Opportunity Cost – 2 – Mental Models for Education


I feel like joining London Business School to study for an MBA.  Let’s see what that’ll cost me.  £70,000… ouch!  But okay.  Actually hang on… I know I’m going to have to relocate to London to do this, so I’d better look into rental prices there.  It’s probably going to cost me £600 per month at least, that’s another £7,200, oh and I should probably add on bills and food etc. while I’m at it… so let’s call that £15,000 all in.


That’s the real cost for me to study an MBA.

Almost anyone seriously considering this would go through a very similar process.  That said, you don’t usually go for an MBA straight out of your undergrad, so actually most people seriously considering this will realise something else: I have to give up earning for a year.

Let’s say someone on a £40k salary wants to give this a go.  If they don’t go for the MBA, then they’ll earn £40,000 that year.  If they do, they give up the opportunity to earn that £40,000.

This is the Opportunity Cost of how they choose to invest their time.

Actual real cost of that MBA?




You have £20M to invest.  You find a way of investing this money that you’re confident enough will return £50M in five years, a huge profit.  Should you go for it?

A good answer is obviously ‘Yes.’  A better answer is ‘Are there any better options?’

See, if you choose to invest your £20M in this thing you found, you are giving up the opportunity to invest it in something else.  Your potential investment will return a £30M profit after five years.  If you could find another that would return £100M profit after five years the Opportunity Cost of not taking that option is £70M.


The first example was about investing time, the second about investing money.  Both are relevant to education, though time might be most important.



I read this a while back.  It links to two other posts with the same idea.  In short, all three are defending ‘Pokémon Go’ lessons, and all three miss the point.  All three suggest there might be something magical or mystical that the teacher in question knows that we don’t that will somehow ‘light the fire’ of learning in their pupils.  In other words, all three suggest that motivation is all that matters, and all three can’t imagine that there might be a way to motivate pupils without appeal to popular culture.

Doug Lemov captured this failure to understand education beautifully for me recently, with the a line drawing a distinction between ‘Learning to read, versus reading to learn.‘  That’s important.  When we read in school we are not only doing it to learn how to read, but to learn from what we read.

If pupils are somehow using Pokémon Go to explore class conflict, as Debra Kidd suggests might be appropriate, then there is a question of opportunity cost.  Pupils *might* learn something about class conflict, but they will learn nothing more.  Is there alternative substance that would have allowed them to learn something about the real world or its history at the same time as learning about class conflict?  The same is true for any book.  That time, once used, is gone.  It behoves us to ensure that we spend it wisely on behalf of children.

The same is true of any content we choose to study.  The evisceration of knowledge in the minds of English teachers and educationists has led many to believe that one can study anything at all, a pamphlet if you like, and be learning as much as one could studying Austen.

About Kris Boulton

Teach First 2011 maths teacher, focussed on curriculum design.
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3 Responses to Opportunity Cost – 2 – Mental Models for Education

  1. Pingback: Overview – 0 – Mental Models for Education | …to the real.

  2. Pingback: Opportunity Cost – 2 – Mental Models for EducationKris BoultonFirst Published January 21st 2017 On …to the real. | While You Were Teaching

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