Affordable, convenient, on-demand: All the things university isn’t—but could be

Want to hear a joke? Universities haven’t innovated in 400 years. At a time when close to half of all students aren't graduating, Dan Rosensweig explains why and how to fix this broken education system.

Dan Rosensweig: Fifty percent of high school students don’t go on to higher education.

Of the 50 percent that do, 43 percent of them don’t graduate.

Of those that do graduate the average graduation time is six years.

The average age of a current college student today is about 25. And I think 25 percent of college students today actually have a child.

So if you ask me those statistics suggest two things. The current system is not producing what it was designed to produce for the types of people that go, the number of people that go and what they need. And it has not kept up with the modern world in terms of how it makes itself available and what it charges students to be able to get what they need.

So it’s a combination of availability; It doesn’t seem to work for the majority of students, because the number one reason that students don’t go on to further education or drop out of college, it’s a combination of two things which essentially means the same thing: It’s too expensive, or they can’t get the classes at the time of day they’re available.

And that’s because: of the 70 percent of kids that go to state schools, 40 percent of them work 30 hours a week or more. All of this is to say that schools are no longer programmed at the right time. They take too long. They’re too expensive, and what they program is incomplete. It’s not necessarily bad.

our view is the education system needs to evolve to the way we do everything. Everything we do today comes to us (rather than us go to them).

An example, today we would never wait out in the rain for a car and hope that we can get a cab. We’ll just hail Uber and it comes and it takes us exactly where we want to go.

Today we wouldn’t go rush home to watch a TV show at eight o’clock on a Thursday night. We watch it on the device we want to watch it, when we want to watch it, when it’s convenient for us.

Only education continues to require you to come to it, pay a fortune to do it, and have it be a choice between eating or reading or learning and earning.

And so what Chegg is trying to do is reverse it, is try to say let’s use what the internet does best. Let’s make it online, on demand. Let’s make it personalized. You do it the way you want to do it, not the way it’s taught singularly to everybody.

Adaptive which means when we watch what you do and we learn about you, let’s actually adjust how we teach you or what we teach you, what we give you more of and what we give you less of based on your actual abilities.

And then let’s make it exceptionally affordable. And if we do that you’d be amazed how many students need to learn, want to learn, are willing to learn.

So we think that the modern university system has become too expensive; incomplete programming, inconvenient locations, inconvenient time of day for the modern workforce which doesn’t have the time to do both. So even if you look at for-profit colleges they were a mess because they became a scam for a lot of people. But if you realize 3.6 million people at one time were actually taking it, you realize the demand was there to be able to learn in your own environment in your own way. Why? Because the average person was a 30-year-old woman who could not leave her family or her workforce, or in some cases both.

So I just think that the modern education system needs to acknowledge who the modern student is, what the demands on that modern student are—there’s more of them, they’re more broke, they have more diverse needs. They enter the system with different education, different backgrounds, different financial situations, and no “one size fits all” is going to work anymore.

And so what we’ve got is we’ve got a lot of schools – now we’re not talking about the top 50 or 100 schools. Those schools have huge endowments. They’ll be protected for a long time and they’ll probably continue to be able to teach the smaller part of the population that can take four years.

But the ramifications are—well, here’s a question for you.

Why is there something called a four year school? Why does college take four years? That’s a random number. Why does a certain course take two years? That’s a random number.

It has to do with how many classes they’re willing to program that you’re able to take. Not how long it takes you to learn the material. Ninety-five percent of the time that you’re at a four year college you’re not in a classroom in any way, shape or form. In today’s world we binge watch everything that we want. You can binge watch entire series, albums, learn anything you want. Why can’t you binge learn your education? If you’re willing to put in the time at nights, weekends, days, whatever it is and learn and master the subject, why can’t you finish when you’ve learned the things you’re supposed to learn in order to get you a job?

So the ramifications are colleges are going to have to take less time to get somebody from learning to earning. There is no reason why it should take four years. Very little of the population has the time or the finances to delay earning by four years. Only a small subset do. And so I think the ramifications are you’re going to see fewer colleges, you’re going to see them combined, more of them are going to have to get online. They’re going to have to expand their curriculum to include job skills, and I think you’re going to see a resurgence of institutions that primarily serve people online.

