UX Must Revolutionize Education

During a Q&A session at the June Virtual UKCS conference, Jacob Nielsen shared his thoughts on what he believes to be the most important long term challenge for the U.S. profession. Here’s what he had to say.

Redefining education is really a really major challenge. And this, I would say, three different ways in which this is an interesting problem. And so the first one is actually very internally focused, which is U.S. education, because it’s really terrible, to be honest.

The university level education. First of all, most investors don’t even have any any degrees of programs in our field. So you’ve got to, like, study something else and then kind of try to change, which is a waste of time. But even when people study it, they still don’t really learn it well enough. And there’s a lot of waste of time getting there. I could tell you that every time we get interns, we’re going to, like, teach them how to do user testing because really, really how to facilitate a user, it’s not something they they they learn at school. And this is I mean, we hire interns from places like like Peking University, Tsinghua in the Institute of Technology. I mean, these are places I would have a hard time getting into.

Harvard had to study hard to pass the entrance exams to those places. And yet, you know, when we get the students, we’ve got to teach them. That needs to really improve U.S. education. But more broadly speaking, the other two, that, of course, more important for society at large. And that’s, first of all, all Canada, the kind of elementary or high school type of that, that level of education where I’m sure there will be a there might be a remote pathway continues in the long run. In the short run, for sure. The way it’s done now, we know that the kids aren’t really learning that much right now. So that needs to to change. But just generally speaking, we also need to improve and take advantage of the various technologies because that has not really been done properly until now. It’s very, very primitive use of computers in education. And then when you go to higher education, that’s when I think that can be really, really major changes that will be needed. Because when you think about the future, one of the things I think is very, very, very likely to happen is accelerating change.

So things will change more and more and more and more. And that means that you cannot have this model where people go to college and they get like pumped up with some knowledge for four years while they’re in the sort of age from like 18 to 22 or something like that. Well, 18 to 22 is interesting because that’s like exactly the age of like peak fluid intelligence, because 20 years is like when people on average has the highest fluid intelligence, which the ability to kind of make sense of of new things. And so it’s an optimum period for for absorbing information for sure that age. And that’s probably why in most all societies, that’s the age to go to university. It doesn’t really work for for for older people. You don’t have time and you are, as in my age or any other age to really go go away for four years. And the way it’s done, I mean, the technology, if you want to call it, hasn’t really changed is the age of Socrates, you know, in ancient Greece. And that’s fine if all the professors and teachers were as pedagogical as Socrates and if all the students were as smart as Plato, you know, then that method works fine. Right? But that’s not the case. Most professors are terrible teachers and most students are not super smart anymore because a very broad percentage of the population is going to universities. So we just need other ways of teaching.

But I think in particular ways of helping people through a lifelong learning, really, I guess, but also to say as they get older, have the ability to learn new things that they need for the changing society. Because, I mean, the alternative is that, you know, new things come up. The old things people know how to do is no longer needed. So, bang, you’re fired. Well, so then what everybody says, well, you’re just like retrain and get another job. But and so in terms of the economy, that works fine because there will be new jobs created. That’s why the change happens, that new things come up. And I don’t know what the new thing will be in ten years or something.

So there’ll be some jobs. But the problem is that the people who long ago learn stuff that’s no longer needed, they’re not going to know the new thing. And so how do they get to know the new thing? That and that’s the big question. Right. And so that’s where we need to really find better ways of doing that. And that I would say that has always been a been a problem. But I do think that in the future, because that accelerating change, it’s going to be a much more deep field problem. And if we want to avoid, you know, like mass unemployment. We’ve got to actually allow people to adapt to new new new changes and new new skills, and that cannot be done in any efficient manner with the old fashioned methodology that’s optimized for for you very young people from 18 to 22 who have these kind of malleable brains.

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