I have been thinking a lot about the ways that today’s technologies are changing the ways we learn and how those changes affect our societies. Just about everything related to knowledge is changing: Newspapers, radio, TV and the Internet are not what they used to be and are producing changes in the ways we learning and what we think we know. It is important to understand their effect the structure of education and upon society as a whole. Are these changes leading to better or worse lives and a better or worse world?
My thesis is that technologies, for better or worse, are increasingly able to connect learners with the world’s most effective teachers of any subject, distributing their presentations in ways that are far more effective than what most teachers can do.
I argue that teaching will evolve rapidly from the routine distribution of knowledge to the far more difficult challenges of motivating and guiding individuals and groups as they learn at their own pace, in their own ways. Subject matter expertise will become less important; counseling and group dynamics skills that increase each learner’s sense of agency, meaning and connection will become far more important. One outcome of these changes could be widespread increases in human capabilities and social solutions.
However such changes in the role of technologies raise critical issues about human society as a whole. It is one thing to decide who is the best presenter of basic addition or quantum mechanics. It is quite another to decide who has the best interpretation of the 20th Century history of the Middle East. Who will be the judges of quality and how will divergent views of subjects, such as evolution, be accessible? Currently such decisions are made by governments, often national governments. Will technology support or undermine those centralized knowledge filters? What role should it have?
Teachers have an increasingly important role in ensuring a diversity of opinion and knowledge. Individual teachers shape the messages their students learn by their choice of content and by the emphases they give to different points of view. Such localization and individualization of learning will become increasingly important function of teachers when so much of the basic content of learning will be packaged in attractive and compelling ways. Creating of local content and collection of local opinion will be increasingly important. A broader social commitment to supporting diversity of opinions will also be necessary. Governments will need to exercise a stronger role to ensure that paper and electronic media, in order to maintain their public license, will return to their previous standard of “fair and balanced” reporting, ensuring the availability of a diversity of opinions.
It is important to analyze the dynamics of such changes, to identify the ways they support or undermine democratic practices and to develop public information policies and practices that support living democracies