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posted by martyb on Sunday May 14 2017, @02:33AM   Printer-friendly
from the dv/dt dept.

Higher education is generally a poor deal. A good course at a good institution will boost a career but the vast majority of higher education options are worthless or detrimental. Despite this, people are willing to get themselves into maybe US$100,000 of educational debt. Meanwhile, Ivy League faculty salary often exceeds US$150,000. What do students get for a lifetime of debt? Weed-out classes with a 50% failure rate then top grades awarded with abandon. An increasingly long-tail of third-tier academic journals which are full of bogus results. (A racket within a racket.) Deluxe gymnasiums and student accommodation with en-suite bathrooms. And, in some cases, pressure on staff to ignore plagurism; often due to financial or cultural reasons.

Yes, there's the social aspect and in-person interaction but why is online education seen like a poor substitute along with correspondence courses, vocational courses and community colleges? And here's a humdinger: Why don't the best educational establishments have ISO9000 certification? Are the inputs too variable or is the process too scattershot? Actually, how efficient is education? Are these guys with the US$150,000 salaries even 1% efficient at teaching? I doubt many of them care.

So, what's the Shannon channel capacity of education. Who knows? That's a really poor state of affairs. In the 1940s, telcos knew more about their operational efficiency than educators know now. So, how effective could an education be? How much can we accelerate learning? With CAL [Computer Aided Learning] running since the 1960s we should achieve small miracles. Well, it works brilliantly in limited domains, such as numeracy and vocabulary but the bulk of CAL, educational videos, are a sea of unending dross. So far, I've sat through 18 out of 42 hours of Buckminster Fuller and nine hours of Stanford cultural history. Computer history was the most enjoyable. There's no shortage of content. It ranges from whizzy edutainment to excruitiating virtual blackboards.

As a comparison, I took the small and concise topic of buffer bloat to see what had risen in popularity. Jim Gettys (who you may know from RFC2616) remains dull but at least I didn't have to look at him. The remainder seemed to be aimed at online gamers wanting to reduce latency. I repeated the exercise with Hamming codes. The best by far was also the longest by far: Richard Hamming explaining how he formulated the most important idea of his life. The worst was from the Neso Academy and could easily be mistaken for the Fonejacker mixed with Look Around You.

How much of these presentations consist of dead time, reading text aloud or drawing diagrams? At best, about 30% - which is shocking when presentations have 100,000 views or more. The more polished Kurzgesagt takes more than 1000 hours to produce one hour of output. CGPGrey takes more than 120 hours per hour of output. But many of the Khan Academy clones take one hour to produce one hour of output. That's an externalized cost when basic structure and editing would save significant viewing time.

So, is it possible to make dense, factual content which is fun, informative and structured? Yes. Have slides with concise text and diagrams. Remove silence. Remove "um" and "ah" sounds. Even if it takes 120 hours per hour of output, students will be almost 50% more effective and, for any given presentation, *total* exertion reaches break-even before the 500th viewing.

Excluding assignments and practical experience, 400 hours of structured presentations would take someone from high-school to graduate. If skimming, it wouldn't even require 400 hours of viewing. That's because the cool kids watch video at 1.5 times speed or double speed. So, a minimum of 200 hours would be required. That could fit around a full-time job; maybe during travel on public transport. So, it may be possible to get from layperson to physicist within 10 weeks.

What would happen if we had thousands of hours of presentations and millions of students? The curious? The unskilled? The unemployed? The imprisoned? Stuck in a refugee camp with 100,000 people? Well, 1080p video consisting of slides plus speech requires less bandwidth or storage than pop music. Yes, it is less than 1MB per minute. So, 400 hours of presentations requires a network file server with less than 24GB of storage. 40 courses with no common content require less than 1TB of storage and zero external bandwidth.

The faddish blockchain enthusiasts suggest that digital education can start from a foundation of digital identity but I'd start from digital education alone. Regardless, I hope you consider accelerated learning as practical in some form even if you dispute the details. The best part is accerated learning can be organized by volunteers who never meet. Retirees with a lifetime of experience. Agoraphobics. People in remote locations. People with illness or disability. Or just people who love to share the details of our technological society.


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  • (Score: 3, Informative) by bzipitidoo on Sunday May 14 2017, @02:52PM (2 children)

    by bzipitidoo (4388) on Sunday May 14 2017, @02:52PM (#509466) Journal

    In another century, probably less, our computer overlords will be able to outthink us on everything. Right now, AI is better than any human at chess, checkers, go, poker, and Jeopardy. They aren't flexible enough yet to learn any thinking game and trounce the worlds best humans, but give it time. Sports is another area that'll probably fall to AI when robotics is good enough. A robot specially designed for two or four legged running, staying on a course, and unable to do anything else would surely be able to win races easily against any and all animals which have all evolved with compromises to enable them to do many different things. A running robot probably could do a marathon in 1 hour. We have many machines that can cover distances of far greater amounts far faster than any animal can.

    When that time comes, what will we do? Despair that there's no point in learning anything any more? Young children have always faced the problem that adults are better than them at everything, yet they don't sit around in despair and apathy. Why? Because learning can be fun! This is one big way formal education has gone wrong. Education is no longer primarily for the sake of learning, for the fun of it, somehow it's been turned into a grind and a cutthroat contest, to train students to be employable office worker drones. Necessary, and thoroughly unpleasant, hard, and harsh. Education is seen more as a means to some other end. So, why not accelerate it, if that's all education is?

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  • (Score: 0) by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 14 2017, @07:59PM (1 child)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday May 14 2017, @07:59PM (#509592)

    AI is better than any human at chess
    We do not have AI yet. We have expert systems currently.

    An AI could learn chess then turn around and stomp you at something like DOOM all while driving you to work.

    The expert systems we have are very good. But they are one trick ponies. They do that trick *VERY* well.

    They aren't flexible enough yet to learn any thinking game and trounce the worlds best humans
    Actually they are. Just at that one task. Our best chess and go players can not beat the current best computers. 20 years ago what you said was true. But that ended long ago.

    Also for anyone thinking 'ooo I can learn quick'. No, no you can not. The key word is accreditation. If your institution is not accredited *NO ONE* will recognize your degree. Even though you can do the task.

    Most things take time. Learning is one of them. Our brains take time to become habituated to new material.

    • (Score: 3, Insightful) by VLM on Monday May 15 2017, @12:50PM

      by VLM (445) on Monday May 15 2017, @12:50PM (#509981)

      If your institution is not accredited *NO ONE* will recognize your degree. Even though you can do the task.

      That's solely vocational and his point was automation and "economic forces" are eliminating most jobs.

      So if you have no job and become educated for fun, like the good old days (not the '50s as in 1950s I mean like the 50s BC) then a job that no longer exists being concerned about your accreditation is not terribly relevant.

      An interesting effect of the "publish or perish" is the expense does close academics away from outsiders which arguably is useful. Some of the amateur/create-writing math and physics on arxiv.org is pretty low quality. Yet as the economy declines and academia turns even more into vocational training for the ever shrinking pool of jobs and diversity hires, eventually all real research, however little, will come from amateurs once again.