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Using the Web To Turn Kids Into Autodidacts

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the not-quite-unschooling dept.

Education 230

theodp writes "Autodidacticism — self-education or self-directed learning — is nothing new, but the Internet holds the promise of taking it to the masses. Sugata Mitra, an Indian physicist whose earlier educational experiments inspired the film Slumdog Millionaire, is convinced that, with the Internet, kids can learn by themselves so long as they are in small groups and have well-posed questions to answer. And now, Mitra's Self-Organized Learning Environments (SOLE) are going global, with testing in schools in Australia, Colombia, England and India. On their own, children can get about 30% of the knowledge required to pass exams, so to go further, Dr. Mitra supplements SOLE with e-mediators, amateur volunteers who use Skype to help kids learn online."

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230 comments

Heck (3, Insightful)

SilverHatHacker (1381259) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450832)

As far as programming goes, I've managed to teach myself the entire content of the courses I'm taking during my summer breaks and weekends. Admittedly, it is just basic stuff, but I now feel like I'm wasting $10k a year on schooling that I don't really need.

Re:Heck (5, Insightful)

vlm (69642) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450856)

I now feel like I'm wasting $10k a year on schooling that I don't really need.

You're not buying schooling, you're buying an expensive piece of paper, called a diploma, to get past the HR filter that requires it.

Re:Heck (3, Insightful)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450924)

Yep, nowadays you can learn a lot of stuff from the internet. For those it's more a matter of whether you want the "piece of paper" or not. Just from youtube alone you can learn undergrad stuff from MIT/Stanford/UNSW and even universities in India, guitar licks, to making a japanese omelette/omelet (tamagoyaki).

But some stuff requires physical equipment and tools that most people don't have access to. In an alternate universe public libraries would have physical tools, workshops and labs, rather than physical books - because books can be more easily duplicated :).

Re:Heck (1)

biryokumaru (822262) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451066)

In New York City, there are actually quite a few "hacker labs" you can join for access to cool equipment, like laser cutters and lathes and such. While not tax supported like a public library, I feel the membership fee amounts to little more than a tax.

Re:Heck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451188)

Prophetically depicted in the MGM move "The Wizard of OZ."

Seriously, the education unions will kill this in the States, probably why the FCC wants to take control of the internet.

Your government, your protection foremost in their minds. Ignore the lobbiest.

Re:Heck (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451494)

Your government, your protection foremost in their minds. Ignore the lobbiest.

Well said. We should focus our attention on those who are only slightly lobby, or preferably totally unlobby.

Re:Heck (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451224)

You're not buying schooling, you're buying an expensive piece of paper, called a diploma, to get past the HR filter that requires it.

And four years of daycare. It's expensive to hire all that staff.

Re:Heck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451260)

>You're not buying schooling, you're buying an expensive piece of paper, called a diploma, to get past the HR filter that requires it.

And unless it says "Masters" or "PhD" on it, it may as well stay hung on the wall behind you. If the plan is to stop at "BSc", then a you might want to consider a minor in business, because you'll almost certainly want to run independently to avoid submitting to the corporate collective and paying their tithe.

Re:Heck (1)

JohnBailey (1092697) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451274)

You're not buying schooling, you're buying an expensive piece of paper, called a diploma, to get past the HR filter that requires it.

Which is in it's self a problem. HR is not hiring paper.

Re:Heck (4, Insightful)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451298)

If all you're getting is a diploma and not schooling that you need perhaps you should take courses more advanced than the into course.

It's college. You pick your classes. You also pick your college. So if your education doesn't seem worth it perhaps the school isn't the problem.

Re:Heck (0)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451528)

But fear not, the generation that came before you already had the same feeling and begins to fill the HR positions and to influence decision-making process. Diploma is slowly becoming irrelevant.

Re:Heck (5, Insightful)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450878)

Teaching yourself is fine, but very few people are capable of doing it properly without a lot of help. Sure when it comes to something like programming you can learn on your own. What you're generally paying for with tuition is guidance and an assurance to future employers that you know what you're doing or more accurately that you've at least seen the materials.

But in general, most people lack the framework to make sense of what they're learning. Even with a degree I run into a fair number of people who don't understand more than just the basics of what was taught, they've gone to no effort to understand the whys and hows that go along with the whats involved.

If this is becoming big that's a very serious problem. The internet isn't really a place to gain an informed opinion over things. There's a lot of noise and very little quality signal to use and without having a degree to start with it's pretty much futile in terms of knowing what is and is not reliable information.

Re:Heck (1)

JxcelDolghmQ (1827432) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450960)

Oh stfu, you pencil pusher.

Re:Heck (2)

Simon80 (874052) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451132)

I see your Internet education has turned you into a skilled debater.

Re:Heck (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451174)

I see your Internet education has turned you into a skilled debater.

Pshaw. Clearly that's some book learnin' we were just exposed to.

Re:Heck (0)

aristotle-dude (626586) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451204)

I see your Internet education has turned you into a skilled debater.

I would think that internet more likely turned the GP into a master-de-bater.

I'm a cunning linguist.

Re:Heck (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451546)

Well, to be fair, he had to choose between becoming a skilled debater and a master debater, I leave it as an exercise to the reader to figure out which one he chose.

Re:Heck (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450976)

Teaching yourself is fine, but very few people are capable of doing it properly without a lot of help.

We're naturally talking about people who are capable of doing so.

Sure when it comes to something like programming you can learn on your own.

