mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
What Does the Future of Education Have in Common with Yoga?

Yesterday, we looked at one part of the future of education: parents turning to private tutors to supplement school-administered learning. Our core point was that even as the old educational system changes, new jobs will emerge. Matthew Yglesias makes another important point about the bright outlook for jobs in the education field. Automation may not, he points out, be the job killer in education that it will be elsewhere:

The prospect of online education continues to attract a lot of interest and commentary in various circles, but I think the issue that people considering this need ponder has nothing to do with convention and signaling and everything to do with yoga. Specifically, what is it that’s driving all these people to show up in person at yoga classes. It would clearly be cheaper and more convenient to just unroll your yoga mat in your living room and work out while watching yoga videos.

This is surely right. While it’s cheaper and easier to sign up for an e-learning course, get out your pen and calculator at home, click a video, take notes, work through electronic exams, and so on, something really is lost when students don’t sit in a classroom with their peers, or when they can’t meet face-to-face with a professor during office hours. Feedback is vital: A yogi in a yoga studio, like a student in a classroom, gets real-time feedback from the teacher, personal advice and help.

As Yglesias points out, increasing video distribution capabilities did not make people rely more on exercise videos. People still go to yoga classes in droves. Putting lectures online will not make everyone stay at home to learn. Often, it’s interacting with a teacher and other students that is the most valuable part of education.

School and university structures are going to change, and online and distance learning will play a bigger role in the future than they have in the past—think of how Rosetta Stone is changing language learning.

As more and more of the drudge work in manufacturing and information processing (white collar paper pushing) gets done by machines, demand for yoga classes and other educational opportunities will grow. The machines will change the way we work; they won’t abolish work, and they won’t abolish jobs.

Features Icon
show comments
  • Anthony

    The conscious activity of the mind occurs within a narrow window of time, lasting a very few seconds, in which we can manipulate a very small number of mental objects before they disappear into forgetfulness; interacting with teacher and other students on-site helps to overcome these limitations of working memory…

  • Luke Lea

    “As more and more of the drudge work in manufacturing and information processing (white collar paper pushing) gets done by machines, demand for yoga classes”

    But how will people afford them if they don’t have a job?

  • Luke Lea

    I guess y’all saw this:

  • Andrew Allison

    As an experienced teacher of Tai Chi Chuan, I can confirm that most students cannot learn from a video. What the videos are very good for is improving a skill which has been learned the hard way. That said, the teaching of mathematics, (most of) the sciences, languages, etc., is indeed amenable to online learning. It’s not the learning, it’s the subject.

  • Steve W from Ford

    Videos? Videos? Tomorrows non classroom learning will be as far beyond videos as access to the internet is beyond a library card. I certainly would not depend upon the perspicacity of a guy like Yglesias who famously predicted that the Obama administration would lead to a HUGE reduction in federal deficits.
    We poor mortals have the greatest of difficulty in even imagining what is possible in the future and to discount the potential for distance learning to increasingly take over the space of classroom instruction might be just a bit presumptuous.

  • Kevin

    Another advantage of in person classes (fitness or academic) is the discipline they provide the less self motivated among us. Still this effect could be perhaps be emulated with appropriate feedback.

  • Mark Riley

    As a former language teacher (Latin, no less!) I must say that on-line learning or videos work only at the most elementary stages. Everyone starts language study (or math or anything else of interest) with great enthusiasm and dedication, but after the 250th vocabulary word to memorize or the latest parabola to graph, the fun begins to wear off. The person still wants to learn, but “Man, it’s getting boring in here!” This is the role of the teacher – here’s someone who wants you to learn, encourages you, and perhaps worries you enough to keep you at the grind. It’s sort of the Drill Instructor effect: the student is afraid or ashamed not to perform.
    On-line classes work well for discrete and limited topics: “how to program matrices in C++”. For studies (like language) that take (sometimes) years, a teacher is necessary.

  • JKB

    The true university of these days is a collection of books.
    –Thomas Carlyle

    Now that the collection of books has become readily available to everybody and universities long ago removed the access to real experts from the lower level classes, what do they offer? Pooling. The collection of individuals exploring the same topics at the same time. And when push, comes to shove, experts that can guide that exploration.