Not because—a teacher can make the argument there’s nothing better than one-on-one in a classroom. That may be true. That may be true for a lot of kids. It’s certainly not true for everybody. But it’s also 100 percent not available to anybody.

Nobody gets to learn one-on-one in a classroom anymore. And so our opinion is it’s unfair to say “Because this is the best way, we’re not going to do the other way” when 90 percent of the people have no access to the best way.

So if education is really going to grow, it’s really going to proliferate, it’s got to be online, increasingly. It’s got to be on demand. It has to be multimodality. Some people learn by taking tests. Some people learn by watching videos. Some people learn by human intervention and human help. All of those ways need to be available.

There’s no benefit in teaching somebody who learns this way, this way over here if that’s not going to work for them. And when you look at the scores 43 percent drop out, they drop out with $7,000 to $9,000 in debt. The ones that survive have $37,000 in debt. So I mean you just look at the math and ask yourself, do you want to put your kid into that system? The answer has to be no.

Why are we taking the most valuable people, the future of this country and delaying their ability to be productive in the workforce, delaying their ability to make money, and saddling them with debt larger than anything else they may do in their life (with the exception of buying a home), and doing it at 18 years old? To me it just sounds unfair and unfortunate.

Want to hear a joke? Universities haven’t innovated in 400 years. A lot has changed since the 1600s. The average college student today is 25 years old. Approximately one-quarter of students have a child. And close to half will never graduate. The higher education model is hopelessly outdated, catering to a student type that no longer exists, at a price people can no longer afford. Dan Rosensweig, CEO of Chegg, asks: Can we design something better? Taking inspiration from industry innovators like Netfilx, Rosensweig explains why higher education must change and what that kind of future would look like. Here's a hint: less debt, less commuting, on-demand courses that you can binge-learn (four years is truly arbitrary), and highly adaptive to how you learn best. When colleges stop failing their students, society can become so much richer.

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Freud is renowned, but his ideas are ill-substantiated

The Oedipal complex, repressed memories, penis envy? Sigmund Freud's ideas are far-reaching, but few have withstood the onslaught of empirical evidence.

Mind & Brain
  • Sigmund Freud stands alongside Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein as one of history's best-known scientists.
  • Despite his claim of creating a new science, Freud's psychoanalysis is unfalsifiable and based on scant empirical evidence.
  • Studies continue to show that Freud's ideas are unfounded, and Freud has come under scrutiny for fabricating his most famous case studies.

Few thinkers are as celebrated as Sigmund Freud, a figure as well-known as Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein. Neurologist and the founder of psychoanalysis, Freud's ideas didn't simply shift the paradigms in academia and psychotherapy. They indelibly disseminated into our cultural consciousness. Ideas like transference, repression, the unconscious iceberg, and the superego are ubiquitous in today's popular discourse.

Despite this renown, Freud's ideas have proven to be ill-substantiated. Worse, it is now believed that Freud himself may have fabricated many of his results, opportunistically disregarding evidence with the conscious aim of promoting preferred beliefs.

"[Freud] really didn't test his ideas," Harold Takooshian, professor of psychology at Fordham University, told ATI. "He was just very persuasive. He said things no one said before, and said them in such a way that people actually moved from their homes to Vienna and study with him."

Unlike Darwin and Einstein, Freud's brand of psychology presents the impression of a scientific endeavor but ultimately lack two of vital scientific components: falsification and empirical evidence.


Freud's therapeutic approach may be unfounded, but at least it was more humane than other therapies of the day. In 1903, this patient is being treated in "auto-conduction cage" as a part of his electrotherapy. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The discipline of psychotherapy is arguably Freud's greatest contribution to psychology. In the post-World War II era, psychoanalysis spread through Western academia, influencing not only psychotherapy but even fields such as literary criticism in profound ways.

The aim of psychoanalysis is to treat mental disorders housed in the patient's psyche. Proponents believe that such conflicts arise between conscious thoughts and unconscious drives and manifest as dreams, blunders, anxiety, depression, or neurosis. To help, therapists attempt to unearth unconscious desires that have been blocked by the mind's defense mechanisms. By raising repressed emotions and memories to the conscious fore, the therapist can liberate and help the patient heal.