Actually, you can teach yourself about any subject that has a vast amount of information written about it, provided you're 'capable' of teaching yourself at all.

What you're generally paying for with tuition is guidance and an assurance to future employers that you know what you're doing or more accurately that you've at least seen the materials.

There's no 'assurance' to future employers. People with degrees aren't necessarily any better than anyone else. Though, you mentioned that yourself.

The internet isn't really a place to gain an informed opinion over things.

It is if lots of quality information is there.

There's a lot of noise and very little quality signal to use and without having a degree to start with it's pretty much futile in terms of knowing what is and is not reliable information.

Perhaps for some subjects, but it's certainly not true for many of them. I've seen lots of quality information about varying subjects available on the internet. As for knowing if it's quality information or not, you could merely, you know, double check to make sure.

Re:Heck (2, Insightful)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451004)

Actually, you can teach yourself about any subject that has a vast amount of information written about it, provided you're 'capable' of teaching yourself at all.

I disagree with this one. Some fields are sufficiently difficult that being "self taught" would either require someone with an exceptional intellect, or an unreasonable amount of time. I would say this is particularly true of abstract math e.g. topology, abstract algebra, etc. Anyone could pick up the basics in those subjects, assuming they had sufficient mathematical background to begin with, but I would be surprised if all but an extreme minority of people could really understand what they are doing in those fields without some sort of formal education.

Re:Heck (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451030)

Some fields are sufficiently difficult that being "self taught" would either require someone with an exceptional intellect, or an unreasonable amount of time.

You're going to use an unreasonable amount of time either way. Notice the word "capable."

I would say this is particularly true of abstract math e.g. topology, abstract algebra, etc.

It depends on whether there's enough information about it and if you're intelligent enough to grasp it on your own. Otherwise, self teaching in that subjects obviously isn't a good idea.

but I would be surprised if all but an extreme minority of people could really understand what they are doing in those fields without some sort of formal education.

It's not really a surprise if a vast amount of quality information (notice the word quality) is there. I don't think it's just an "extreme minority," but certainly less than the amount of people who require being taught.

Re:Heck (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451100)

It depends on whether there's enough information about it and if you're intelligent enough to grasp it on your own. Otherwise, self teaching in that subjects obviously isn't a good idea.

(Emphasis mine.) Yes, if you are intelligent enough to grasp the material on your own. This becomes increasingly rare as the material becomes increasingly advanced; there is a point at which only an extreme minority of people are capable of understanding the material on their own, without a teacher's help (even further is the point at which only an extreme minority are capable of understanding the material even with a teacher's help).

Re:Heck (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451160)

This becomes increasingly rare as the material becomes increasingly advanced;

That depends on whether the information is available and is quality. Even if it is as rare as you say, the information should still be available to these people.

Re:Heck (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451272)

At what point did I argue that any information should be unavailable to people who are interested in it? Quite the opposite, I think that given the Internet, people should be able to access any information they want, and they should be able to do so at little to no cost. There is no excuse for barriers to information in the 21st century, especially not in a developed nation like the United States.

It is also worth keep in mind that anyone who lives near a university can probably gain access to its libraries. At my current institution, anyone can walk into the libraries, and as long as they do not create a disturbance, they can read any of the books on the shelves; the only think they cannot do is remove books from the library. There are even publicly accessible computers that do not require a login. Even at institutions that require permission to enter the libraries, I have not yet seen a case where there was no way for a non-student to get such permission (not that I have a very large sample size; most of the places I have seen do not require special permission just to enter the library).

Given all of that, though, I would be surprised if non-prodigies were able to grasp the deeper material and insights from certain fields. There is a lot of high quality information on cryptography available, and high quality information on various fields of math needed to understand cryptography, but the truth is that modern cryptography is a very difficult field. Even with a great teacher, it is very hard to understand cryptography; lacking such a teacher would leave a student at a serious disadvantage. Sure, anyone could memorize protocols and algorithms, but that is not the same as understanding why those systems are (possibly) secure, and gaining such an understanding is difficult, especially when you go beyond the basics, and it becomes extremely hard when you have no guidance whatsoever.

Re:Heck (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451308)

At what point did I argue that any information should be unavailable to people who are interested in it?

You didn't... and I never said you did. I was merely stating that it should be available. There's at least some people capable of doing so, and if self teaching is what is best for them, then I think it's great that they have that option.

who's qualified? (2)

Alan R Light (1277886) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451078)

Teaching yourself is fine, but very few people are capable of doing it properly without a lot of help.

We're naturally talking about people who are capable of doing so.

Apparently "people who are capable of doing so" includes slum kids in India. That may still exclude many, but it's more than "very few".

Re:who's qualified? (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451172)

Being able to 'teach yourself' is one of those 'x-factors'. You either have it or you don't. Even if there is a very very small percentage of the population who are capable we're still talking about millions of individuals.

Those who are capable and motivated will persist and succeed.

Re:who's qualified? (5, Interesting)

HungryHobo (1314109) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451622)

Hell yes.
I know 2 or 3 people like this.

One of them is a college dropout who works all hours.
He's one of those busy people, you know the ones, from the saying "if you need something done give it to someone who's busy"

I mentioned 1 way hashes to him over a pint when we were chatting about a problem he was having in work to do with checking for duplicate details without violating data protection.
A few weeks later I chat to him and he's educated himself about hash functions beyond what would be covered in a CS degree.

I sat down with him one afternoon and went through the basics of how to write a simple "hello world" program and compile it and how to do simple loops.
just enough to get past the "where do I start" bit with coding.
6 months later he's writing applications for his office.

