What Would Higher Education & Skills Training as an App look like?

This is hypothetical, the app I’m about to describe does not exist. However, it could exist, using existing technology and without any individual stakeholder having to pay very much. The biggest obstacle would be establishing cooperation between governments and other stakeholders to make it happen. Once it was fully up and running it could offer free, or nearly free, education to anyone in the world, at very little cost to any one government, institution or individual.

What if there was an app that allowed you to take high school and university level courses, created by some of the world’s leading universities including MIT, Harvard, Yale, CalTech, Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford and hundreds of others. While the lectures and core materials come from these universities, they are selected and supplemented after consultation with education experts, state and provincial governments, federal governments and industry groups.

When you select a course you might be interested in, you can see if it is accredited in your state, province or country. You can see if it qualifies as a transferable course at your university. You can also see whether specific companies that you might want to work for think of the course. You can also get supplemental material created by your province, university or by certain companies designed to help you to make use of your new knowledge and skills.

Within the course itself, which you can sign up for little or no money, you can watch lectures, read the recommended book and supplemental material, take quizzes and tests, complete written assignments. You can even read suggested books or watch suggested videos recommended by the professor.

Unlike early online education, it is very difficult to cheat. Because of fingerprint and facial recognition technology, the software knows if you actually watched the lectures, it knows whether you personally were sitting in front of the computer for tests and even knows if you visited any other websites or accessed other documents while taking the test.

In addition to taking the course itself, you can talk to professors and other students, attend virtual study groups, talk to career counselors, find tutors, attend seminars and guest lectures and generally engage in conversations in a sort of Facebook-for-learning type of setting.

There are plans, in the future, to create virtual reality and augmented reality materials to make courses more immersive and interactive. This could allow students around the world to take guided “field trips” together or to engage in “hands-on” exercises without any risk.

The app also helps with your job search. You can participate in industry specific chat groups, see job postings and follow companies you might like to work for. Employers can see your résumé and, if you allow it, your academic work. They can see what courses you’ve taken, what skills you’ve acquired and how well-rounded your interests are. By drilling down they can see what lectures you’ve attended and what books you’ve read. They can even read some of the papers you’ve submitted which will give them an idea of how you think and communicate.

Because multiple governments, international organizations, NGOs, charities and participating companies share the cost of this platform, no one pays very much for it. If it is not actually free for students the costs are very low (possibly with some additional fees for accessing supplemental and suggested books, films, software and other materials.)

This app is not meant to replace traditional education but rather to complement it. The organization would award diplomas, certificates, and degrees that you could earn, entirely online while taking courses from multiple schools. At the same time, it would help people who want the full university experience, complete with its social and immersive components. For those people it would offer greater flexibility, a greater variety of available courses and a reduced cost.

It would allow anyone who wanted to advance their education for any reason,  
to do so on their own terms, at their own pace, and for very little money. In short, it would provide education and skills training to anyone, on demand and (ideally) for free. For example:

    • A high school student could take a course not offered by his school.
    • Another high school student could make up a course in summer school, but do it around their other summer activities – whenever their schedule allows.
    • A third high school student could, if they have the prerequisite knowledge, begin taking full university courses in addition to their high school classes.
    • A student who had to leave high school, due to health or other reasons, could finish their high school diploma entirely online
    • A high school graduate could stay home, live with their parents, work, save money and knock out a year’s worth of university courses before leaving home
    • Another high school graduate could decide, instead of committing to university, they just want to learn some skills – such as computer programming and business
    • Another high school graduate could decide that they’re not, for whatever reason, going to university and simply take some life skill courses such as cooking and financial literacy
    • A student attending a traditional university could take a course not offered by their university, or take the class from another university if that course is full at their own
    • A person who had to go directly to work after high school, or leave university for financial reasons, could knock out a few courses per year on their morning subway ride to work, or on Sunday afternoons
    • A working professional with a 4-year degree could begin taking classes toward their master’s degree.
    • A working person could take courses which they feel will make them better at their current job or which will enhance their chances of promotion.
    • People can take courses simply to enhance their knowledge in an area of interest, even if they never plan to work or earn a degree in that area.
    • A person who is simply curious could search for, find and watch a lecture on a very specific topic to ensure they have a more complete answer to their question.

The list could go on and on and on. The point is that individuals would have the opportunity, for little or no money, to learn new skills or advance their education on demand, anytime they have time to spare from anywhere in the world. These people could be living in an urban area in the United States, a rural area in Europe. They could live in a developing country or even a refugee camp and take courses from Oxford, Harvard, and MIT without spending any money, moving to another country or even going through the rigorous application process to find a spot at these schools.

Again, this could all be done. It could be up and running within a few years, available worldwide and the cost of running the whole program would likely be less than the cost of operating a single, average quality, bricks and mortar university. However, with that cost divided among multiple governments, with contributions from industry groups, international organizations and wealthy benefactors, the cost to any one country or government would be insignificant.