I would like to say all philosophers agree with this statement, but it wouldn’t be philosophy if there were at least some dissenters.
So why did I start this article with a joke about philosophy?
Mark Cuban recently said that he believed that in ten years, STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics), Accounting and other applied degrees that teach specific skills would become less valuable than those that teach you to look at the big picture.
His reasoning for the suggestion is sound.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) isn’t just automating factories; its also automating offices and cutting down staff requirements. Why? Because simple AI is taking care of the mundane, repetitive tasks that can be easily automated even without the need for sophisticated AI. If current trends continue, there is a reason to believe that Mark Cuban is right in advising that students of the future move away from applied degrees to programs and courses that are designed to get you to think better.
Learning how to think better, argue better, and choose better are all great skills! How to be sceptical of personal experience AND data … how to think independently to find the best way – not just the suggested way. Replacing mental shortcuts with effective thought and critical thinking.
But along with the shift in what to study, there is also a revolution well underway in how we are studying and may study in the future.
Subjects that teach specific skills like R programming statistics are often easier to learn at your pace, and at a distance. That is not to say that face-to-to face teaching is not beneficial.
However, the rise of e-Learning (online learning and distance learning) and its effectiveness in teaching specific skills is on the board agenda under “Causes of Concern” for many universities. Indeed, per Mark Cuban’s suggestions, universities too are looking to return to the “good old days” when everything had a basis or reference to philosophy. The days where the elites attended and worked to excel, not because they thought their university degree would guarantee them a job but also – through a value of personal growth – to improve themselves.
And right now, for simply learning skills, e-Learning is winning over universities in the cost-benefit analysis and all signs point to this trend continuing. Low cost, high benefit. And in this equation, we also often include the cost of time. Time to get to Uni, time to network, time for the lecturer’s “small-talk” and time to get back again. E-Learning cuts all this out.
Let’s return for a moment to the statement with which I opened my article: every degree that’s not philosophy is just applied philosophy. Historically, philosophy was the only education provided at university. Everything else stemmed from it and added domain-specific skills and knowledge to branch out into their own limb in the tree of education. But at the heart of almost all subjects is the Big Picture that philosophy teaches you to see. Perhaps that is the future of education and universities. People will go to university to learn how to think and then they will undertake to learn specific skills at their own pace through e-Learning or on the job training. Surely, as we move forward into the brave new world of automation and AI, our ability to philosophise is our foundation for thought, conviction, reasoning and (un)common sense!
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