That's the idea at least, but the psychoanalytic technique stands on shaky empirical ground. Data leans heavily on a therapist's arbitrary interpretations, offering no safe guards against presuppositions and implicit biases. And the free association method offers not buttress to the idea of unconscious motivation.

Don't get us wrong. Patients have improved and even claimed to be cured thanks to psychoanalytic therapy. However, the lack of methodological rigor means the division between effective treatment and placebo effect is ill-defined.

Repressed memories

Sigmund Freud, circa 1921. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Nor has Freud's concept of repressed memories held up. Many papers and articles have been written to dispel the confusion surrounding repressed (aka dissociated) memories. Their arguments center on two facts of the mind neurologists have become better acquainted with since Freud's day.

First, our memories are malleable, not perfect recordings of events stored on a biological hard drive. People forget things. Childhood memories fade or are revised to suit a preferred narrative. We recall blurry gists rather than clean, sharp images. Physical changes to the brain can result in loss of memory. These realities of our mental slipperiness can easily be misinterpreted under Freud's model as repression of trauma.

Second, people who face trauma and abuse often remember it. The release of stress hormones imprints the experience, strengthening neural connections and rendering it difficult to forget. It's one of the reasons victims continue to suffer long after. As the American Psychological Association points out, there is "little or no empirical support" for dissociated memory theory, and potential occurrences are a rarity, not the norm.

More worryingly, there is evidence that people are vulnerable to constructing false memories (aka pseudomemories). A 1996 study found it could use suggestion to make one-fifth of participants believe in a fictitious childhood memory in which they were lost in a mall. And a 2007 study found that a therapy-based recollection of childhood abuse "was less likely to be corroborated by other evidence than when the memories came without help."

This has led many to wonder if the expectations of psychoanalytic therapy may inadvertently become a self-fulfilling prophecy with some patients.

"The use of various dubious techniques by therapists and counselors aimed at recovering allegedly repressed memories of [trauma] can often produce detailed and horrific false memories," writes Chris French, a professor of psychology at Goldsmiths, University of London. "In fact, there is a consensus among scientists studying memory that traumatic events are more likely to be remembered than forgotten, often leading to post-traumatic stress disorder."

The Oedipal complex

The Blind Oedipus Commending His Children to the Gods by Benigne Gagneraux. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

During the phallic stage, children develop fierce erotic feelings for their opposite-sex parent. This desire, in turn, leads them to hate their same-sex parent. Boys wish to replace their father and possess their mother; girls become jealous of their mothers and desire their fathers. Since they can do neither, they repress those feelings for fear of reprisal. If unresolved, the complex can result in neurosis later in life.

That's the Oedipal complex in a nutshell. You'd think such a counterintuitive theory would require strong evidence to back it up, but that isn't the case.

Studies claiming to prove the Oedipal complex look to positive sexual imprinting — that is, the phenomenon in which people choose partners with physical characteristics matching their same-sex parent. For example, a man's wife and mother have the same eye color, or woman's husband and father sport a similar nose.

But such studies don't often show strong correlation. One study reporting "a correction of 92.8 percent between the relative jaw width of a man's mother and that of [his] mates" had to be retracted for factual errors and incorrect analysis. Studies showing causation seem absent from the literature, and as we'll see, the veracity of Freud's own case studies supporting the complex is openly questioned today.

Better supported, yet still hypothetical, is the Westermarck effect. Also called reverse sexual imprinting, the effect predicts that people develop a sexual aversion to those they grow up in close proximity with, as a mean to avoid inbreeding. The effect isn't just shown in parents and siblings; even step-siblings will grow sexual averse to each other if they grow up from early childhood.

An analysis published in Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology evaluated the literature on human mate choice. The analysis found little evidence for positive imprinting, citing study design flaws and an unwillingness of researchers to seek alternative explanations. In contrast, it found better support for negative sexual imprinting, though it did note the need for further research.

The Freudian slip

Mark notices Deborah enter the office whistling an upbeat tune. He turns to his coworker to say, "Deborah's pretty cheery this morning," but accidentally blunders, "Deborah's pretty cherry this morning." Simple slip up? Not according to Freud, who would label this a parapraxis. Today, it's colloquially known as a "Freudian slip."

