Arnold Kling  

Transforming Education and Health Care

The Numerate John Mueller... Media Watch: Man Bites Dog...

Marc Andreessen gives his view of the world. It includes,

Health care and education, in my view, are next up for fundamental software-based transformation. My venture capital firm is backing aggressive start-ups in both of these gigantic and critical industries. We believe both of these industries, which historically have been highly resistant to entrepreneurial change, are primed for tipping by great new software-centric entrepreneurs.


many people in the U.S. and around the world lack the education and skills required to participate in the great new companies coming out of the software revolution. This is a tragedy since every company I work with is absolutely starved for talent. Qualified software engineers, managers, marketers and salespeople in Silicon Valley can rack up dozens of high-paying, high-upside job offers any time they want, while national unemployment and underemployment is sky high. This problem is even worse than it looks because many workers in existing industries will be stranded on the wrong side of software-based disruption and may never be able to work in their fields again. There's no way through this problem other than education, and we have a long way to go.

Read the whole essay. There is no great stagnation. In my view, there is a profound transformation, and it is reducing costs in many industries. It changes the relative value of various skills. It generates very new patterns of sustainable specialization and trade (PSST). And it is taking a while to play out. The future is not evenly distributed, as the saying goes.

This year, in my high school classes, I will try to experiment as much as possible with computer-based content delivery. For about $300, I obtained the technology that Salman Khan uses for his lectures, and I have started to make up my own. I am starting with my AP statistics class, but at some point I will do economics. I need to re-work the first videos that I made, but you can watch this one. Constructive suggestions welcome.

I assume that by now you have heard about Stanford's online course in artificial intelligence.

In some sense, content delivery is the easy part of turning education into software. The hard parts are grading/assessment and coaching/mentoring.

COMMENTS (13 to date)
Tom West writes:

I think the hard part is getting children (and young adults) to make as much effort to learn without a human being present as they do when there is a human actively teaching at the head of the class.

Observations from among my peers (and myself) from university weren't encouraging in that regard.

PrometheeFeu writes:

"The hard parts are grading/assessment and coaching/mentoring."

Coaching and mentoring in my opinion are going to head in a more crowd-sourced direction where current-students, ex-students and random individuals with knowledge will spend a lot more time cooperating as opposed to going to the professor.

I think that grading as it currently exists will not migrate online very well. I subscribe to the signaling theory of education and so for me grading is now a solution in search of a problem. I think instead we are going to see a more "social" (go go industry buzz-word) rating system integrated with the above-mentioned mentoring/crowd-sourcing system. Those who are asked questions by their peers and answer them are those who understand the material.

PrometheeFeu writes:

@Tom West:

That's because you're thinking of simply transposing the current system "online". (Just add Internet)

The current system of 3-22 is learning time, after that it's production time can't be easily transposed online because information must be condensed and almost surgically implanted into unwilling brains. But when learning can be decentralized and you can obtain the information from many places, we can switch over to a system where you become productive much earlier in your life and keep learning forever.

john writes:

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E. Barandiaran writes:

I fully agree with you --there is a profound transformation and it is reducing costs in many industries/activities. It's important to make clear the sources of such a transformation:

1. It's a world-wide transformation because its main force comes from the integration of over 3 billion people in the world market economy over the past 25 years. Albeit partial in many respects, that integration has been conditioning the performance of the world economy, of each national economy, and of the many regions of large countries. We have yet to understand how many private enterprises and new undertakings have been attempting to take advantage of the new opportunities (see the new E. Helpmann's book) as well as how many other private enterprises have been relying on their governments to contain the new force and to bail them out of its consequences. Because of the size of this shock --it amounts to doubling the population of the world market economy-- and of some behavioral patterns of many of the new market players, most of what we had learnt about how the world economy adjusted to other shocks may not be relevant.

2. That shock has taken place at the same time in which the welfare states of the advanced economies must deliver on their promises to old people --a delivery that amounts to the largest intergenerational income redistribution in the history of humankind. Indeed, the state of the world economy used to be determined largely by the advanced economies. This is no longer true, however. Although the initial effects of the rise of China, India and the other emergent countries on the advanced economies were positive, in the past 10 years they have been increasingly negative. The main mechanism of these changing fortune of the advanced economies has been the large change in relative prices --the world prices of all commodities have increased sharply at a time in which the prices of manufactures were declining (just the opposite of what Raul Prebisch --one of my mentors in the late 1950s-- argued). To make things worse, many interest groups in advanced economies have been making all sorts of efforts to denounce and prevent increases in the domestic supply of commodities. In addition, the emergent economies have been looking for safe assets and natural resources all over the world so their savings have partly been invested in the advanced economies. This investment delayed the recognition of the negative effects of the emergent countries on the advanced economies. Now, after the financial and fiscal crises, it's time to recognize how serious these negative effects are. But the demographic transition has entered into a new stage and governments of advanced economies are having a huge problem to deliver their promises (I recommend to take a look at the new NBER WP 17305 on Japan to understand how serious the problem is).

