Closing the Gap Between Technology and Learning

Bret Swanson

The price of information plummets. Yet the price of education soars. These two trends cannot both continue. Guess which will crack first. Former keynote Bret Swanson weighs in.  

Apple’s digital textbook venture, launched yesterday in New York, is just the latest attempt to bridge a yawning gulf between technology and learning. It’s still the beginning. The gulf is so large, it will take decades and thousands of experiments to cross. But we’ve begun, and things will move fast.

Student loan debt now stands around $1 trillion. Education is often a great investment – but the proposition is more in question every day. Higher education prices increased 440% over the last 25 years – four times the rate of inflation, and twice as bad as health care. Elementary and secondary ed prices have skyrocketed, too, with not even adequate outcomes.

On the other side of the ledger is the Moore’s law ecosystem, the most ruthless force in technology and the world economy. Last quarter Netflix streamed two billion hours worth of video – or 228,000 years worth in three months. In just the last week of December, smartphone and tablet owners gobbled up 1.2 billion apps – 43% by Americans. Twenty years ago, a terabyte hard drive, if such a thing had existed, might have cost $5 million. Today, you can pick one up for $69.