I mentioned data structures and various search algortihms to him when he was talking about how his code was always far far slower than the professional coders stuff.
I fully expect him to find out next time I talk to him that he's gone off and educated himself about datastructures and algorithms beyond what a normal cs course covers.

He'll go far in life... or, considering the workload he takes on, go nuts.... but probably go far in life.
He has the tallent and drive to educate himself while working 2 jobs and isn't afraid of learning.

Re:who's qualified? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451536)

There's literally tens of millions of geniuses out there, but we generally agree that there's very few geniuses out there. Other wise it wouldn't be considered special when one comes into contact with one.

Apart from the bigotry of your implication that this should be less common in the slums of India, you haven't got a particularly strong point.

Anybody can teach oneself checkers, or chess for that matter, they aren't likely to be able to become a chess grandmaster by self education, but it could happen.

As you get higher up in terms of the sophistication that's required, the number of people that are capable of teaching themselves a task goes down, by the time you hit college, I'd venture only a very small portion of the population is really able to do that as well as a decent college can. And by the time you hit masters or PhD level work, you can pretty much forget about being able to do it without being a genius.

The implication from the article is that it's something special, as in more so than what people normally can do.

Re:who's qualified? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451722)

assburger much?

Re:Heck (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451462)

I call bullshit on everything you said.

Anybody that's capable of teaching oneself already does that. Having a vast amount of information available means that it's less likely that you'll actually learn anything as a result of information overload and an inability to filter out the crap from the stuff that's actually correct.

There is indeed an assurance involved, that's why employers take applicants with a degree from an accredited institution of higher learning over those that don't have a degree or have one from an institution which isn't accredited. Accreditation is supposed to allow for an assurance that there was at least some standards rather than a 2 week correspondence doctorate.

It doesn't matter how much quality information is out there when mixed in with bunk and unfortunately the bunk often times looks as real as the stuff which is real. Just look at all the crap which passes for medical research if you want to know what I mean.

As for your last point, that's true for all subjects I've ever looked into, there's just way too much crap out there. Economics and psychology as fields are particularly hard hit by that problem. Double checking doesn't work you have the problem of the chicken and the egg, you have to know what's right before you can double check it.

Re:Heck (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451900)

Anybody that's capable of teaching oneself already does that.

Probably. When did I say otherwise?

Having a vast amount of information available means that it's less likely that you'll actually learn anything as a result of information overload and an inability to filter out the crap from the stuff that's actually correct.

Yes, because when I mentioned a vast amount of information I was referring to a mix of correct and incorrect information.

There is indeed an assurance involved, that's why employers take applicants with a degree from an accredited institution of higher learning over those that don't have a degree or have one from an institution which isn't accredited.

There is? That's odd. I didn't know it was 100% certain that someone with a degree knew what they were talking about! Here I thought it only increased the likelihood of that! Silly me.

It doesn't matter how much quality information is out there when mixed in with bunk and unfortunately the bunk often times looks as real as the stuff which is real. Just look at all the crap which passes for medical research if you want to know what I mean.

It does matter how much quality information is out there. Seriously, do you think I was talking about subjects that have a mix of correct and incorrect information? No. I obviously meant a situation where quality information was supplied and maintained.

Double checking doesn't work you have the problem of the chicken and the egg, you have to know what's right before you can double check it.

Maybe it doesn't filter out all incorrect information, but if an expert on the subject verifies its correctness, then I'd say there's a very good chance that it's correct. I didn't mean search google and then pull up the first website you see, it has to be credible.

Re:Heck (1)

stuntedclimber (1436713) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450988)

...so long as they are in small groups and have well-posed questions to answer

This is what I think is supposed to solve the problem you're bringing up. Ask the right questions in the right order. But isn't that the job of a good teacher?

Re:Heck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451060)

I'd rather schools taught children how to learn rather than facts alone. Surely there's little difference between this and the work the best classes do when they assign students projects, particularly in groups. For that matter, most of what any of us learn is what we teach ourselves. No matter what a teacher tries to push done us, it's what we focus on, what we ourselves work at that leaves the permanent mark.

Probably not for everyone, but what is? Why insist one size fits all? So to me, the only real questions are who and what is this approach appropriate for and how much supervision and direction do students need to do this?

Because there's no time (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451082)

Even with a degree I run into a fair number of people who don't understand more than just the basics of what was taught, they've gone to no effort to understand the whys and hows that go along with the whats involved.

There's no time in a typical formal academic environment. You have all this material to learn within a short period of time and it's extremely difficult to master anything during a typical semester. Then, you have to move onto something else. And the rule of thumb is that you remember less than 80% of what was taught immediately after. And if you look at all the greats in any subject, they became great in spite of their formal education. Of course, many times you need the piece of paper to be taken seriously - science is a prime example. William Schokley was never taken seriously in the scientific community because he was self taught.

School is the place to get your piece of paper (ticket) . If you really want to learn something and master it, it has to be done at your own pace outside of school.

Re:Heck (1)

that IT girl (864406) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451410)

I agree, and I think that while the Internet is a great tool that puts information out there to be accessed more easily, these people aren't doing anything a small percentage of people haven't been doing since the beginning of time. Some people can do very well with self-teaching--in fact, they thrive on it and do better than in a classroom environment--and those people have always been more inclined to seek out the textbooks, articles, manuals, documentation, whatever it is they need to learn. The Internet just makes it easier to find the information, it doesn't make it so that people who aren't wired that way can do it.

