question, if most things are better taught online what should the purpose of classroom teaching be? The one thing that humans will always be better than computers is teaching human skills. Think public speaking, debating and collaborative problem solving. These are real, useful human skills that are best taught in a classroom and what I think the focus of classroom learning will become.


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