Response to Scott Young’s TEDx Video

Posted on June 27, 2012 by

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Scott Young is a 23 year old blogger who has posted almost 900 articles on his blog and already self-published several books.  Some of the topics he tackles on his blog include rapid learning, habit forming and philosophy.

In addition to writing and managing his blog he is currently attempting to complete the entire curriculum of a MIT Computer Science degree through self-study and online lectures.  That particular project landed him a spot at a TED event giving the talk, “Can You Get an MIT Education for Less than $2,000?”

I recently watched this video and found it interesting in so many different ways that I had to write a blog post responding to it.

“So, if you have been watching the news lately you have probably seen… …students protesting because their government is cutting subsidies to education.”

When I discovered the wearethe99percent tumblr I was surprised to see how many people were angry about the huge amount of student loans they had collected and the lack of opportunities available to them in the workforce.

Occupy Wall Street protesters also seem to focus a lot of energy on this issue.

“Getting a college education just doesn’t cost what it use to.”

The bubble we are seeing in the education market is putting the internet and real estate bubbles to shame.

I am no economist but I have a theory:

1) There is a belief that everyone must go to college or they will not be successful in life.

2) The government has provided almost unlimited cheap debt for people to go to college.

3) The cost to go to college has consistently outpaced inflation.

4) People are increasingly realizing the decision to go to college was not a good investment.

Now try replacing “go to college” with “own a home” and you can see that we have a problem developing here.

“Employers are demanding an educated workforce.  They want employees with complex analytical skills.”

I think most people would agree that college doesn’t teach people the skills they need to be successful in the workplace.  The model is still built around the idea of a well-rounded education that exposes students to an assortment of topics and disciplines.

Rather than focusing on developing specific areas of expertise and teaching project management and communication skills they are still selling the “college experience.”

Still, it is one of the few filters employers currently use to sort the pool of prospective employees.  If a student can complete an undergraduate degree then employers know they have the basic abilities to learn and adapt to new topics and complete a long-term project.

“After graduating [with a business degree] I have no regrets.  I learned a lot and I had a great time, but after finishing my education I had this longing for the path not taken.”

This is a slippery slope and I hope that Scott doesn’t hope to find happiness at the end of this proverbial rainbow.  I have been down this road myself.

After finishing my degree in Biomedical Engineering I got a job as an engineer designing surgical instruments.  While working in that position I decided to go back to school part-time and get an MBA.  After finishing that degree I switched from engineering to sales and while working in that field I considered going to Law School, Med School and for a short stint PA (physcian’s assistant) school.

Now I am working as an engineer again while teaching myself how to play guitar and write.

Each time I fell in love with the idea of learning more or doing something different.  It wasn’t until recently that I realized that my passion to learn would never be quenched.

There will always be another path “not taken.”

“Would it be possible to get an MIT education in Computer Science without ever going to MIT?”

While I understand the challenge he set for himself, I don’t really understand the purpose.

If he wanted to get access to a career that a Computer Science degree from MIT would offer, then he probably needs the actual degree.

If he wanted to design and write his own software, then he probably didn’t need to do the entire curriculum.

He says he wanted his education “a la carte” but then he went with the “prix fixe.”

“The professor would give a talk to  classroom of over 300 students.  If I didn’t understand something it was up to me to learn it.”

I had this exact experience in college and it is one of the reasons I never attended class on a regular basis.  In addition I found lectures to be the least efficient way for me to learn new subjects and favored reading the text book, class notes and doing practice problems and exams with solutions sets in hand.

“I need to go into the geeky realm of personal productivity.  There is a tool called a Time Log.  Jot down the starting and stopping time of everything you do.  The results can be eye opening.”

I started tracking time a couple years ago and it has been a really “eye-opening” experience for me too.  Once you realize how much time you waste on a daily basis and how much you can accomplish with some basic time management tricks it really opens the door to all kinds of opportunities.

I have used my time efficiency to learn guitar, write more and be a better father and husband.

“People do assignments because they have to.  If you are struggling with a concept why wait weeks to get your answers back.  When I would do hard MIT assignments I would do the questions with the solution key in hand, one question at a time.  Because it is tight feedback loops like this that cognitive scientist consider critical for learning.”

This was my preferred way to study for all my STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) exams.  The goal of the assignment is to learn how to solve a typical version of the problem.  If you don’t have the ability to quickly check your work and make adjustments on the next example your ability to learn the concept will be slowed.

What’s next for Scott Young?

I would like to reiterate how impressed I am of what Scott has accomplished in such a short period of time.  I have no idea what he plans to do with all this new knowledge but I know that I will keep following his blog to see where it takes him.

I worry that most companies are still too conservative to accept an applicant without the “official” credentials.  That being said, I am not worried about Scott achieving success.  He has proven he has enough self-motivation, intelligence and entrepreneurial spirit to blaze his own trail.

Maybe in a couple more years he will be in a position to begin hiring his own employees and then he can make his own rules.