What we learn when we learn.

Editorial / Open Source

What we learn when we learn.

Since it is the first week of school for many of us, including our featured partner Angelo Bucci–a tenured professor at University of São Paulo–we thought we'd look at some the latest in learning tools and whether they mightn't be at odds with Education (capital E). Fighting for the constitutional right to affordable and free education seems like a pre-historic battle but it was only forty years ago that Title IX passed allowing girls the same access to education as boys, and fifty years since the Higher Education Act provided Financial Aid to lower income kids going into college. (As a matter of fact, the Higher Education Act expires this year unless renewed by congress.)

The classroom as we know it is only reaching maturity today, and that’s just the public education system. The situation is at least as fractured in private school systems, of course. As public school systems continue to deteriorate, and higher education costs skyrocket, the fallout is educational pedagogy. In the midst of debates around charter schools, vouchers, and the privatization of university payrolls, many a third-party startups have come to the fore with ostensible solutions. There are pro-business campaigns, anti-union campaigns, tech-based, experiential and even suggested donation platforms available to anyone willing. The solutions are manifold, and yet the problem remains. What price education?  Here’s a short breakdown of the Education Solution Complex.

1. Free Online Courses (ex.: codecademyStarter League…)
There are many free online courses systems out there. Most offer know-how in computer-based software and information technology. Codecademy and You Suck at Photoshop offer free tutorials and lessons in basic coding and Adobe Creative Suite tools.

Pros:
It’s Free: Obvious solution to the rising cost of education. The Stanford class on Artificial Intelligence now available for free participation online, would normally cost thousands of dollars to attend in real life, not to mention the very difficult task of gaining admission to the impossible to get into school.
It’s versatile: Codecademy offers my-pace free classes under the auspices of “night school.” This is the class Mayor Bloomberg took, on his off hours. Not because he couldn’t afford it, surely, but because it left him no excuse not to.

Con:
It’s unaccredited: You can learn all you want, but these certifications offered by non-accredited online “schools” will mean close to nothing on your CV.
Low retention: the main complaint is that free know-how is cursory and entry-level. Knowing how to read Cyrillic does not mean you can read War and Peace in Russian in any timely fashion.

2. Expensive Classes (ex.: General Assembly)
Believe it or not, many prefer the company of exclusive peers. This can mean taking a General Assembly 6-week crash course. And at around a thousand bucks a workshop, you get to network with directors at Tumblr or Google, rather than with unvetted strangers at the community college.

Pro:
It’s Hip: the culture, the teachers, the peers are all of a kind. Work part-time as a freelancer in a streamlined well-designed office floor, where you can get the latest in coffee, music and ergonomic seating. You learn first-hand from the stewards of startup culture and entrepreneurship.

Con:
It’s expensive: Classes can cost up to twice as much as an identical community college course, and with no standardized accreditation or grading system, can be a questionable credential.

3. IRL Classes (ex.: Skillshare) and offer free project-based classes, in classrooms. There are also plenty of offline non-profit orgazniations with free workshops, including affinity organizations that offer discounts or rates at a suggested donation, provided you join the physcal organization In Real Life (IRL). This opens up learnings to subjects as wide-ranging as basket weaving and macrobiotic cooking to C++ and InDesign. They aren’t so much about education as about acquiring know-how.

Pro:
Fun classrooms, high retention: People seem really jazzed to learn from teachers in real life. It helps in a city like NYC that the teachers look like Gap Ads. 

Con: 
Non-accreddited; pricing is ad hoc: since it's a supply-side platform you might get away with bartering for services, or actually pay through the nose for another unaccreddited class.

In the end, we have a variety of learnng tools for a variety of starting points. The more innovative ones tend to attract those who are already a step ahead financially. While open source is a marvelous tool for collaboration, and free education an invaluable tool for advancing the collective lingua franca of information technology, we should note each campaign to end bad public services is a campaign to end public funds. State and federal education budgets are in fact dwindling, and the solution may or may not be to redirect monies to private campaigns. At the least, as with all good architecture, an awareness of local contexts is crucial to building the best institutions for learning.

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