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The Disturbing Reality: How I Learned More at one TEDx Conference than a Quarter in College

On 10, Dec 2012 | One Comment | In Education | By Daniel Kao

It’s been about a week since I attended TEDx San Diego, and I’m still thinking about the inspiration and ideas that were shared at the conference.

TEDx San Diego

In case you aren’t familiar with TED talks that are slowly popping up everywhere, feel free to check them out. You won’t be disappointed. I promise.

I stumbled across TEDx San Diego while browsing the internet one day, and decided that I would like to go to one of these conferences at some point in my life. Coming across the TEDx San Diego page, I promptly noticed that I would be in San Diego at that time, and filled out an application. (Yes, you must apply in order to attend a TEDx Conference)

I applied, thinking that I probably wouldn’t get in seeing as I had applied late, and probably wasn’t the hyper-entrepreneur that other people probably were. But when I received the acceptance letter, I quickly paid my $100 for a ticket.

TEDx was incredible. To say the least. The way that the speakers engaged with the audience on levels ranging from emotional to intellectual was nothing short of mindblowing.

I learned about and connected with people who had inspirational life stories, people who were making a difference socially in the world, people who were researching new technologies such as thought controlled computing, and people who were musical prodigies. There were people who were teaching entrepreneurship in prisons, people who were educating homeless children, authors who wrote countless bestseller books, researchers learning about indigenous African tribes, engineers who are creating contact lenses with a computer chip on them, and so many more.

It felt amazing sitting in an auditorium surrounded by people who were so captivated and willing to learn and understand what each speaker was talking about. Each session lasted approximately an hour and a half, but the day felt like it went by in a breath.

It was a seven hour conference packed with 33 talks, all of which struck different intellectual and emotional chords.

I’ll admit, $100 does seem like a fairly steep price for a single day conference, especially if you have no income of your own. But all things considered, tuition for college currently is nearly $100 a day, and that’s not including overpriced cafeteria food and cramped housing.

In terms of marketing and target audience, I’ve noticed that colleges have to appeal different aspects to a number separate audiences.

Firstly to parents, who will mostly be willing to pay anything, even if it means putting them or their child into absurd amounts of debt. This is because most people have the assumption that a college degree means more opportunities in the future. (There are many things wrong with this view, which I have covered in previous posts, and will probably elaborate more in a future post.) This is why college rankings have become so popular. They provide a way for people to somehow judge one institution as better than another. And since parents usually play a significant role in the college selection process, and they aren’t the ones actually attending the school, rankings seem to make a lot of sense.

Secondly to prospective students, who have mostly grown up believing the same thing about college, causing many to act in similar ways to their parents regarding college. But college is four years of the student’s life, other aspects, such as location, social life, and campus facilities must be marketed in order to attract students.

Since parents and students are so set on college, college becomes a fairly inelastic service in general, meaning that many students will attend no matter what the cost. Thus, colleges are willing to charge more in order to have money to make their university more appealing, by spending it on things that are appealing to the students, rather than the education itself.

That’s why it is so easy to go through a class without actually learning anything, because all you have to do is look good on paper, which is very surface level learning.

But I’ll admit, living on a college campus and being constantly surrounded by other people is definitely a life changing experience. It would be perfect if only it was cheaper and the education was more practical and engaging.

I’ve gone through the first quarter of college, indubitably with a lot of growth and new experiences, but utterly dissatisfied at the quality of education I’ve received up to this point. It was disturbing to me that a conference like TED was able to teach me so much more in one afternoon than college classes were able to teach me in ten weeks.

Within my thinking and pondering, these are aspects of education that are significant in how much you learn.

Community - When a people understand that learning never ends, they will surround themselves with people they can learn from, because often your friends and family prove to be the greatest influence for someone to learn. TEDx is a diverse community with people from all stages of life, coming together to share ideas and learn from each other. People suddenly become much more willingly to be friendly and meet new people, because they are always ready to learn new things from other people.

The reason why a community like TED is more conducive to learning and simply a more “rich” community is what brings the community together. Schools and current educational systems build communities based on graduation year, field of study, honors or regular tracks, etc, but TED builds a community based off of ideas, interest, and inspiration, allowing a much more organic and natural process of learning. And while people still sit and listen to speakers, the speakers are simply individuals with a practical tip to share.

Knowledge - With the accessibility of information on the internet, people no longer have to go to college to gain an in-depth understanding of a specific subject. In addition, most schools are teaching material out of textbooks that may be years old from a single individual known as teacher or professor. In a classroom environment, students accept that knowledge is held by the person lecturing, and so how much students learn is dependent on how much that single professor can teach or assign.

When people start realizing how knowledge is actually contained collectively in people as a whole, knowledge becomes so much more accessible. Now, instead of learning from a single individual, you learn from many. This creates a much more diverse and vast knowledge base because everyone is challenged to think for themselves instead of trying to memorize everything one person says.

Inspiration - When was the last time you felt inspired by a class or a professor? Probably only a couple of times. When was the last time you felt burdened by a class or a professor? Probably every single other time. In a community such as TED, people inspire others to do great things. That’s because you connect with people with real stories to learn instead of papers and quizzes.

Perhaps the only inspiration abundant in schools comes in the form of desperation to not fail out. This desperation, or fear, is generally the cause of students stressing out over exams and papers, and also explains why procrastination is so prevalent. Procrastination is simply a lack of motivation to get something done in the present time. Procrastination therefore, is indicative of a lack of inspiration.

When a standardized measuring stick of success is removed, people begin to notice that inspiration becomes the positive motivator that will accomplish what the negative motivator of fear could not. Schools force performance by setting a minimum that must be accomplished, instead of inspiring performance by showing what can be accomplished.

With all that said, I believe that it’s time for some educational reforms, in order to push students to a deeper method that emphasizes learning rather than performance on standardized measurements.

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  1. Engineer

    Alas, I’m afraid you didn’t learn anything at TEDx. TED specializes in Inspiration Porn. Don’t confuse porn with having sex or even having a relationship. You’re making that confusion here. TED is about emotional and political manipulation to produce a feeling in you – the same way porn visually manipulates you– but it doesn’t actually teach you anything.

    I’m a harsh critic of colleges as well- they suck, but still I imagine you actually learned more knowledge in a quarter at a college than you would at TED.

    But skip both of those methods of substitution and go learn yourself. You have some interest- go follow it. Go be an apprentice. Go start a company.

    Learn by doing. Not by sitting.

    But don’t delude yourself that getting a feeling is the same as learning.

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