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.
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.
Michael Rosenblum is one of my favs–the man has deep insights into the decline of old media and the ascendency of video on web. I caught a link to a speech he gave to news execs in the UK and just wanted to share a couple of my favorite quotes.
No one wants change–it screws up your business, but its inevitable and how you react defines you (1:10):
Don’t just have contigency plans for the Internet–embrace it (1:17):
Constraints are under-appreciated. In fact, it seems its human nature to hold constraints in scorn; to shake our fists at the shackles depriving us of unchecked free will. And yet our survival and dominant position as a species are, in large part, the result of our own physical constraints. Without these constraints human networks would never have emerged as transcendent forces. After all, we are not particularly fast, nor armed with tough hides or impressive native weapons. Still, in the face of significant physical disadvantages humans have survived, evolved and eventually come to dominate, in large part, due to our ability to quickly communicate and work together as groups.
Working together in the face of danger from an environment teeming with more physically gifted competitors requires information to flow in rapid asynchronous bursts that allow our massively parallel brains to consume and respond to many near-simultaneous inputs. We need to be able to quickly pass to and interpret messages from each other. Things like facial expressions, eye dilation, body posture and gestures are all asynchronous messages that can be quickly passed by a single individual and just as quickly interpreted by all members of the group that see them. Analyzed carefully, the constraints imposed on this universal language of the human network are speed and asynchronicity – you can’t have massively parallel consumption and efficient network cooperation without both.
With its 140 character limit and asynchronous broadcast to self-organizing networks on the web Twitter has asynchronous speed messaging in spades. It groks one of the fundamentals of human networks–the needs of the audience are more important than the desires of the individual. The ability to quickly consume and react is way more important than the individual’s desire to monopolize and pontificate. This is the lesson that user-generated web video needs to learn–it needs to be Twitterfied.
The Web isn’t about passive broadcast, there are far too many delicious distractions, and even if it were, most don’t have the tools or narrative capabilities to hold the attention of an audience for any real span of time. This is especially true in the screencasting realm which is why I’d like to propose the notion of TweetCasts–120 seconds or less of webcam or screen video. That’s all the time you get to make your point. If you need more time, break your content into chunks, give viewers a rest between segments and try engaging them through a different medium.
Follow these rules and there’s huge potential to further humanize the web and empower each other via massive web-based human networks. Remove the audience’s biggest impediment to engaging with video (long-form passive broadcast boredom) and we’ll all be motivated to create and watch more user generated video. If that happens I wouldn’t be surprised to see training / teaching, maybe the entire education system, crowdsourced. Just remember–whether you’re a producer, content-creation tool vendor or social media site–constraints are your friend and we’ll all be the richer for it.