    What will die or at least be left to remedial will be the lecture/recitation method. That method is good for the professor’s ego and good for the lazy, credential seeking student. But the real learners are stifled and damaged by the method.

    However, on-sight, real-time group discussion of the material with the professor as coach rather than leader will be valued. And actually, true study will occur. Perhaps, in time, on-line, remote conferencing will become the norm but nothing focuses the mind like physical presence in a group. The “expert” would be there to keep the group from wasting to much time digging into known box canyons.

    I kind of see something like the “study groups” that seem to be the center of the law school experience (at least in the movies). And these groups won’t tolerate those who don’t do the reading, don’t contribute or disrupt with some unrelated material. This won’t be the “group project” [scatalogical reference removed] so popular these days but organic formations using online technology to facilitate the learning.

  • Mike

    The point seems to be that people will still gather in groups to learn because of a social need. Wasn’t there recently some research pointing out that decision making and socializing utilize the same areas of the brain, leading to poor group decisions?
    I used to design interactive training programs, and there is a place for both. And we are in a transition phase right now, I think I saw some research on the effectiveness of a nasal spray and tapes while asleep. Society is changing in incomprehensible ways. Being grown in vats and imprinted during accelerated growth is not out of reach

  • anon

    Two points.

    What Andrew Allison says: “It’s not
    the learning, it’s the subject.”
    is 100% correct. Won’t work for

    Higher Education has become, mostly,
    a credential machine. Sit in class.
    Parrot back what lecturer says is
    important on test. Receive grade.
    Repeat for 4/5/6 years. Then
    receive credential. For most
    subjects learning the minimum
    amount to answer multiple-quess,
    fill-in-the-blank, matcthing questions
    is easy to do with videos. Cheaper


    Most ‘brick and mortar’ places of
    higher education will be replaced
    by video palaces with proctored
    examination areas. Won’t happen
    right away. Will happen eventually.

  • Jimbino

    A great advantage to on-line learning, from my point of view, is that it saves the bright student thousands of hours of having to sit in classrooms with dolts, and it saves professors from having to dumb down classes and speak slowly for the dolts.

    Though I took mostly math and physics classes and skipped two grades early on and, by virtue of a high GPA, was able to skip up to 100% of boring required classes (religion, Greek), I would have been happier skipping even more. Law School, in particular, is a lot more fun if you can skip all the Civ Pro, Oil and Gas, and Wills and Estates and do something useful instead. Problem is, you still have to pay the tuition fees. On-line learning holds the promise of being able to skip the fees too.

  • TheRadicalModerate

    If the issue is real time feedback, then the technology for teaching and tutoring will improve enough that one-on-one distance learning will win out. There are still going to be lots of jobs in this area, but they’re unlikely to occur in a classroom.

    On the other hand, if the issue is about the need for social interaction to learn certain subjects, then classrooms will be needed. I think a big chunk of a yoga class is the need for social pressure to commit to doing things right. The same thing might be true for language education. But math and science, and possibly social studies and English, are going to be done via distance learning.

  • Nate

    I have a profound interest in educational technology – both from a commercial as well as research and development perspective. I think the comments so far are on track, though. I don’t think there’s any need to rid ourselves of teachers and professional educators. Rather than a replacement for teachers, good educational technology should be a productivity multiplier for both the educator and the student.

  • Amy

    I don’t think this is an entirely accurate comparison. Education is seen by many as something they “must” do in order to survive, and therefore is a chore; yoga is a hobby that people pursue because they want to. The “want” rather than “must” is what drives people to yoga classes in droves, not necessarily the yearning for interaction. Sure, everyone wants interaction with a teacher and other students, but when balanced against the time constraints imposed by brick & mortar education, I think many people will find that the option of 24/7, lifestyle-adaptable online access to education is the biggest factor.

  • teapartydoc

    People go to Yoga to meet people for sex. I know that this is the primary motivation for many who go into education, especially in the public school systems, but I don’t know if it will be a strong enough factor to save the liberal arts.

