Higher education had its problems before Covid-19. Now the crippling inefficiencies, backbreaking cost, and lack of alternatives are being forced into the spotlight. We’re working on what will eventually grow into the alternative to overpriced universities and ineffective Bootcamps at boot.dev. In the meantime, let’s take a look at education’s biggest problems, and how we can solve them.
🔗 Inefficiencies and Cost
Universities and coding Bootcamps both suffer from a crippling cost of operation and pass that cost on to students. Think about all the expensive shit students are footing the bill for:
- Buildings and real estate. Their construction and ongoing maintenance.
- Salaries of not just the professors, but the administrators, counselors, coaches, etc.
- Overpriced textbooks. Students set aside ~$1,200/year just for books.
- Amenities that many students don’t use. Tutoring centers, gyms, computer labs, libraries, pools, etc.
The problem isn’t just how expensive college is, but how inefficiently those funds are used. In the 2017-2018 school year, there were 4,298 colleges in the U.S. If we were to generously assume the number of Biology 101 professors to be only 2 per school, then there would be 17,192 nearly identical versions of each Bio 101 lecture given each year.
There is no reason for this level of waste. Students don’t have cash to burn. Video recordings and interactive quizzes and homework can and will fully replace live lectures.
All of these problems are compounded by Covid-19. Now students are still paying the same cost, but are getting an ad-hoc, low-quality version of online school. I other words, they are getting a subpar digital experience but still paying the in-person cost. See this poor Redditor as an example.
At boot.dev our goal is to provide the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree for less than $1,000 USD, and in many cases much less.
🔗 Generalized Education
Most college degrees are too generalized. In the United States, it’s common for students to complete two years of higher education without yet knowing what they want their major to be. I decided fairly quickly on Computer Science but was still required to waste my precious time and money on:
- Library Studies - Gotta know that Dewey Decimal system
- CIS - Because I didn’t already know how to use Microsoft Word and Powerpoint
- Acting - I needed a random art credit
Don’t misunderstand; I love the idea of learning concepts and ideas that I may not otherwise have been exposed to. I had to take philosophy and humanities classes that I’m really glad I took. That said, I wish I wasn’t forced to take them. I actually study a lot of philosophy on my own now, just for fun. I don’t need school to force me through that sort of thing.
At boot.dev, the programs that we are assembling will be goal-focused. You want to be a web developer? We’ll build you the best, most focused, and most comprehensive program we can to help you reach that specific goal. Then if you want to take extra courses, projects, or subjects for fun, that’s up to you.
🔗 Traditional Education vs Mastery-Based
Mastery learning is an instructional strategy and educational philosophy… Mastery learning maintains that students must achieve a level of mastery in prerequisite knowledge before moving forward to learn subsequent information.
Colleges and Bootcamps put an artificial time constraint on learning. They say, “you have 4 months, learn what you can.” If you learn 70% of what you needed to in that timeframe, they say “good enough” and move you on to more advanced concepts where you will likely have even bigger problems.
The gaps accumulated in knowledge compound as students move forward.
Instead, Mastery learning puts students in charge of their own time and only encourages them to move forward once they feel they have mastered the prerequisite knowledge.
Mastery learning has long been considered impractical in a physical setting. However, with advances in modern tech, we can now trivially allow students to learn at their own pace on their own track by going natively digital.
Everything we build at Boot.dev has Mastery-based learning in mind.
Daniel Kahn, a favorite of mine, has a great Ted talk on the subject:
🔗 Quality over Quantity
While not so much a problem at Ivy-League Universities, many smaller colleges, bootcamps, and online courses struggle to put out high-quality educational content. This is especially a problem with some of our online platform competitors (I won’t name names) where anyone can upload yet another “How to Make a Website” course.
What differentiates boot.dev, and what will continue to set us apart, is that we make all our own courses and we don’t allow user uploads. This allows us to do several things:
- Hyperfocus on quality. If there is only one “Algorithms and Data Structures” course, we can make sure it’s the best. We update and enhance our courses religiously.
- Limit confusion. When students join a new platform, it can be hard to find good content because they need to research courses like they would products on Amazon. Review astroturfing is a real problem and it doesn’t belong in education.
One of the questions I hear often from friends is, “I want to learn to code but I don’t know where to start.” This is a huge problem.
My own wife recently went to one of boot.dev’s biggest competitors and it took her 30 minutes just to start a course because she didn’t have enough knowledge to know what she was looking for. We have big plans to improve boot.dev’s onboarding process. It will become seamless as we algorithmically generate programs (lists of courses) that can get our users started quickly and progressing to their dream goal or career.
🔗 Common Concerns
🔗 What about making friends and socializing at College? College is about the experience as much as the education.
I think this is a conflation of issues. In the future, with higher education being primarily online, I would imagine that young people’s primary means of socializing will change. Hopefully, it shifts into something more inclusive, so that not only the college-privileged can participate.
🔗 Nothing Beats Asking Professors For Help and Guidance
Tutoring can be done more efficiently online. I imagine Discord communities and online forums will continue to grow and be a better place for collaboration and help. I also plan to add chat rooms to boot.dev’s courses so that students that are online at the same time can talk to each other and get help. Maybe even a commendation system where helpful students earn rewards.
🔗 Traditional Learning Helps Me Stay Motivated
The one thing about artificial time constraints is that they do keep students moving forward at a reasonable pace. A common problem people have with online learning is giving up and becoming demotivated due to lack of schedule or lack of accountability. I think these problems can be solved.
Rather than using a grades to penalize a lack of engagement and success (a stick), I want to implement strategies from Magic the Gathering and online videogames (a carrot). Boot.dev uses a gem-system to purchase content and courses. By doing well, staying engaged, and making progress, students earn free gems. By keeping on track, the programs become more affordable. I believe that’s a much better incentive.
🔗 Just Make College Free
I hope this one doesn’t need too much explanation. Passing legislation to make college free may help somewhat, but it doesn’t solve the underlying problems of wasted time and money. It just shifts the money burden to society as a whole instead of the students individually. I believe this is the intellectual version of “just throw more hardware at the problem”. Boot.dev is writing a better algorithm.