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What if you didn’t need to attend or pay for higher education at all, but could educate yourself successfully with a combination of apprenticing, Internet learning, private tutoring, volunteering, free open education? What if you could do that? Would you do it? Why? Why not?

What if someone developed a list of top skills needed for success in the near and far future? What if you had that list and just knocked off all of the things on it in inexpensive ways? What if you were working and earning a living the whole time your were learning? Wouldn’t that make sense, work full-time, learn part-time, or mix it up half and half. That way you’re also building experience and learning at the same time. That’s a good way to learn!

You have friends right? What do your friends know that they could teach you? What do you know that you could teach your friends? What can you teach yourself using a computer, software and the Internet? What can you learn at the library? At the museum? At the science centre? Seriously there are tons of publicly funded places and spaces where you can learn things.

Want to analyze literature? Join a book club, start a book club. Want to know more about math, statistics? Check out Khan Academy. Everything most people want to know about math with practice and repeat options. Keep doing it until you get it right.


YouTube, tons of stuff, tons, free.

Want to know how to grow a square foot garden, grow organic vegetables, fix a dishwasher? YouTube it. Want to broaden your horizons? Place a bunch of completely unrelated keywords into your Scoopit account, see what comes up. Explore links, read an article click on the links, keep seeing what happens next.

Read Wikipedia, learn how to figure out whether or not the articles and information are accurate, or biased, or total lies! Contribute to Wikipedia. Blog, tweet start to find your tribe of those with similar interests. Follow a tribe with totally different interests.

Learn how to adapt to change. This is the primary skill you will need for personal success in the future. Move from your comfortable home or apartment a couple of times in a short time period. Learn to lighten your load, decrease your footprint. Work for a small company, work for a large company, start your own company. Learn to think creatively. If someone else has already thought of it, don’t do it, think of your own thing and try that. Go against the grain, do not engage in mainstream activities.

If a song is on the top 10, don’t listen to it, check out the things in the bottom 100 and see what they’re about. Deliberately avoid being culturally literate. If your friends ask you “have you seen that new thing on YouTube?” Don’t look at it, unless it’s really funny, in that case, look at it. Laugh a lot.

Go to the opera, go to the ballet, see live bands in dimly lit bars. Learn to play a musical instrument. Learn to read music. Sing. Dance. Do yoga, a lot. Breathe, chant, go to church, go to a synagogue and a mosque. Listen to a lot of music from different cultures. Start conversations with people you’ve never met, find out what they do, ask them about their lives, their learning experiences. Tell them about yours. If you like that person or find them interesting follow up and meet them again.

Watch movies, all kinds of movies from every kind of culture. Documentaries, full length features, musicals, comedies, dramas, complete asinine stupidity, animated shorts, really left-of-centre well-animated shorts. Watch BBC or CBC or PBS, a lot. Listen to NPR, donate to NPR. Follow up. If you saw movie or heard a speaker that captured your attention or interest, find out more. Who was the director? What’s the company she runs? Who were the actors? If it was a documentary, find out more about the rest of the story, what’s currently going on today?

Read the bible, read the Koran, read the old testament, read scripture of any kind. Read biographies, learn about people’s lives. If a work of fiction has won some kind of prize, read it. If an author is a Nobel prize-winning author read his or her book. In fact, read something by everyone who has won a Nobel prize in the last five years. All of it, even if you hate it or don’t understand it. Read an article that requires you have a dictionary open and you have to use it every other paragraph. Did I mention the library? There’s a lifetime of reading in that building, and if you think it’s all outdated and useless to you, think again.

Travel. Travel to as many places as you possibly can. Learn to speak some, if not all of the languages you possibly can. Do this by making friends with someone who wants to learn your language and you want to learn theirs, trade languages. Trade everything you know for something you can learn.

Volunteer. This is an excellent way to get experience, and its a good way to find connections, network with other people, practice governance, do tasks you wouldn’t normally do, with people who are different from you. Learn to drive a car, ride a bike, ride a motorcycle. Try new things all the time. Do not judge people by their appearance, get to know them before you make up your mind about them.

Draw, paint, take pictures, make movies, learn how to edit photos, edit movies, create things. Build things! Build a birdhouse, learn how to use power tools (from a safe and well trained power tool user). Always learn how to be safe before you try new things involving heavy equipment or steep icy mountains.

Ask questions, ask question after question until you understand something, then ask someone else to see if they have a different understanding. Listen to what they say. Listen a lot.

Investigate your family tree. Where does your family come from? All the way back as far as you can go. You may be related by branches to people you never knew you were. That might be useful, it’s at least interesting.

Read history books, read guidebooks, read, read, read.

Are you starting to get the idea? There are thousands of things you can do to become more intelligent, adaptable, creative, and better educated without ever setting foot in an expensive university that doesn’t cater to your individual needs, and likely delivers a product designed for “most people” to the highest number of people. The more time you spend as an undergraduate in higher education institutions, the more you may realize that by sitting in a lecture hall with 500 of your closest friends, listening to someone who could be on a video-tape, you are funding privileged graduate students who have the benefit of small class sizes and the best professors. Is that what you want to do with your money? With your parents hard-earned money? Is that how you learn best?

Attention universities, there’s something to be learned here.

Before you sign up for formal higher education think very, very carefully about what you want to do, and decide whether or not you need to participate in what is, for the most part, an outdated and ultra-conservative industrial model from the past. It’s also exceptionally expensive. If you want to see what’s happening in higher education courses, sign up for free and take a MOOC (massive, open, online courses) is are being offered by Coursera, Udacity or EdX. While you’re at it, try Saylor or OER-U the WikieEducation portal. If you really feel you want the social experience that university provides, get a job with people your own age, learn stuff together. Make friends, start the university of us.

Many, many universities cannot seem to embrace change and this will be their undoing in my view. Many, many colleges and universities claim to be innovative, with new online and blended models of course delivery, but in large measure these courses are just redeployments of the same old course materials, readings and one-way lecture modes.

Truly revolutionary online education, designed inclusively and in a really student-centred, engaging way is quite rare. I heard this quote somewhere in my reading, kudos to whoever it was “A horse and cart with a boom box attached is still a horse and cart.” Make your own building, write on your own chalkboard. Be your own teacher. Teach others.


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