BA in misplaced modifiers? (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451678)

Even with a degree I run into a fair number of people who don't understand more than just the basics of what was taught

I'm not sure why the fact that you have a degree should affect what other people understand.

Re:Heck (4, Insightful)

Kijori (897770) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451760)

Absolutely agree. Heavy use of the internet to learn seems to me to lead to a very superficial level of learning - enough to sound knowledgeable in a soundbite, but not enough to actually understanding what you're reading about or do anything non-trivial with it. It's something that I think is very apparent on Slashdot; there are a great many posts made by people who have "learnt" about something via Wikipedia but who have completely misunderstood, or over-generalised, or misinterpreted it but who remain convinced that they are experts. It perhaps comes down to the old truism that the more you learn the more you realise how ignorant you are - and as a corollary, that when you know very little you are generally unable to tell just how little you know. A good teacher can guide your learning, because he/she has a solid general understanding of the subject area. Without one you're liable to stumble across a tail and assume that it's the entire elephant.

Hacking vs. Computer Science (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450920)

If you just want to learn how to hack out some code, sure, you can teach yourself. I would not recommend this approach for theoretical topics in CS, except for the most basic concepts; at more advanced levels, you are really studying abstract math, and it really does help to have a teacher.

Re:Hacking vs. Computer Science (1)

tnovelli (1945506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451342)

If you just want to learn how to hack out some code, sure, you can teach yourself. I would not recommend this approach for theoretical topics in CS, except for the most basic concepts; at more advanced levels, you are really studying abstract math, and it really does help to have a teacher.

Absolutely. Now can somebody tell me, how would a 12-year-old (who already knows the basics) get to the good stuff without sitting through 10 more years of basics? That's what's wrong with the schools and colleges.

For that reason, I've been mostly avoiding formal education for 20 years, sorting out the advanced stuff the hard way. Now I'm screwed. I would love to be part of a study group, with peers and mentors. Maybe I could find that in grad school, or maybe not. For $100,000 or so, I don't care to find out... I'd have to give up too many more important things. But if it ever becomes practical for me, I'll definitely give it a try.

In the meantime, yeah, Wikipedia is crap, but there are better resources. At the elementary-through-undergrad level, Khan Academy is on the right track. I'd prefer more written material than video, but at least it's fairly cohesive. It's great that kids today can turn to people like Khan when they're stuck in overcrowded classrooms where teachers are reduced to babysitting. Now if only something could be done about these schools which only waste kids' time and teach them to hate everything to do with learning!

Re:Heck (1)

the_humeister (922869) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451080)

There are some things that really can't be taught without schooling. Medicine/surgery come to mind.

Re:Heck (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451194)

There are some things that really can't be taught without schooling. Medicine/surgery come to mind.

Clearly you've never had a drunk college roommate and a supply of kitchen utensils.

Re:Heck (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451394)

There are some things that really can't be taught without schooling. Medicine/surgery come to mind.

And where will a medicine/surgery students in a schooling system find information that isn't anywhere on the web?
Everything from 17th century paintings of medical procedures, medical journals, to procedures for every available medical tool are on the web.
I do agree that medicine/surgery students should also gain practical experience in a hospital, but all the theoretical schooling before and after that can be done without a traditional school.

Re:Heck (1)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451334)

I've managed to teach myself the entire content of the courses I'm taking during my summer breaks and weekends.

Are you sure about the entire part? Self-taught programmers often know about 70% of the language quite well. They often convince themselves that the rest isn't important or useful. And they can often convince the PHBs too, so long as they can cobble something together that works, sort of, sometimes.

This is all fine and dandy until they encounter a situation where there's a simple, reliable and elegant solution to it that lies in the other 30%; they end up building an almighty kludge.

One advantage of a formal training course is that it has structure and forces you out of your comfort zone.

First Principles (4, Funny)

Chelloveck (14643) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450884)

First thing to learn: When the web site asks, "Are you at least 18 years of age?" the answer is always "Yes". All else follows from that.

Isn't this obvious? (2)

Haedrian (1676506) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450894)

No seriously. The amount of things I have learnt from researching on the internet...

Anyone who has ever tried to develop any non-trivial piece of software knows all about learning on your own by using the internet. What is the fuss all about? Because its for children instead of adults?

Re:Isn't this obvious? (2)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450974)

No seriously. The amount of things I have learnt from researching on the internet...

...probably seems like a lot, but does not actually go into as much depth as you might think. I know plenty of people who are "self taught" and can do a fine job of hacking together certain types of programs, but they generally do not have deeper insights into the theory behind what they are doing. That might be OK for developing certain classes of applications, but it is usually a disaster for a field like cryptography, and I would not trust someone who was "self taught" to develop safety critical software (think Therac-25).

Re:Isn't this obvious? (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451002)

but does not actually go into as much depth as you might think.

Without knowing where someone learned the information or how they learned it, how could you possibly know this?

but they generally do not have deeper insights into the theory behind what they are doing.

Some people merely aren't capable of teaching themselves and may require help.

Re:Isn't this obvious? (1)

betterunixthanunix (980855) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451074)

Some people merely aren't capable of teaching themselves and may require help.

At a sufficiently advanced level, I would say that statement covers just about everyone, with the only exceptions being prodigies like Ramanujan (who are outliers even among very intelligent people). I know quite a number of people who are "taught themselves" how to program, and like I said, they are generally capable of writing programs, even highly complex programs. Where they tend to fall short are places where subtle insights are critical; for example, they may understand the basic idea behind RSA, but rarely do they understand Blum-Blum-Shub or its security proof, even after reading a lot about it.

