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Author's profile photo Former Member

Education Unleashed: Now It’s All Up To You


In 2012, the only thing left standing between and you and knowledge is your will to learn.  

If you desire to learn something, almost anything, you now have access to a wide variety of relevant educational resources[1,2].  Over the past year or so, we’ve reached critical mass[3].

For example, fifth graders or adults who are passionate about learning how to program JavaScript (at their own pace) can access Code Academy (classic e-learning), Code Hero (gamefication), StackOverflow (Q&A), and many, many other resources. No need to wait until JavaScript programming is added to the core curriculum, or until we train a generation of teachers that are more comfortable with  modern technology.   See how one student manages her 7th grade science curriculum by leveraging both available resources and experts half way around the world.   One night as you are gazing at the stars, you may decide that you are interested in astronomy.  Perhaps you don’t  go to a secondary school that teaches basic astrophysics (or were unable to take this elective at university).  It’s not too late.   Try these resources from MIT, Yale, UC Berkeley, NASA, or Penn State, or the Discovery Channel.   Is your 6th grader having trouble in math?  Try Kahn Academy  (I’ve seen first hand  teachers falling in love with the educational resources that Kahn provides, and using them in the classroom), Tenmarks, Timez Attack, or a plethora of other sites, apps, and games.   Try experts from or skillshare.

Pick any subject, and you’ll find free, or low cost resources accessible via the net.  The body of educational resources and depth and breadth of learning networks will continue to expand and evolve; quality and discovery mechanisms will improve.  However, the age of control for students, for students with the will, has already arrived [7].

That’s not to say the learning is automatic.   It’s access, not magic.  Learning requires initiative, time, engagement, focus, and commitment.   Decide what you want to learn (based on criteria you set[4]), how you want to learn it, how fast you want to learn it,  allocate enough time, and just do it.   You are in charge.  Nothing is standing in the way[5,6] (except will in this new age of learning[9]).

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  1. Resources include apps, videos in all forms (including lectures, tutorials, animations), simulations, articles, papers, books, lesson plans, and more.   Educational resources are available from individuals and institutions including Nova, Discovery, PBS, BBC, Stanford, MIT, and Khan Academy distributed directly via their own sites, or via other learning portals including Coursera, iTunesU, CurrikiOER Commons, TED Education, or YouTube. The overwhelming majority of these  resources are free.
  2. Educational resources include people, now plugged into the mesh.   The mesh is bringing together wider access to experts via channels including, Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.   See:
  3. Critical mass means that  ‘discovery’ of these resources is now easy enough for the average person.   Up until recently, it was hard to locate materials that warranted the investment of time in either locating them or consuming them.  Critical mass is primarily due to the volume of resources available.  There is still an opportunity for a high performance, reputation savvy, domain specific social search engine that could make volume less of an issue.
  4. Do you need more than intrinsic motivation[9] to bring you to learn a specific topic, perhaps something like certification? If so you’ll find that at this point in time, we’re a long ways away from a good assessment and certification system for most knols (atomic units of knowledge). [7]  TheOpen Badging Initiative from Mozilla is something to follow in this area.
  5. OK.  Unfortunately, for many people, there are things that stand in the way.  The digital divide is a primary gating factor preventing access: 
    • See Digital Differences and Money
    • See The New Digital Divide
    • Competition:  Where I live, there are very few choices for consumer Internet access, and the choices that we have are expensive. 
    • Access to devices:  There are kids in our Bay Area public schools in almost every class who still do not have access to a connected device at home.
  6. Going down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:  In many societies, the digital divide is not necessarily the first order gating issue. The primary issues are basic security, the rule of law, and hunger. 
  7. The major components to the education ecosystem include availability of affordable educational resources, discovery vehicles (comprehensive and efficient search), curriculum (goal) management, personal learning networks (social), facilitators, assessment, certification, auditing, efficient labor markets, and more.   Out of all of these elements, we as a species have only reached a critical mass, or a basic level of 21st century competency, in the availability of educational resources.  More on the other components in subsequent blogs.
  8. Maturity in goal management systems, tools, and technology (for self driven curriculum management) would be helpful for focusing our will.  Khan Academy and other systems provide a prototype level look at the most basic systems. These systems will mature and open as we evolve.
  9. A few books on passion, will, and drive include
  10. If you are interested in the Future of Education, do yourself a big favor and read Seth Godin’s Stop Stealing Dreams.   It’s well worth the time, and required reading for this curriculum. 🙂

See also:

The Future of Education

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      Author's profile photo Sebastian Wieczorek
      Sebastian Wieczorek

      Thanks John for this interesting post. I wonder what is the business model behind the free availability of learning material. Of course there is sponsoring and advertisement but I guess for a company like SAP (earning money by offering classroom trainings) this might not be convincing enough to open its training material to anybody for free.

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      The business model differs depending on the content provider. For large academic institutions who put their course material online for free, it's a branding thing, and also addresses the primary, altruistic, aim of academic institutions: spreading knowledge. They know there is a lot more to the MIT experience and to a degree from MIT than the consumption of course material, that's why their model is safe.

      The motivations of an individual such as Sal Kahn are, in my view, similar to those of open source developers: a genuine belief that sharing information/code will make the world a better place, and recognition from others.

      There is indeed a lot of educational material on SAP products available for free from various sources and also from SAP, e.g. our Developer Centers for HANA, SUP, NW Cloud, etc. Clearly this will force the standard classroom training model to evolve. But remember this is not just about acquiring knowledge: it is also about acquiring the course completion certificate from SAP, which is a hard currency in the SAP ecosystem.

      Having content available for free is only the first step in the value chain of education: content curation into (personalized) curriculums and the issuing of "certificates" (degrees, etc.) are just as essential. More generally, how do we, when hiring a new employer or consultant, acquire a reasonable assurance that the person can do the job? This is not an easy task today with "traditional" degrees and certifications, and I suspect assessing skills and knowledge may soon become a lot harder.