I’m a big fan of philosophy. I know a decent amount about it. How? I’ve listened to Arthur Holmes lecture for 81 hours on the history of philosophy. I’ve gone through John Searle’s 21-hour class on the philosophy of language. I’m currently listening to Daniel Bounevac’s still ongoing lectures on the analytic tradition. All on YouTube.
You probably know Kahn Academy, the free online education behemoth. You may have also heard of edX, which partners with leading universities to provide free online courses. These are part of a growing trend: they’re called MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course), and between the bunch of them, you have videos and courses on just about any topic you would study in college. Free.
What’s this got to do with Pressing the Button? While college is provided by as many “private” institutions as public, the industry can hardly be called private. Given the cost of university, state-funded financial aid is omnipresent. Any non-governmental institution that provides the same service for free is an important example of Pressing the Button.
A common conversation I have with folks who have not graduated college:
“Maybe I should go to college. But it’s so expensive. And the schedule is too much – you only get financial aid if you go full time.”
“Why don’t you just study using online videos? You avoid all those problems.”
“Huh? Yeah. I should go to college.”
When I press, the three main objections I hear are:
Videos aren’t enough. I need personalized instruction.
This is fair. Kahn, edX, and the rest of the MOOC community is increasingly providing more interactive and personalized options for their videos and courses.
That’s not true in all cases. Luckily, the entire internet has your back. Google, WikiHow, Quora, etc., are incredible supplementary resources for further information on anything that didn’t come through clearly in a video.
Most importantly, the internet is filled with people who want to teach you for free. Have a specific issue you don’t understand? Type it into a forum, and watch seven people compete on how to best answer it. It’s also incredibly easy to ask an expert. Just about every professor’s email can be found online. Need a question answered? Shoot an expert an email. You’d be surprised how often you’ll get a response.
I need the pressure of a rigid schedule and assigned grades to motivate myself to study.
I love this one. The fact that online videos do not provide this pressure is a benefit, even if you think you work better with it. If you need enforced discipline in order to be able to study, you either a) are studying the wrong thing; or b) have a way bigger problem than lack of knowledge in some particular field.
The ability to self-motivate is a more valuable skill than just about anything you could learn in college. If you choose to go to college because it doesn’t ask that skill of you, you’re working around an issue that you should be tackling head on. Choosing to study in a way that will require you to develop that skill is the best thing you can do for yourself. A bunch of knowledge without the ability to self-motivate isn’t a particularly useful combo, almost regardless of what field you want to go into.
Indeed, the very rigidity of the public education system is likely a major contributor to the difficulties that young professionals face with self-motivation. Doubling down is not the answer.
College gives me a degree. I need the degree to get jobs.
And so we come to the real purpose of college. Employers want those degrees.
There are ways to impress potential employers that bypass the degree requirement. Want to do marketing for a company, but don’t have the degree? Successfully market their product on your own, and then show them the results. They’ll hire you without thinking twice about your lack of a degree. Praxis – another great PTB Alternative for education – has built a whole business model on the idea that you can bypass degrees by just showing potential employers that you know how to create value – by actually doing so.
MOOCs also offer certificates. Of course, they’re not perceived to be as valuable as college degrees. But that won’t last. College used to provide something that was pretty hard to find elsewhere – real education. That’s no longer the case. Now, college’s only real benefit over self-directed study is the degree. Given that its costs are astronomically greater, it’s inevitable that more and more people will forego college in favor of alternatives. Employers will notice, and the value of degrees will decrease accordingly. It’s only a matter of time.
It may seem odd that I’m praising edX and John Searle’s YouTube videos as harbingers of the university system’s demise. After all, Searle is a university professor and edX partners primarily with universities.
Universities aren’t the issue, however. From a PTB perspective, the issue is with state involvement in education through loans, standards, or cost inflation. MOOCs are the PTB Alternative, whether or not the instructor in the video comes from an educational institution.
Check out Tyler Cowen and Alex Tarrabok debate whether university is about more than just signaling. Their non-profit MOOC project – MRUniversity – is the largest collection of educational economics videos on the web. They currently offer 16 courses – for which students can receive certificates – and over 800 entertaining and high-quality videos. Their courses include Principles of Microeconomics, Macroeconomics, Development Economics, Everyday Economics, and one on Great Economists. Given the importance of understanding economics to the PTB project, MRUniversity presses the button in more ways than one.