"Almost invariably I discover a disturbing influence from something outside of the intended speech," Freud wrote in The Psychopathology of Everyday Life. "The disturbing element is a single unconscious thought, which comes to light through the special blunder."

In the Freudian view, Mark's mistaken word choice resulted from his unconscious desire for Deborah, as evident by the sexually-charged meanings of the word "cherry." But Rob Hartsuiker, a psycholinguist from Ghent University, says that such inferences miss the mark by ignoring how our brains process language.

According to Hartsuiker, our brains organize words by similarity and meaning. First, we must select the word in that network and then process the word's sounds. In this interplay, all sorts of conditions can prevent us from grasping the proper phonemes: inattention, sleepiness, recent activation, and even age. In a study co-authored by Hartsuiker, brain scans showed our minds can recognize and correct for taboo utterances internally.

"This is very typical, and it's also something Freud rather ignored," Hartsuiker told BBC. He added that evidence for true Freudian slips is scant.

Freud's case studies

Sergej Pankejeff, known as the "Wolf Man" in Freud's case study, claimed that Freud's analysis of his condition was "propaganda."

It's worth noting that there is much debate as to the extent that Freud falsified his own case studies. One famous example is the case of the "Wolf Man," real name Sergej Pankejeff. During their sessions, Pankejeff told Freud about a dream in which he was lying in bed and saw white wolves through an open window. Freud interpreted the dream as the manifestation of a repressed trauma. Specifically, he claimed that Pankejeff must have witnessed his parents in coitus.

For Freud this was case closed. He claimed Pankejeff successfully cured and his case as evidence for psychoanalysis's merit. Pankejeff disagreed. He found Freud's interpretation implausible and said that Freud's handling of his story was "propaganda." He remained in therapy on and off for over 60 years.

Many of Freud's other case studies, such "Dora" and "the Rat Man" cases, have come under similar scrutiny.

Sigmund Freud and his legacy

Freud's ideas may not live up to scientific inquiry, but their long shelf-life in film, literature, and criticism has created some fun readings of popular stories. Sometimes a face is just a face, but that face is a murderous phallic symbol. (Photo: Flickr)

Of course, there are many ideas we've left out. Homosexuality originating from arrested sexual development in anal phase? No way. Freudian psychosexual development theory? Unfalsifiable. Women's penis envy? Unfounded and insulting. Men's castration anxiety? Not in the way Freud meant it.

If Freud's legacy is so ill-informed, so unfounded, how did he and his cigars cast such a long shadow over the 20th century? Because there was nothing better to offer at the time.

When Freud came onto the scene, neurology was engaged in a giddy free-for-all. As New Yorker writer Louis Menand points out, the era's treatments included hypnosis, cocaine, hydrotherapy, female castration, and institutionalization. By contemporary standards, it was a horror show (as evident by these "treatments" featuring so prominently in our horror movies).

Psychoanalysis offered a comparably clement and humane alternative. "Freud's theories were like a flashlight in a candle factory," anthropologist Tanya Luhrmann told Menand.

But Freud and his advocates triumph his techniques as a science, and this is wrong. The empirical evidence for his ideas is limited and arbitrary, and his conclusions are unfalsifiable. The theory that explains every possible outcome explains none of them.

With that said, one might consider Freud's ideas to be a proto-science. As astrology heralded astronomy, and alchemy preceded chemistry, so to did Freud's psychoanalysis popularize psychology, paving the way for its more rapid development as a scientific discipline. But like astrology and alchemy, we should recognize Freud's ideas as the historic artifacts they are.

Why are so many objects in space shaped like discs?

It's one of the most consistent patterns in the unviverse. What causes it?

  • Spinning discs are everywhere – just look at our solar system, the rings of Saturn, and all the spiral galaxies in the universe.
  • Spinning discs are the result of two things: The force of gravity and a phenomenon in physics called the conservation of angular momentum.
  • Gravity brings matter together; the closer the matter gets, the more it accelerates – much like an ice skater who spins faster and faster the closer their arms get to their body. Then, this spinning cloud collapses due to up and down and diagonal collisions that cancel each other out until the only motion they have in common is the spin – and voila: A flat disc.