I will admit that there is a possible alternative explanation, which is that these same people may have difficulty getting access to material that is readily available to a university student, particularly journal access. This is particularly problematic for older papers that were published before the Internet, and those papers may offer a lot of the very insights I referred to above. However, I am less confident in this explanation, mainly because a lot of the advanced material necessary just to understand a journal article often requires the same sort of subtle insights that people who did not have a good teacher often lack.

Re:Isn't this obvious? (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451154)

At a sufficiently advanced level, I would say that statement covers just about everyone, with the only exceptions being prodigies like Ramanujan (who are outliers even among very intelligent people).

Well, I disagree. It's certainly more than an elite few, but I understand they're a minority. We're talking about them and only them. I believe they should at least have access to the information so that they can learn in ways that suit them best.

for example, they may understand the basic idea behind RSA, but rarely do they understand Blum-Blum-Shub or its security proof, even after reading a lot about it.

If the information is there...

I will admit that there is a possible alternative explanation, which is that these same people may have difficulty getting access to material that is readily available to a university student, particularly journal access.

There are a few instances of advanced topics not being available. This is what I think needs to be corrected.

Re:Isn't this obvious? (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451626)

At a sufficiently advanced level, I would say that statement covers just about everyone, with the only exceptions being prodigies like Ramanujan (who are outliers even among very intelligent people).

Well, I disagree. It's certainly more than an elite few, but I understand they're a minority. We're talking about them and only them. I believe they should at least have access to the information so that they can learn in ways that suit them best.

It's not a small minority, it's practically unheard of. It's not just reading up on the material, it's making connections to other materials and properly predicting what the rest of the material that you haven't yet seen is likely to say. And knowing how to adjust what you've already learned as new information comes into it. Even amongst individuals that are brilliant or have advanced degrees it's pretty rare for a person to legitimately be able to do that without help.

I take it you've never heard the expression: "A little knowledge is a dangerous thing." Because otherwise you'd understand why certain materials are hard to come by. Other than that it's also not particularly worth putting the information online as by the time you're dealing with PhD level research there's maybe a dozen people in the world that really understand the topic of the study.

Re:Isn't this obvious? (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451952)

It's not a small minority, it's practically unheard of.

It is? I didn't know it was such an impossible task, sorry!

It's not just reading up on the material, it's making connections to other materials and properly predicting what the rest of the material that you haven't yet seen is likely to say.

Okay. An intelligent person couldn't do that why exactly?

Even amongst individuals that are brilliant or have advanced degrees it's pretty rare for a person to legitimately be able to do that without help.

Even if you believe that, such people still exist, yes?

Because otherwise you'd understand why certain materials are hard to come by.

You must've missed my point about there having to be a sizable amount of quality information on a subject before self teaching can commence.

Other than that it's also not particularly worth putting the information online as by the time you're dealing with PhD level research there's maybe a dozen people in the world that really understand the topic of the study.

Spreading information is always worthwhile, even if it's only for a few people. I also really doubt that in a world with more than six billion people, there's only a dozen that can use such information. Just because you haven't heard of it doesn't mean these people don't exist or they're extremely rare (or that they exist).

Re:Isn't this obvious? (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451470)

Where they tend to fall short are places where subtle insights are critical; for example, they may understand the basic idea behind RSA, but rarely do they understand Blum-Blum-Shub or its security proof, even after reading a lot about it.

Most professionally educated programmers don't understand it or its security proof either. They may be able to give you the book definition, but if they don't work with it regularly they aren't going to understand it.

The self-taught programmer may not know Blum-Blum-Shub or its security proof, but it is only because he hasn't needed to know it yet. If he ever does need to know it, he is well practiced at learning it on his own, whereas the college educated programmer may have more difficulty, depending on how much their professors spoon-fed them. The best teachers simply ask an interesting question, and require their students to find the answer, either within the class materials or elsewhere.

There is a reason grad school requires increasing amounts of research - often a class consists of "tell me why this works" or "tell me why that doesn't work" or "explain this to me", for concepts of which the student only has a vague understanding. When you get onto a PhD track you are writing more papers than you are listening to lectures. Hell your final test for a PhD is all original research, where you ask a unique and difficult question and then answer it yourself. You get a counselor to help steer you in a good direction, but that's it. A lot of the really important stuff out there isn't in books, and if you don't know how to find it your education will stagnate.

Re:Isn't this obvious? (1)

Cyberax (705495) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451368)

Oh, but you know about Therac-25. And I bet you've read it on the Internet, most likely from an IEEE reprint.

So at least you know that if you're designing a piece of life-critical software, you should not do dumb things. Like actually designing. And that's the point of education.

If tomorrow someone asks me to write software for nuclear reactor control, I'd most likely spend several next years learning about formal software checking and analysis. And even then I'd insist on doing pure mechanical backups.

Welcome to our new overlords! (1)

retech (1228598) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450914)

When this digresses to Lord of the Flies, just remember someone thought this was a good idea.

Re:Welcome to our new overlords! (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451218)

When this digresses to Lord of the Flies, just remember someone thought this was a good idea.

Is there a self-paced course on that book available on the internet?

Fear! (3, Funny)

Hatta (162192) | more than 3 years ago | (#34450916)

Autodidacts are recruiting your children on the web!

