Improving tech education doesn’t start with tech

Automation is stripping away jobs from entire industries in the United States — and the pace of job loss is accelerating. Whole segments of the population are forced to work harder for less money. Our education has been stagnating for centuries.

Leaders like Alibaba CEO Jack Ma argue that we are heading for disaster if we continue to train students to compete with machines. Employers, and our society, need to train individuals for the new world of work, where automation will rule.

It’s natural to assume technology will spark a massive change in the way we educate our citizens. It has not just disrupted, but completely remade entire industries in the last decade. Retail, manufacturing, transportation, media, and even hospitality companies are all being deeply reshaped thanks to advances in software from companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Lyft, and others. Even though the internet has put the sum of human knowledge in our pockets, it has so far failed to disrupt, much less solve, the education puzzle.

Schools like the Mark Zuckerberg-backed AltSchool, which touts a personalized learning platform, have not produced improved results so far either. Parents report, in fact, that they have to provide “tutoring to supplement what our kids aren’t learning.” The school decided to close several locations last year.

It was also predicted that Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) would completely change education with all the knowledge that students needed becoming accessible at their fingertips. But we soon realized that MOOCs might not be the silver bullet that education was waiting for. Even the vice president of Udacity, which is among the leading MOOCs, has said that “MOOCs are dead.”

The education crisis cannot be solved by putting students in front of tablets. George Mason University professor of economics Tyler Cowen argues that if humans would follow rules and behave rationally, MOOCs might be the solution. The problem is we don’t. He suggests that students will not learn as efficiently when sitting alone in front of a computer than when surrounded by peers: Students learn better when they are within a community of learners.