Tom West writes:


I agree with you that as soon as you have motivation for learning, things become much easier (teaching adults who want to be there is 10x easier than teaching children).

However, that would suggest that the challenge has little to do with the internet and far more about how learning is structured as a whole. And that challenge, for the most part, is not being addressed in any meaningful or widespread way, nor do I anticipate it being addressed for a long time indeed.

Patrick L writes:

I believe there is synthesis between Hanson, Kling, and Cowen's positions. We'll call it the GMU-libertarian synthesis.

The great stagnation occurring amongst the young and the poor in this country is directly attributable to a large segment of productivity going to an unproductive socialized education system. This public education system is designed to baby-sit and transform agrarian children for their industrial era jobs. Our schools output adults with irrelevant skills and habits for the 21st century. This massive tax on lives and production is catching up to the West as other nations better adapted to the industrial era are out competing in those metrics.

The solution is education reform. At the micro level that means things like Khan school, and at the macro abolishing the current socialized education regime.

Daublin writes:

Videos are a great substitute for students who can't get a teacher at all. It's not as good as a live teacher, but it's way better than nothing.

If a teacher is there, though, I don't see what a video adds. It's never going to be as good as an in-person presentation. Most of us watched a great number of videos in classes growing up, and at least personally, I always felt like the teacher was copping out. I certainly didn't find them especially informative.

Some are arguing that the videos are for watching at home. Have you considered the amount of time that would take, however? For example, if you completely replace the lectures, then you are talking about five hours of video for each five hours of classroom time. That's an enormous amount of homework, and it consists of the students simple vegging in front of a tube. I would think for that degree of homework you could come up with something better for them to work on.

Foobarista writes:

Daublin, what may develop is a lecture + tutor/mentor approach, where kids watch videos produced by a skilled lecturer, and get tutored on specific questions "in person". This tutoring could be done by teachers or by other students.

The question is what is more helpful: watching a video of a top lecturer followed by in-house tutoring, or having very little tutoring (in practice) and generally mediocre lecturing. Also, the formats would doubtless be more free-form; the lectures need not all be sit-still-for-an-hour snoozefests, but short clips of the Khan variety.

blink writes:

This is very nice and I applaud your efforts to make videos; there is value-added here. At the same time, I do not see videos as revolutionary. We have always had a teacher-independent content delivery mechanism: Read a book.

Sure, video adds features and can clarify some concepts difficult to convey in print, but this will not fundamentally change education. Teachers have *always* had the option of saying "read the book before class and we will work on problems (i.e., coaching/mentoring/assessing) in class." Once the novelty-effect wears off, videos will stand in exactly the same position.

Colin K writes:

The only choice isn't between "teacher" and "video," it's also between video by a great teacher with great preparation, and a below-average but motivated teacher, or a below-average and utterly horrendous one, which probably constitutes upwards of 20% of the cadre in underperforming schools.

As for video versus textbooks, that may be somewhat true for American History, but math & co often involve long chains of steps that aren't necessarily easy to follow. Watching someone do them is much easier than reading a book. Just look at any software manual for an example of the phenomenon.

Jonathan Bechtel writes:

1). I think one of the reasons the "software revolution" has been slow to hit the education and healthcare industries is that the marginal value of software in those areas is small. You could plaster web 2.0 social do-hickeys all over school and hospital websites and it still wouldn't change the fundamental problems in those areas.

In education the fundamental problem is that distance still matters. A lot. It's why the situation has persisted for as long as it has....there's no exit.

2). Most of the reforms I see in the education area are very good, but as it stands the "open source" education movement mostly benefits curious self-starters, and not the average studient who's not interested in very much.

3). The real test for education reform will be when somebody figures out how to get to "the last mile", that gives marginal students structure and face-time....that probably can't be done only with software, and that somebody is probably going to have some serious institutional hurdles to overcome if his product gains any traction.

4). For that reason, the best hope for education reform might come from the devleoping world, where there's more fertile ground for experimentation. I have a hard time picturing structural reform in developed countries that doesn't involve taking a stick of dynamite to the current system.

Brian writes:

"There's no way through this problem other than education, and we have a long way to go."

That is complete nonsense. What he really is saying is the type of experiance I am looking for it not in the marketplace. The problem is not that there are not enough college grads who can program, it is there are limited oppurnties in companies to get the experiance so one can be a good software delevopler.

Good software develpment is about automating a process or improving a process. Only experianced people or really smart people with some experiance are able to do this. A lot of mid managers have this experiance but they don't know how to program. On the other side a there are a lot of programers but they really don't know how to program good processes. Or they are clueless at how to due system analysis of processes.

Mass education can only go so far. My opionion mass education could help in teaching more detail math that is actually used (some concept have very little pratical applications) in business metrics and programing, and teach programming for more degrees such Finance, Economics, Stasticis, all engeering degrees, operatoinal managment degrees ect.

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