Re:Fear! (2)

Hognoxious (631665) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451034)

When the pedagogues [blogspot.com] get involved then it's really time to worry.

Re:Fear! (1)

Velex (120469) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451384)

I'd mod you up but there's no +1, Facepalm. The saddest part of that anecdote is that it's completely believable. The degrees we're supposed to respect the people in power for having are meaningless.

Re:Fear! (2)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451630)

Don't worry, just as long as they're not thespians. You really don't want your kids getting involved in that sort of un-Christian lifestyle.

This IS traditional education for Americans (3, Interesting)

Alan R Light (1277886) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451026)

If you've read John Taylor Gatto's [johntaylorgatto.com] Underground History of American Education [johntaylorgatto.com] you'll know that in the 1800s the people of America were the best educated in the world, and had largely educated themselves.

Re:This IS traditional education for Americans (3, Insightful)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451114)

Can you provide a pin citation to the part of the book that supports this proposition? I really don't feel like digging through an entire book to figure out what you mentioned vaguely. Right now, it sounds more like you're trying to use your post as advertising for the book than to provide useful information.

Re:This IS traditional education for Americans (4, Funny)

Wonko the Sane (25252) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451266)

I really don't feel like digging through an entire book

Clearly autodidactism is not for you.

Re:This IS traditional education for Americans (1)

Sonny Yatsen (603655) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451332)

Autodidact or not, some of us have better things to spend 4 hours digging through a book merely to figure out the point someone alludes to obliquely in a Slashdot post. For the time I waste, I could be learning something far more interesting to me.

Re:This IS traditional education for Americans (4, Interesting)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451648)

I've read it, and autodidacticism is one of the central tenants. In particular he pays a lot of attention to George Washington's self-education, which began around age 12 or 13, if I remember right, and was in full swing by the time he was 16 (when he taught himself surveying). Likely because his formal education ended so early, Washington always felt it was lacking, which he compensated for by continuing his self-education throughout his entire life.

That the man who is arguably the greatest man in American history was self taught is astounding. Mind you he was not a prodigy. He was smart, probably above average, but he was not a natural genius or anything of the sort. In fact most of the educated elite thought he was of moderate intelligence and some had a real problem with his elevated status and position of authority given his lack of formal education.

Gatto's book is definitely worth a read if you want some insight into the public education system (at least in New York) and why it works so poorly in the US.

And I don't see what is wrong with advertising someone's book if you found it insightful. Could you please explain to me the problem? I'll hold off on telling anybody about any books that I like until you do, thanks.

Re:This IS traditional education for Americans (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451772)

tenets

Re:This IS traditional education for Americans (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451634)

Except Gatto uses anecdotes to prove his point. Its very sneaky and sounds really nice. But its not strong scholarship. Its in fact ideologically biased scholarship. Be careful when using Gatto as proof for a point because any decent scholar with access to JStor can debunk him (and you).

I thought we already knew this? (1)

Eggbloke (1698408) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451044)

The Web taught me most of what I know about computers; they don't teach you how to build a computer, use Linux or set up a web-server at school.
If I spent the same amount of time teaching myself stuff using the internet as I spend time at college I would know a lot. The trouble is finding the motivation and focus. (I'm looking at you reddit and Slashdot)

The problem is that simply knowing something is not enough, you can be an expert on something but unless you have the exams to prove it you aren't going to get a job in that field.

First things first (5, Insightful)

cdrguru (88047) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451046)

The problem in the USA today isn't a lack of quality teaching and quality schools or even a lack of quality curriculum. It is an attitude that doing well in school is for social outcast nerds and to be cool you have to ignore school and learning in general.

This is popularized by the hip-hop culture as well as other aspects of the currrent pop culture.

Contrast this with Asian children that are expected - no, required - to do well in school by their parents. Who is in the top of nearly all technology-oriented university programs? Asians. Why? Because they are getting the grades and it counts. Both for just "learning stuff" and getting a job later.

We can continue with a culture that will obviously lead to a nation like Idiocracy. Or we can change things. Feel-good programs where everyone gets a prize and self-directed learning isn't going to make the kind of change that is needed.

Asians also cheat / do group work a lot in schools (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451136)

Asians also cheat / do group work on stuff that they should being doing on there own a lot in schools.

Re:Asians also cheat / do group work a lot in scho (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451440)

Asians also cheat / do group work on stuff that they should being doing on there own a lot in schools.

You are clearly a product of the American school system. Jealous much?

Re:Asians also cheat / do group work a lot in scho (1)

Bigjeff5 (1143585) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451700)

Ah, so that's why they can come to the US and outperform their native schoolmates, even though they don't yet have a firm grasp on the language!

It explains everything!

Oh wait, no it doesn't.

If that were the problem, then the US wouldn't rank 40+ countries behind the Asian countries. They must have an inferior education, even though they obviously know a lot more, because they didn't do it on their own!

Did you ever think that perhaps doing group work may be more beneficial than doing solo work?

Re:Asians also cheat / do group work a lot in scho (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451726)

Your write Ive herd that befour.

Re:First things first (1)

cheekyjohnson (1873388) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451214)

The problem in the USA today isn't a lack of quality teaching and quality schools or even a lack of quality curriculum.

This, too. I feel that schools need to focus more on what you actually need (in high school), and not on things that they merely think you'll need in the future. Instead of making you attend a bunch of classes that you won't need for your desired profession, they should (again, in high school) let you choose the classes that matter to you. Early on you can be taught the absolute basics. Forcing them to attend classes of every subject isn't helping them because you forget things that you don't need surprisingly quickly, and you'd have to relearn it anyway. Not only that, but people would likely be able to put more effort into subjects that actually matter to them.

