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Is 16th Century Teaching the Future of Education? Learning Ruby on Rails with a Private Tutor are the new Violin Lessons

Education moved from a bespoke craft to a more industrial approach. [...]

Still, one-to-one tutoring is the learning method proven time and again to sharply improve a student’s measured performance. A good human tutor can deliver a “home run,” educationally and statistically, explained Christopher J. Dede, a professor of education at Harvard University. [...]


Those are quotes from an article I read in the New York Times in September 2009 which I used as basis for a blog post whose title is “Back to 16th Century Teaching!” and yesterday fellow edupreneur and blogger André Klein published a post with the title “How Private Teachers and Tutors are silently transforming today’s education”.

You might wonder what this has to do with the Big Think topic of “Mind” today. So I give you the answer right away: Steve Jobs, to be precise the iTunes Store. Since its launch in April 2003 it has transformed the mindset of Internet users from “if it’s on the Internet, I won’t pay for it” to “I’d rather pay $0.99 or $5 than get an illegal copy”. People linked up their credit cards to the service and almost don’t think about those micro payments anymore and that is a huge opportunity for business, and that’s also true for the education space. 

The best example for this mind shift happening are educational apps on the iTunes Store. Innovative start-ups like MindSnacks, Brainscape or Memrise could simply not exist without an audience that is willing to spend a couple of bucks on an educational product. 

Now, is this going to have any influence on the private teacher / tutor space? I think, this is closely tied to the question whether education should be free. To my mind, there is no doubt that the public school system as it is today does not fit the needs of a 21st century society anymore. Public schools had taught what future citizens needed to know to get a job in one of the big companies, pay their bills on time and be good citizens. The ones who showed a surplus in certain skills were led into universities where they were trained to become our leaders in various ways, as scientists, lawyers, politicians etc. 

That all worked pretty well in times where there were enough jobs for the part of the population that just got the “basic” skills for our society. Nowadays, those jobs have either already become replaced or are being replaced by machines or outsourced into developing countries, yet still today our public school system is “producing” workers that whose skills have become obsolete and that not needed anymore.

It is also a fact that parents have been aware of this for quite a while and that they were and are willing to spend money on private lessons to nurture their children and also eventually give them the competitive edge above their classmates.

As André Klein points out in his post, private tuition won’t come for free but due to globalization and a rising group of private tutors available, prices will become more affordable. In the end, you could either choose to have a private tutor coming to your home via services like TutorSpree or TeachStreet or get help from a tutor via the Internet using TutorVista or Motuto being the first services of that kind.

All of the above leads me to the final question which might be and remain the trickiest for parents: what should my children learn? Getting good grades is one thing but what will be the competitive advantage? As there is a plethora of choice ranging from liberal arts to programming and technology what should parents concentrate on and how to make the right choice?

I think to prepare you children for the society they will be living in, learning Ruby on Rails, PhotoShop or FinalCut with a private tutor are going to be the new violin lessons.

Picture: Bridgeman Art

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