  • bg

    Universities today aren’t really what they used to be. Primarily everyone in faculty today is liberal and progressive, with very few exceptions. Differing viewpoints are frowned upon, and faculty who do not fit that mold are driven out. This does not mirror the country as a whole. Academia is MUCH less free and open to differing viewpoints than it once was. A good deal of spending has gone into beuracracies for the perceived disenfranchised, and social justice than has gone into traditonal education. THAT is not what most of the public is going to the university for. If alternatives exist to the one sided, anti-western, islands of false consensus that is our university system, I think they will be sought out and used.

  • Larry

    Someone has to watch you in order to give you yoga feedback. Not necessary for ed.

    People will still gather because they like to do so. Schools are inverting. The lectures will be online, given by masters of the discipline. School will be for asking questions and doing group projects. It will also let kids teach each other, because teaching something is also a great way to learn something.

  • Kris Reinke

    I think the difference is that yoga is a skill with many available teachers making themselves accessible at the student’s level and at a very reasonable price.
    Education-ism has led to colleges that has led to far too many unavailable, buffered-by-grad-students, narrow-focused professors who seek to ‘rebuild’ the ver few ‘accepted’ students into a model that the professor finds desirable – and which charges insane prices for that non-service.

  • Marty

    I suspect the bigger change, esp. in post-secondary, will come as more and more employers realize that a college degree signifies almost nothing regarding the person’s personal qualities, and hardly more about their intellectual ability to do many jobs. This will lead to alterntive forms of credentialing and may eventually see overturning abominations such as Griggs v Duke Power.

    At that point, people who just want a technical credential will do it at home or in a hybrid distance learning situation. People who want a “classical” education will prefer being on-campus and to the extent they can afford and justify the cost will continue to do so. But the aspiring CPA or even doctor or lawyer will use a mix of internet/distance learning modules, and be on-site only for thiose things where there is real benefit.

  • koblog

    “Feedback is vital”?

    Ever sat in giant auditorium with a thousand other students listening to a lecture by a teacher so far away you can barely recognize his face?

    Lots of “feedback” there.

  • Jared

    @Luke I must agree how will people afford these liberal art classes or rather how do they afford them now? Currently I am in a grad. program with good job prospects. We are adjacent to the dance/yoga program. The university is using successful grad programs to help pad budget shortfalls (I have had professors frankly admit they use our program as a cash cow). So not only are these classes not advancing the prospects of the students taking them, they are also harming the rest of us. It will be interesting to see if liberal art programs, law schools etc. survive

  • Ron

    The thing about personal contact in education is that a little goes a long way. As former school teachers, my wife I know full time schooling is a colossal waste of time. We educated our kids through tutoring, self-study, and small co-op classes. One hour of tutoring is worth way more than 5 hours of class time. For classes like chemistry we got together with other parents and hired an excellent teacher to meet with our kids a few hours per week for labs and instruction. Cheap for us, but good money for the teacher. In educating our kids we’ve never spent more than $1000 per year per kid, and our first two are in college and doing extremely well.

  • Micha Elyi

    I agree with JKB. I too expect to “see something like… ‘study groups'” returning to the central place of the learning experience they occupied during the earliest centuries of the western university.

  • Luke Lea

    I would have killed for Wikipedia.

  • Luke Lea

    Keep in mind that Franklin and Lincoln had three years of formal education between them.

  • M. Simon

    Something is lost? Nope. Nothing is lost. I became an aerospace engineer without benefit of a degree. How did I do it? Well I took my books to every party I went to. And I went to a LOT of them. So I “socialized” and educated myself at the same time. The money I would have spent on school was “wasted” on partying. And since I was working I had zero debt. And infinite fun. I wonder what the dv/dt of that is? Heh.

  • JKB

    I was just reading a post by Arnold Kling at Econlog on what he’s been reading. He’s been reading Imagine: How Creativity Works, by Jonah Lehrer. (post date April 18)

    He quoted this excerpt which I think informs the future of education being like Yoga:

    “researchers at the University of Michigan…brought groups of people together and had them play a difficult cooperation game…The groups meeting in person quickly solved the problem, finding clever ways to cooperate. The electronic groups, in contrast, struggled to interact”

    That really is the key, we coordinate and cooperate better in person. We need this cooperation in learning ideas as we need rational discussion. Till humans improve their ability to interact cooperatively and politely via cyberspace, we’ll need the real world to achieve this in education.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service