This week I'm thinking about formal vs informal education, that is, comparing the kind of education you can get at college —grounded in theory, going through the traditional curriculum— to just learning as you go —maybe from tutorials, or actual work experience.
Is formal education clearly a superior (or inferior) way of learning?
What do you think?
I think is just an insufficient way of learning. Formal education alone is not enough. But it's an important piece. Is it a must? I don't think so, but is definitely a big plus.
Ideally: Formal Education + Supplemental Learning.
It's hard for many people to separate the cost of formal education from the equation. Going to college here in the U.S. to get a CS degree can leave you with $150,000 - $250,000 in debt.
Is that worth it?
My formal education taught me how to structure, how to conduct research, how to formulate ideas, how to experiment properly, how to work alone and with others, and other basic skills. I believe acquiring these skills elsewhere would be quite challenging. As for the remaining skills, including most of the ones I have utilized in my professional career, they were obtained informally. Furthermore, this learning process never stops and should never stop. Even after retirement, I spend at least half of my time engaging in learning activities simply for the joy of it.
The obvious answer is "it various from person-to-person", but I think it's important to examine why. The monopolisation of our time for work today leaves very little room for education, let alone the energy for tackling complex topics that require structured (if self-guided) learning, even when it's made accessible through the Internet. It's always funny to see people talking about how many books Mark Zuckerberg or Bill Gates read every week without reflecting on how on earth they have the time! Formal education is great more because it allows you to dedicate your time and energy more completely to learning than because it's inherently better from a pedagogical point of view.