How much is that piece of paper in the window?

Four years at MIT cost about $250,000 all in. Or, you could engage in more than 2,000 of their courses on their site, for free.

What’s the difference?

When you do education, you pay tuition, plus you pay with a focus on compliance. Traditional education requires that students trade in freedom of choice, coerced by tests and exams. And what do you get? You get an ‘A’ and you get a certificate.

The power of that certificate is extraordinary. Students (and their families) will go a lifetime in debt to get that paper. They’ll make choices about time and focus and geography for that paper, ignoring what’s ostensibly possible in exchange for the certainty of acquiring it.

Learning, on the other hand, is self-directed. Learning isn’t about changing our grade, it’s about changing the way we see the world. Learning is voluntary. Learning is always available, and it compounds, because once we’ve acquired it, we can use it again and again.

Most adults in the US read no more than a book a year. That’s because books aren’t assigned after you’ve got your paperwork done.

We’re surrounded by chances to learn, and yet, unless it’s sugarcoated or sold in the guise of earning a scarce credential, most of us would rather click on another link and swipe on another video instead.

The exception: People who have chosen to be high performers. Doctors, athletes, programmers and leaders who choose to make a ruckus understand that continuous learning is at the heart of what they’ll need to do.

“Will this be on the test?” is a question we learn from a young age. If you need to ask that before you encounter useful ideas, you’ve been trapped. It’s never been easier to level up, but the paper isn’t as important as we’ve been led to believe.


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