Bill Gates Is Ready For the Education Revolution


JStone /

A lot of things come to mind when discussing Bill Gates: Microsoft, billionaire, philanthropist. But when it comes to discussing one of the world’s most recognizable men, education is at the top of our minds.

In early 2000, the William H. Gates Foundation merged with the Gates Learning Foundation to form the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation. Gates’ interest in giving back was ignited by an article he read regarding children in 3rd world countries needing access to clean water, which served as a catalyst for his prominent stance on education in the world.

Gates sat on the panel of the 6th Davos Philanthropic Roundtable where he discussed the revolution in education. Peter Thiel, the cofounder of PayPal, Sebastian Thrun, the founder of Udacity, and Larry Summer, the President Emeritus of Harvard University, were among the panel members – clearly a group of heavy hitters in the education space.

Let’s take a look at some of the main takeaways from Gates’ discussion.

MOOCs not yet changing the world

People were excited when the idea was expressed that top universities would be selling their courses online. You had access to the Ivy League’s best professors from anywhere in the world! This was supposed to be the beginning of a revolution in education! Pretty exciting stuff, right? Curiously enough, no one bought these courses. When they became free, hundreds of thousands of students enrolled, but hardly anybody actually completed the courses.

Gates doesn’t think the education space was revolutionized with the advent of online courses.

“The information’s been there in the textbook for hundreds of years. A highly motivated student can buy the Feynman Lectures on Physics, read it. They don’t need the internet in order to learn physics. All they need is motivation… Online will not enhance the physics knowledge that’s available.”

Instead, Gates sees student collaboration as the biggest beneficiary of online courses.

Worldwide Collaboration

Never has it been so easy to network, engage, and access content. Students all around the world can collaborate and foster ideas from a mix of different viewpoints. This is something that can propel education to its next level.

“What’s possible, though,” says Gates, “and what we’re seeing with this new wave, is a greater degree of interactivity and a greater degree of taking the mass group of students and having them help each other, in terms of rating each other’s work, talking. The leverage there is pretty amazing in terms of the cost.”

I’ve mentioned this before, but I fully believe the teacher is there to ignite the fire, and the students are there to keep it growing and going. Gates believes range of access and this newly-found collaboration potential will contribute to change the face of education over the next five years.

Idea of Credentials

Before the online education revolution can take place, Gates believes two things must change. First is the way we view credentials. Today, you are hired based on where you went to school and how long you were there for.

“It’s bundled, the idea of where did you go, how did you learn it. That is essentially the proof that you have knowledge. You have to move away from that to where the credential really is the proof that you have the knowledge, independent of how you acquired it.”

As we pointed out in a previous blog, Peter Thiel mentioned earlier in the discussion that currently, too many people view education as insurance. Until we start viewing education as learning, the revolution Gates refers to will not occur.

Only as good as the best teacher

The courses available online simply have to get better before we can truly begin the online education revolution. The old adage of Quality vs. Quantity is relevant here – sure, we might be able to access a thousand different remedial math classes online, but how many of them compare to the best professors out there? Gates referenced a professor at Miami Dade who has a 95% pass rate for his remedial math course, when the nation average is just 15%.

“The online stuff is still not as good as the best instructors… How many remedial math classes do we need? Well, we need a few good ones. And my claim is that we don’t yet have that, but because people are trying things, looking at other ones, over the next four or five years the quality of this stuff is really going to be quite phenomenal.”  90% of these courses will be long forgotten and never viewed.

The revolution Gates envisions will not happen until we change the way we think about credentials, and until the best content is available to students. When those changes are made, we’ll see a vast improvement in student collaboration and true learning will occur. This is where we at Social27 gain our inspiration; we don’t aspire to offer the most content – we aspire to offer the best content, on the best platform.

I’ll be talking about how to effectively market your online academies in a post coming soon. Feel free to give us suggestions or feedback. Thanks for joining us today!


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