Landing : Athabascau University

The teaching crowd vs the teaching mob

Slides for my keynote at ICRPE, Islamabad, today. In this talk I will be talking about fundamental weaknesses in both existing educational systems - especially the notion of the course - and in the open online social alternatives that are currently available. This is of critical importance if we are to avoid a broken society where emotional reaction trumps reason and evidence; if we are to build an ever-better world where all of us can adapt and grow, nurturing one another and our environment.


The enormous growth of the Internet and the means to connect to it is causing a seismic shift in the ways we intentionally learn. What was once the preserve of formal educators, libraries, and carefully edited publications is now available to all, often at little or no cost beyond time, effort and privacy. Online, everyone and anyone can become anyone and everyone else’s teacher. This is leading to an exponential growth of knowledge and shared wisdom, a new renaissance of understanding, a diversity and richness of dialogue that could never be achieved in the past. Together, we can become wiser and closer than ever before. However, we can equally become more stupid, more separate. There is a counterbalancing explosion of falsehoods, ignorance, and abbreviated caricatures of knowledge that mislead more certainly than lies. There is, perhaps, as much promotion of values of hatred and selfishness as of altruism and caring. Divisions are magnified through filter bubbles and echo chambers, automation and personalization disempowers and isolates us. Trust is easily won and easily lost, half-truths and falsehoods spread memetically and persuasively through networks, the shouting of the stupid mob out-roars the gentle whispers of the wise crowd. Systems teach us that were never built to teach us, often through distorting and cracked mirrors. Systems that were built to teach us replicate inappropriate pedagogies and patterns from another era and another context that alienate us, demotivate us, and detract from our capacity to learn. In this talk we will explore ways to build and use crowd-powered tools and systems that can be trusted, that converge on wisdom, that are built for learning rather than propaganda, distraction, or profit: systems and methods that are designed for an age of ubiquitous connection and a surplus of knowledge, rather than those that are made to fit the constraints of physical and temporal boundaries. Drawing on principles and practices developed over more than a decade, we will examine some ways that wisdom can triumph over ignorance and glimpse some of the challenges yet to be overcome.