I like doing thought experiments because they can reveal a lot about why we do the things we do. Today, I’d like to propose a simple thought experiment for all the students reading here:
What if you never graduated from university?
Not that you would drop out, but simply that you could never complete your degree program. Here are a few immediate consequences that spring to mind:
- You would never get a diploma. Nobody would ever hand you a piece of paper declaring your knowledge in a particular field.
- You would never stop going to classes.
- You would need to balance education with earning an income. Classes cost money, or at the very least, don’t pay you (excluding scholarships). Therefore living would mean striking a balance with your perpetual school work and income demands.
- University wouldn’t be a “phase”. Rather than just being a bizarre time in your life segregated with your peers away from the “real world”, school would just be another facet of regular life. Like going to the gym or doing laundry.
This is Happening Now
I bring up this thought experiment because I believe something close to this may be the reality very soon for more people.
With universities increasingly offering so-called “open courseware”  and the abundance of self-education resources on the web, it seems likely that there will emerge a class of people who never leave the educational setting.
Sure, these people will need careers and face the demands of regular life, so I think the Van Wilder-esque  stereotype of the perpetual student isn’t accurate. But, I do foresee, with increasing access to cheap self-education material, the numbers of Renaissance men and women who are deeply educated will increase.
How Will You Compete?
Admittedly, just as most people today haven’t touched a book after school, most people will continue to treat learning as a 4-year program. But even if this shift in the ease and quality in self-education resources increases the autodidacts from 0.2% to 1%, you’d still have 5x as many people wildly knowledgeable about almost everything.
I think this shift is really raising the bar for what will be expected of people to compete in a modern world. Mediocre skill and partial education aren’t going to cut it when a kid from Mumbai can accumulate a PhD’s worth of knowledge from the web.
However, I think for most the people here, this represents a fantastic opportunity. Many of the people here are interested in ruthless self-education and working on the slow and hard path to mastery. I think if any group will benefit from these shifts, it’s probably the typical profile of the person reading this blog.
Tim Ferriss helped popularize the concept of the 4-Hour Workweek  by offering readers a thought experiment: what if you could never retire? Considering the layoffs, recession and struggling pension plans, that isn’t so farfetched in today’s world.
So I want you to consider an alternate hypothesis: that the world expects you never to graduate from school (at least, unofficially). That you may never reach a point where your life transitions from learn to work, and instead is always a mix.
How would you live in such a world? Do you already? I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts in the comments.