What an Instant-Edu machine might do to Education

The last two scifi novels I’ve read coincidentally both had a machine that can upload several years of education to your brain in a matter of hours. I was ruminating on what the effect would be on education if we invented the instant-edu machine today.

Imagine you could instant-edu the Harvard Business School syllabus in a few hours. HBS’s 2010 revenue was $467 million. The 2011 MBA program has 937 students.  My HBS graduate friends tell me that it’s not about the education, it’s about the networking opportunities. So in the case of HBS, the instant-edu machine would not replace the experience, because really the HBS MBA program is quite possibly the most expensive and time consuming business networking program in the world.

So how would HBS adapt to the instant-edu machine? They might revise the $102,000 tuition fees down slightly since all data contained in textbooks will simply be uploaded in a matter of hours.

Since all documented parts of the syllabus will be instantly absorbed by all students, networking will be the core activity. But students won’t spend the time helping each other retain knowledge because it will already be retained. Instead they would focus on innovating using the knowledge they’ve gained. Throughout the 2 year period, they could innovate in different settings. One class might drop LSD and see if a new interpretation arises. Another might use debate to provoke innovative arguments or solutions.

Or perhaps institutions like Harvard will disappear over time and we will revert to the 17th century Persian coffee house scene where thinkers are free to gather for the price of a cup of coffee and share and debate ideas and come up with new ones. Perhaps each coffee shop could have their own football team…