Feel-good programs where everyone gets a prize and self-directed learning isn't going to make the kind of change that is needed.

Maybe not, but it will allow people who are capable of teaching themselves to do just that. More options are always nice, even if those options don't suit everyone.

Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451638)

What culture haven't you stereotyped and offended in that post?

Re:First things first (1)

cvnautilus (1793340) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451704)

"Feel-good programs where everyone gets a prize and self-directed learning isn't going to make the kind of change that is needed." Exactly. High school in the US is much to easy to graduate. I will never understand how some people managed to get diplomas, and yet still know essentially nothing about the world around them.

Re:First things first (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451734)

This stereotype buys into the propaganda that the Asian countries want you to believe. Good job. Anyone that has actually worked with Asians knows they're nothing special. They often lack creative thought. They cheat, steal, lie, whatever, then act clueless about it when you call them on it.

what they are learning (0)

circletimessquare (444983) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451062)

1. what group's slogan is "because none of us are as cruel as all of us"

2. what do 2 girls do with 1 cup?

3. who is pedobear? who is /b/?

3. go to the mudkip page on encyclopedia dramatica. describe the brain damage you are experiencing

Taught myself computers this way (5, Interesting)

Stele (9443) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451064)

I was in 5th grade and our school had just gotten a TRS-80, the first computer I ever saw. Nobody in the school knew what to do with it - it just sat in the library. I and another kid in my class had reputations for being smart and inquisitive - the principal actually brought me broken radios and tape players and things to take apart.

Anyway, the school would send me and the other kid to the library once a day while the class did other stuff, and we taught ourselves to program the computer together, figuring out how to get the tape player working, storing our programs, etc.

That set me up for the rest of my life. In 10th grade (1986-7) I taught myself C while the rest of the class learned Pascal. By the time I got to college I knew more about programming than most of the professors.

Dropped out in 1992 and the rest is history.

I am grateful to the school system I was in (SW Virginia no less) to encourage and support my interest in such gadgetry, and to have the opportunity to learn things at my own pace. It works when done right.

Re:Taught myself computers this way (2)

Eil (82413) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451526)

I think it's great that you were actively encouraged by your school's faculty to learn about things that you were interested in at an early age. There should be more of this. Understand, however, that your case is the extremely rare exception. The high school that I attended had computers, but it was always made very clear that they were only to be used under direct adult supervision and only for completing assignments in class. That meant no games, no programming, no tinkering of any sort. The computers weren't even networked to each other, let alone the Internet. The only satisfaction I ever got out of my high school computer classes was that after a while, my classmates started asking me for help when stuck on something, even when the teacher was standing right there.

American public schools are quite deliberately modeled after automobile assembly lines. Get the kids in, slap a minimum amount of knowledge on them, and get them out the door. In order for a student to really learn anything, they have to take the initiative do self-directed study on their own time. (Or hire a tutor, but that's not usually a realistic option for low- to middle-income families.)

Re:Taught myself computers this way (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451886)

I am grateful to the school system I was in (SW Virginia no less) to encourage and support my interest in such gadgetry, and to have the opportunity to learn things at my own pace. It works when done right.

This is of course the Montessori method, which is the reason we have Google and can now teach children to more easily teach themselves.

TED talk by Sugata Mitra (3, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451092)

http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/lang/eng/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html

OMFG!eleventy-whatever (1)

TDyl (862130) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451200)

I'd never have guessed that children could educate themselves, I was always under the impression that whichever book I read as a school-kid would only entertain me not educate me; how I missed out on so much. ;(

It does strike me that so much education is now based on parents or teachers beliefs and requirements rather than trying to give our kids an un-biased, stable view of history and science (as well as a damn good grounding in English spelling and grammar). All too often I see the politicians in the UK messing with the curriculum and tweaking things to get the best results, when all, in effect, they are doing is creating university entrants with biased positions on history and science, kids not knowing exactly what is is they excel in and a generation (after generation et. cetera) that is dominated by belief rather than proof.

I have no problem with any of the education I had in the 60's and early 70's as that was a full, unbiased and rounded education with no crap from religious groups or politico's trying to score points from voters; because of that I know I had a decent education, even though a lot has been re-written with new discoveries in archaeology and the disparate sciences.

Sorry.

Re:OMFG!eleventy-whatever (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451264)

I'd never have guessed that children could educate themselves, I was always under the impression that whichever book I read as a school-kid would only entertain me not educate me; how I missed out on so much

Next you'll be telling me that newborn babies can actually learn things without being taght, things like language and how basic physics work. Yeah right...

Re:OMFG!eleventy-whatever (1)

TDyl (862130) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451328)

I'm not sure of the differences between UK and US (or maybe Canadian) ed systems, but even at an earlier age than starting primary school in the 60's I was on the head-mistresses "advanced reading group" and was educating myself through reading.

Your comment about babies is disengenuous and insulting to those of us that know how to read and assimilate that information - albeit that the books we were reading were slightly more basic than "Janet & John Discover the Nature of Black Holes and form a coherent theory of Everything".

Re:OMFG!eleventy-whatever (1)

noidentity (188756) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451768)

I figured my sarcasm was evident previously. Babies are amazing sponges of everything around them, far more than they will ever be when older. If anything, I think we vastly short-change them, due to our feeling that we're adults and always know better.

