Education In A Digital Age

Chialin Yu
3 min readFeb 4, 2020
The Vitruvian Man

During the holidays I got unsolicited ads each day on anything from a Dyson hairdryer to a discounted subscription at MasterClass on my social media pages. Growing up in Asia, the world of online classes feels like family. I’ve been taking classes outside of school since I was 10 years old (contrary to popular beliefs: not as a result of my Asian parents) to either get better grades at school or to learn things that are deemed “valuable” skills in Asian societies, like watercolor paintings, languages or crafts. As a result, for the past decade, I’ve had the fortune of being a direct witness of how online learning as an industry has evolved and changed. Many platforms that I’ve personally used (New Oriental, Duolingo, Coursera) have grown from small enterprises to internationally trusted brands, and the social awareness of all-around learning and the amount of capitals flowing into companies empowering access to knowledge greater than ever. While the mere presence of platforms like Duolingo and Coursera is enough to excite me, I’m acutely aware that not all virtual learning platforms can be successful.

MasterClass boasts of classes taught by “masters” across different fields

There is an overflow of contents online. Search any topic and there’s probably 100+ free youtube tutorials, pages of online instructions and of course, WikiHow. The point is, certain knowledge has been made super accessible over time by technology — I don’t need a teacher to walk me through how to knit a sweater or how to make pancakes. I consider anything that can be learned once and for all and doesn’t proportionally improve over practices or time “low barrier knowledge”. And online searches are perfect for those. I can spend 5 minutes in my room to learn how to write a decent resume or how to braid my hair. Why would I ever pay?

There are also lessons that don’t get better with virtual teachers. For example, wilderness survival (which is a course that Outschool offers to kids) and languages. These knowledge either requires accumulations of real life experiences (i.e. fight a bear 10 times in a row) or a constant, tailored feedback system, and a virtual environment at its best will give you just a sense of what it’s like but never how to perfectly execute (which is why I’m bullish on…