By Dean Whittaker

This month I’ve been learning about the way we learn inside our educational system. As we all know, improving this institution is one of our greatest challenges. While working at a university, I wondered why it takes a semester to learn anything. What if we could accelerate learning by a factor of 10? We could dramatically reduce the cost of education while increasing the breadth and depth of our individual and collective knowledge.

What is holding us back? Perhaps, our education system itself is the answer. It is not just broken, but in my opinion, it is obsolete. How has education evolved in the past 200 years? It hasn’t. But a shift in education will happen, and some organizations are jumping on board already. Khan Academy offers a broad array of classes in Math, Science, Economics, and Humanities as well as Stanford University’s MOOC (massive open online classes) list of courses including Sustainable Design, Cryptography, Algorithms, and more. Coursera, a company that offers online courses for free, passed 3.2 million registered students within one year from its founding. Institutions such as these recognize the shift in power from schools to individuals, and are prepared to match their demand for accelerated learning.

In his article, “Preparing Our Minds for Thoughts Unthinkable: The Future of Colleges and Universities,” Thomas Frey, a futurist, describes the benefit of accelerated learning in which the average cost of a bachelor’s degree from a public, four-year college would be reduced from $102,352 to $10,235. He lists six scenarios in which new coursework could be developed. In his blog, Frey goes on to predict that by 2030 over 50% of colleges will collapse. He says that student loans currently exceed $1 trillion with the average loan standing at $23,300. Last year, 284,000 college graduates in the U.S., including 37,000 with advanced degrees, were working minimum wage jobs.

Another hiccup in our education system has to do with the fact that our K-12 classes are built around schedules. How effective is a 45-minute class session followed by a move to a new room to study the next subject? We lose ten minutes per class moving from one room to the next. With 8-10 classes per day, it’s DAYS per year spent moving students from class to class! What if we moved the teachers instead of the students? What if we learned our math in music, or our art in science, and education stimulated both sides of our brain? Or what if a student could stay on a subject until he mastered the concept? These are all ways in which our educational system can be revamped.

So, as we move forward, let’s look for ways in which we can accelerate the learning process to continue to enhance our skills and knowledge and stay relevant in our rapidly changing world.