Re:OMFG!eleventy-whatever (1)

hedwards (940851) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451806)

In the US system, they give kids tests really freaking early, like at age 6 or 7 and then based on the results will segregate the kids that are expected to do well from those that get the standard treatment. The problem is that a lot of kids are still developing at that age, and it gives an advantage to early learners at the expense of those that take a couple years to get there. That wouldn't be so bad if there were actual evidence to back the premise that early learners do better later on.

The unfortunate consequence is that if you're not fortunate enough to do well on those tests you're largely left to languish and there's little chance of getting into the programs later as the basic education lacks the rigor to allow for that.

And with the increasing focus on giving more and more homework combined with the crushing load of extra curricular activities which is being encouraged so that kids can get into college, I suspect that learning on ones own is going to be going the way of the dodo in the near future.

Personally, very little of what I know came from school up till college. Then I had to bust my ass to catch up on all the things that the primary system was supposed to teach, but didn't.

Maybe not? (1)

DaMattster (977781) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451460)

While autodidacticism is a great idea, learning from the internet is not necessarily a great idea because data on the internet can be replete with factual errors or even information designed to be biased towards one point of view. Wikipedia comes up against this problem quite often. You don't want a sixth or seventh stumbling on some web pages proclaiming that the holocaust was a myth and then believing that to be true. My point is that, while self education is a good idea, it does need guidance so that information learned is accurate and we are not learning to hatred.

Everything you need to know is a Google away. (1)

cvnautilus (1793340) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451556)

"On their own, children can get about 30% of the knowledge required to pass exams..." Only 30%? These kids must really suck at Googling. It's kind of terrifying to imagine public schools instilling hatred of learning using the internet, like they've taught hatred of other kinds of learning.

That would be me. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#34451560)

I'm 17 and I've been doing this since I left public school in third grade. So I think I'm pretty qualified to say that, in fact, self-directed learning almost purely via the internet Actually Works. I'm familiar with calculus and a multitude of fun areas in abstract algebra, have taught myself to fluency in several programming languages, have built a 3D game from the ground up, and --as far as I can tell-- have a much broader general range of knowledge than almost everyone I talk to. Two years ago I taught myself the basics of modern cryptography and successfully explained Diffie-Hellman key exchange to a group of 12-year-olds. I've won debates with political science professors on the importance of WikiLeaks. And I got high-fived the other day by somebody I've never met because he overheard me working linguistic relativity into ordinary conversation. Pretty much everything I know I've learned from Wikipedia, specialty websites and comment threads on various blogs (including but not limited to Slashdot, thankfully).

There's a lot of information out there just waiting for ready minds to come find it.

Kids are autodidacts by definition... (1)

crovira (10242) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451742)

All you can do is to ensure that there is enough material and of a diverse enough nature that they get exposed to a wide variety of subjects/topics and then can dive into what ever interests them.

My parents didn't have an internet but we did have a library at home and access to a public library.

They fostered curiosity, inquisitiveness and risk evaluation (should I or shouldn't I?) by example.

NO KNOWLEDGE IS BAD, BUT HAVING NO KNOWLEDGE IS BAD.

The end result is that I am sitting here in my home-office on my duff while most of my friends growing up are unemployed or stuck in dead-end thankless jobs just waiting for the next round of pay cuts, or dead.

Both of my parents are dead now but none of us were prepared for Bush and the idiocy of letting the fools at the bank take risks like they did on financial instruments like derivatives.

By the rule of 72, (72 divided by the real percentage of interest that I can get for my savings) it now takes 36 years for the value of my assets to double (longer than I've got left to live statistically,) so what I've got now is all I'll ever have, and I still have to live, eat and pay NJ real-estate taxes. (This last item means I'm not going to make it and will have to sell at some point, hopefully not before the new WTC complex across the river is up which would raise my condo's value...)

Life fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse... I'm nought for three unfortunately.

Pass Exams? (1)

tomhath (637240) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451856)

On their own, children can get about 30% of the knowledge required to pass exams

This quote is very telling. Education isn't (or at least shouldn't be) focused on passing the exam. It should teach students how to think on their own, how to recognize and solve problems they've ever seen before.

So much today is oriented toward answering the test or interview questions. I see many programmers who are experts in a particular IDE and programming language, but who are helpless once they get outside that specific tool set. These people tend to be terrible designers as well, they simply can't go someplace where they don't have the answer memorized.

Taught how to learn (1)

AllWorkAndNoPlay (1952586) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451924)

The biggest advantage I see to teaching oneself is the ability to do the exercises and research necessary to learn the content in a way that stimulates the individual. So much of the reason school can be boring and "uncool" is because teacher-generated assignments of repetitive activities don't take into account how an individual child needs to learn to be effective. Using the internet without any direction will probably lead to a lot of misguided, over-opinionated kids, but using some internet coursework repository as your basis seems like the way to go.

A few pointers for self-learning (3, Interesting)

presidenteloco (659168) | more than 3 years ago | (#34451968)

When you are ready, study the more formal parts of modern philosophy
(epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of science), to acquire the
meta-level skills necessary to understand what knowledge is, and what
its properties are, before you try to load up on too much specific knowledge.

Also, study some westernized writings on Zen philosophy, to the level at which you
understand its relationship to the other above-mentioned aspects of modern
philosophy. When you understand the significance of the dividing of the world
by the cutting strokes of the knife, you may be ready to start learning a few specifics.

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