Note:This article is targeting people providing online education solutions for corporations.
For online education to truly boom, we need to change the way learning content is produced.
In the traditional way of learning content production, the producers have to work with the domain knowledge experts trying to get their knowledge into something called courseware or similar. This kind of learning content production, is too costly and it takes too long. The learning content made, is very few, covering too little, unable to meet people’s learning needs. And it is often out-dated, not taken good care of and full of errors. In the era of knowledge economy and with explosion of knowledge, this kind of learning content production certainly cannot meet the needs. For companies in this knowledge economy, this kind of learning content production falls way behind employee’s learning needs. So we can see employees often go to blogs or twitter for learning. When people want to find some knowledge, they often go to such places to look for it. So for knowledge on blogs or twitter, even it is not strongly knowledge-oriented, at least it is timely, rich and can roughly meet people’s learning needs.
As we can see, the conventional way of learning content production has two big separations. One separation is the separation between people who produce the learning content and people who have the domain knowledge. We have mentioned this above. The other separation is the separation btw teaching and learning. Learners cannot actively contribute to the building of learning content. The domain experts also cannot gain feedbacks from the learners.
These two separation result in a static and non-interactive knowledge, instead of dynamic and interactive knowledge. This is probably due to a hidden assumption people have on knowledge. People tend to assume knowledge is static instead of dynamic. So knowledge is either gained or not. So if you haven’t gained the knowledge, then you don’t have whatsoever knowledge in this domain. So learners have no place in building the knowledge. If you have gained knowledge in this domain, then that knowledge won’t evolve any longer and will always stay the same. So the domain experts don’t need to update the knowledge once it is built. This is surely a false assumption.
This kind of understanding of knowledge has to change in the knowledge economy. Now more people are in the process of exploring knowledge. In knowledge economy, we don’t need the majority of the people to just do simple operations based on rules discovered by a few scientists. What we need is more people to join the efforts of exploring new knowledge. They need to know where knowledge comes from, what is insufficient in our current knowledge and how to improve it. With the knowledge economy, we don’t need as many people to do the mechanic repeated operations along the assembly line. Now we only need a very small percentage of the population to do that kind of work (actually even that might gradually be replaced by a new kind of manufacturing industry, which is heavily influenced by software and internet and is more customized, small scale and innovative). More people are working on sophisticated knowledge jobs. Here I can quote directly what Mark Anderson wrote in his article on WSJ: “many people in the U.S. and around the world lack the education and skills required to participate in the great new companies coming out of the software revolution. This is a tragedy since every company I work with is absolutely starved for talent. Qualified software engineers, managers, marketers and salespeople in Silicon Valley can rack up dozens of high-paying, high-upside job offers any time they want, while national unemployment and underemployment is sky high. This problem is even worse than it looks because many workers in existing industries will be stranded on the wrong side of software-based disruption and may never be able to work in their fields again. There’s no way through this problem other than education, and we have a long way to go.”
If people start exploring knowledge, they will find that the process of knowledge exploration is actually very intertwined with their daily lives. Knowledge is not something high in the cloud. Knowledge is related to every aspect of our daily lives. Only so, can knowledge have the source where it comes from, so we can keep making breakthroughs. This is often ignored by conventional education models. But for us working on online education, this is what we need to really pay attention to.
So how can we get rid of the separations? We can offer those knowledge experts tools to build up knowledge while they are exploring, and share that knowledge with other people. Other people can learn from this “learning content”. They can also contribute to the construction of knowledge as well. The knowledge experts are not building content just for the learners to learn, they are also building their own knowledge, and that knowledge is constantly evolving. So you can expect that knowledge is taken good care of and often updated.
When we look at all kinds of blogs, twitters or SNS sites inside the corporation, there are a lot of content there. If I want to find some knowledge, I often look for it there and then build up my knowledge. So for these blog, twitter or SNS sites, are they learning solutions? These places, are they learning places? Here I raise this question for everyone to ponder.
When TeachStreet came out in 2008, I had that kind of idea at least 2 years ago. But I didn’t start building such a website because I knew the content problem had to be solved. Even though TeachStreet focus on learning in everyday life, if there is no good way to produce content, then it is hard for people to stay on the site. And without rich knowledge from everyday life, it will be very hard to challenge the conventional mainstream education model, and it will only become a hobby site or “informal” learning site. So it is no surprise to me that they didn’t sustain themselves a few years later. Learning cannot be separated from daily life. But we need to offer a good tool to help people build knowledge from their daily experiences.
Evernote, as a personal notes site, has been used more and more by people to share things, similar to blogs and twitter. But the same as blogs and twitters, evernote also lacks structure to make it more knowledge-oriented. The founder of Evernote said they plan to add more structure to evernote so that evernote can be more like knowledge.
If we look at the history of Internet, we can see it as a history of digitization. We started from digitization in things that are easier to digitize, such as shopping, information, news, media, music, and so on, and we move deeper into the process of digitization, such as education and healthcare. We can also look at it in a very simplified way: the first wave of digitization is led by google in information and communication area; the second wave of digitization is led by facebook in human relation area; the third wave of digitization, in my view, should be in the human consciousness area, the rise of so called consciousness software. We need to better manage our consciousness in the age of internet. If I have some experience or insight to share with other people, I don’t have to go on twitter or various SNS sites to share it. When I write a blog article, the article might come from several experiences that I accumulated in a domain over a period of time. So how can I quickly locate those past experiences? Am I repeating things that I already wrote before? To do all these better, we need get deeper into human consciousness, and observe how people learn and how knowledge is formed. Only on this level, can we understand what is learning and what is knowledge. Our learning, construction of knowledge, and sharing of that knowledge, all these are continuous process of consciousness management, and we need better tools to help us do that. With these software tools, we can better join the efforts of exploring knowledge, bring knowledge back to its source: the daily life, and make knowledge a flowing structure instead of static “knowledge” covered with cobweb.
In the Internet age that is full of exploration, the learning capability of an organization becomes the core competitive advantage of the organization. As learning of employees of many corporations have already become explorative in nature, people providing learning solutions for these corporations are still trapped in the old educational model. We need to support employees’ explorative learning, help the organization to truly become a learning organization. We are very fortunate to be at this transition stage to push for this paradigm shift. Together in our hands, we will bring about the future learning!