Krypton Community College

Scarcity and abundance in education

Traditional higher education is based on scarcity.

Famous colleges are permitted to be famous because they don't have many graduates. The value of the degree increases the number of students who want to attend, which further enhances their fame. In fact, they're called, "selective," because they don't let many people in. Here's an amazing truth: many colleges promote their schools to students who can't possibly get in, just so the number of applications will go up, so they can reject more students and thus appear more selective, which will, perversely, make them more popular as a school to apply to.

A class taken at the Harvard continuing education program is not 'worth' nearly as much as one taken by someone who got in to real Harvard. Because getting in is scarce.

Class enrollment is scarce. You need to get up early, or game the system or get lucky to get a seat in the best classes. We happily applaud the value of a small-group seminar and decry the 300 person lecture because the intimacy that comes with this sort of scarcity is valuable.

Accreditation further enhances scarcity, as does the requirement that a certain number of teachers have a doctorate degree.

MOOCs and online education, of course, turn all of this upside down. There's no extra cost to having more students in an online course. 100,000 students isn't at all unusual. Abundance! Not only that, but since anyone can take any course, there's an abundance of choice. A typical university might offer just one or two intro courses in artificial intelligence, but the internet can easily offer a hundred or a thousand.

Abundance means that there's far less brand value in saying you took a course, because the fact that you took the course isn't rare or scarce. The learning is valuable, not the proof you took it.

Now that just about anyone can continue their education, just about everyone must. You must, because if you're not keeping up, you're falling behind. You must because the new abundance creates a new expectation. "What do you mean you don't understand that…"

Here's the big leap: When we were offering you the valuable prize of a brand-name degree, that scarcity required you to jump through hoops to get it. It meant you had to spend years in high school following the pre-college rules just to get in. It meant that we had to test you in each course, to prove you learned it. The proof was what you exchanged for your A, and your A was the coin you needed to buy your summa cum laude degree, the thing of value.

In the world of abundance, there's no scarce degree. So testing you as a form of scarce proof is silly. No, the reward is simpler–learn something because you want to learn it, not because you need a grade on a curve.

Forgive me for going on, but I wanted to expose this line of thinking to help you see how flipped and flopped our experience of education is about to become.

The old system isn't going away. I still want my surgeon and my engineer to be certified and to prove that they've learned what they were supposed to learn. But more and more of the education we're valuing today is about the soft skills of decision making and creativity and most of all, about the choice to grow and step up. And that sort of learning doesn't easily happen in a scarcity-based institution.

Learn what you want to learn.

Pick yourself.

Do it often.

Don't do it for proof, do it because the learning itself is worth it.

Organize and teach and lead, because it's a great way to learn, because it's the right thing to do and because it is a new sort of scarcity, the scarcity of people who care.

[coming later this week: details on our first course and how you can start organizing for it].