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Monday, April 10, 2017

Introducing Schank Academy: learn by doing online and get a job

In an earlier column I wrote that college is over. What should replace it?  We have just launched Schank Academy. 

Schank Academy offers online courses, all use learning by doing, instead of learning by listening, or learning by reading. They are all experiential, and mentored by experts on as as needed basis. Students work on realistic projects. Each project fits within an overall story that keeps getting more  complex. When a student is finished (typically these course are 6 months long and we expect student participation to be full time during the six months.)

The three we have launched so far are:

Data Analytics, 
and Cyber Security.

These courses are meant to make those who complete them employable. We will help get students jobs.

Should this replace college? The easy answer is “no,” because our society accepts a college degree as a sign of something, I am not sure what, but something. The real answer why Schank Academy will not replace college is that there are many more sets of job-preparation skills that might attract students besides the three courses that are part of our initial launch

Here are other three things we have built which would be equally useful

Mobile Application Development, 
How to be an effective legislator

There are probably hundreds of courses of this type that could be built, covering every job possibility where it doesn't take very long to learn how to be effective in a new field.

Suppose we built 100’s of these kinds of experiences? Would one really need to go to college? A student could take what interests him or her when they wanted to, as these are all online.  What matters is that the students show their ability by mastering the final project. Passing that performance test would serve as certification of ability and attract  employers interest. 

Of course, most people will not admit that college is about career training. They will tell you about how reading classic literature taught them to think about everyone needs to know calculus for some reason. But, as far I am concerned, this all just puffery. I know how courses become required for graduation in a university. It is all about keeping the faculty employed. If you hire art history faculty then you need to require art history. Otherwise few would take it. 

College also has had another role, although that role is changing. Originally if you went to Yale it was because that is where your father and grandfather had gone (e.g. the Bush or Vance families) and that was where the people of your parent’s social set had gone. Going to Yale got you a job, not because of what you learned there but for clannish reasons. Yale graduates still are  hired on Wall Street or at The New York Times because they like to hire members of their clan.  

Schank Academy has no such legacy. But if you want a data scientist, cyber defender, or software developer, we know how to create one and it won’t be by sitting passively in a lecture hall or by getting a firm to hire you because of family connections.

We know how to build these pragmatic courses. We even have a tool which we make available to people who have courses they want to build. 

With enough pragmatic courses like these built, what would be the point of college?

One reason is that colleges produce researchers. These must continue to exist. The best universities should indeed be teaching people how to advance various fields of study. But, assuming that is not want you want to do in life, learning things that you enjoy that will get your employed is a pretty good option. Unfortunately, it is an option that most colleges eschew.

But if you can learn to program and companies need programmers, what difference does it where and how you learned to program? You just need to be able to demonstrate your skills. Most companies need cyber defenders. You really can’t learn to do this in college. Yes, there are courses with lectures that claim to train cyber people, but you can’t learn  by listening. We have had great success with people who didn't even graduate high school in our cyber course. Prior education doesn't help one do cyber attack and defense.

The bootcamp model works under a similar idea, although they tend not be online, and tend to have lectures, and quite often aren’t long enough to produce people that are hirable. 

With enough Online Academies covering the space of workforce needs, your basic four year liberal arts college will go away. Bye bye.