What if classrooms had an open API where parties outside and in could create mashups? What if students could learn at their own pace, but still gather together with others to study in groups that transcend age, ethnicity, gender and nationality? If you can believe it, it’s happening today. This brave new world of learning is being shaped by disparate parties with no apparent connection and often competing goals. It’s a world of constant churn where innovation and ideas make maddening leaps and the connections between people appear out of thin air, and disappear just as quickly. It’s a world where ideas and innovations fail regularly, but are replaced by hundreds of new ideas.
YouTube Social is one such idea. It’s a mashup put together by a group of people who thought it might be nice to watch videos on YouTube with a group of people, sharing a “virtual” remote and a “live” chat room. It’s doubtful they thought two licks about learning, or education, but because of the footprint of YouTube, the readily available, and constantly expanding, educational content, and our ancient social wiring they’ve made a tool that could serve education well. It’s easy to imagine this being used by a teacher / mentor as a discussion and review tool, or by groups of students gathering together online in informal study groups. Now, I have no idea if YouTube Social is going to achieve any substantial amount of active use, but it represents some very interesting ideas about how the web-video experience can be pushed beyond isolated, passive consumption. It’s a pretty compelling idea, err classroom, don’t you think?
While well-meaning, I fear NBC’s Education Nation fails to appreciate the fundamental sociological shifts that are occurring. The transaction costs of organizing have been dramatically lowered. Interactions are more frequent and far reaching. Teaching, learning and discussing are happening in new ways. We are in the midst of chaos and upheaval to which old institutions and players have no answers. A national summit gathering the pillars of this ancien régime, if able to accomplish anything, is only likely to accelerate the failure of current institutions.
Education, as popularly conceived, is but a scarecrow; propped up by tradition, nostalgia and the inertia of poorly tuned institutions. The cognitive surplus of the network has been, and continues to replace our brick and mortar public school system as a learning platform. Today, real education is happening all around us – informally, at scale, on-demand, and fully-participatory. We are all teachers. We are all students. No amount of money, or caucusing will put the genie back in the bottle. It’s time to stop swimming against the current and instead embrace it. The network is the classroom.
I’ll be hitting the road with the TechSmith crew for BlogWorld & New Media Expo 2010 in Las Vegas. If you’re attending I’d love to have the opportunity to connect so swing by the TechSmith booth and say hello. If you aren’t attending, but would like to, we’ve arranged a 20% discount for anyone registering with the discount code TECHSMITH.
Interested in learning more about what we’re going to be up to in @ BlogWorld? Check out this short video.
Because we are increasingly producing and sharing media, we have to relearn what that word can mean. The simple sense of media is the middle layer in any communication, whether it is as ancient as the alphabet or as recent as mobile phones. On top of this straightforward and relatively neutral definition is another notion inherited from the patterns of media consumption over the last several decades, that media refers to a collection of businesses, from newspapers and magazines to radio and television, that have particular ways of producing material and particular ways of making money. And as long as we use media to refer just to those businesses, and to that material, the word will be an anachronism, a bad fit for what’s happening today.
The term education is an anachronism. Please do not misunderstand me, our public systems of education have been hugely successful. They helped create the cognitive surplus that is radically reshaping how we interact, learn and work with each other. However, today our public eduction system is redundant, backwards and calcified. It has become the ancien régime to the revolutionary learning systems and communities that have developed online (e.g. web search, YouTube, Wikipedia, etc). The traditional education has become too slow, too static and, frankly, too inequitable to meet the needs of our ever evolving society. It is built on top of an archaic understanding of our social construct that does not reflect current social behaviors (where and how people learn), learning platforms (the ongoing silicon revolution), and cultural shifts (the integration of the network and social graph). The result is extraordinarily high costs with extremely low returns.
We need to redefine education within the context of the cognitive surplus that exists today. How are people learning today? What systems do they use? How do they work together. If we don’t focus on those questions and instead attempt to patch the ancien régime we’ll continue to fail. It’s that simple. Waiting for Superman won’t work, but we might be surprised by those things surrounding our every day lives that will.
Moon rising over Eckert Power Station. Shot from the MLK bridge crossing the Grand River in Lansing, MI. I’m calling it Power Moon.