Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Paradox Of Web 2.0 - Part 1: Is Teaching Equal To Learning?

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What is the Web 2.0 paradox? It is the living paradox of a society which while it learns and applies fundamental new rules of behaviour and communication thanks to rapid growth of the Internet in many business sectors, it fails yet to have enough moral maturity to consistently carry over such realizations and discoveries into the world of education and learning.

Photo credit: Markus Angermeier

Despite many of us have perfectly clear what Web 2.0 is about (participating, sharing, being humble and listening, requesting feedback to learn from our mistakes) when we go home to our kids, we just forget all about it and in the act of sending them to school we really send them back to the Middle Ages.

Why is it so difficult for us to bridge what we have clearly realized in the media, television, radio and advertising markets to the world of education? Why do we see so little effort in injecting inside our schools some of the attitudes, approaches and skills we put to use in our work?

I've tried to make sense of why we are in such a paradoxical situation and I realize that while business and direct revenues impact and push rapid changes in the world of business, it takes much longer time to achieve the same changes in a field that provides no direct or immediate revenue to us. Especially when the changes that our business world has discovered would strongly undermine the present educational status quo, eliminating lots of existing costs and infrastructures, as well as the market value of many exams and certifications, deeply revolutionizing the world of work and professional guilds as we know it today.

Under these conditions, and with little hope that we can rapidly change our educational system, we should ask ourselves: Is teaching equal to learning?

During a live session with Vance Stevens and other participants at the EVO 2009 Multiliteracies event, I shared some of my thoughts on what actual learning is for me and also which stuff future generations need to know to be prepared in a world where's no more space for good grades or pre-determined questions. Inspired by many books and great readings ranging from Ivan Illich to Seymourt Papert and from Stephen Downes to George Siemens and Jay Cross, here is my own remixed vision for where our educational systems fail and for what we really need to know, that is not yet inside the official school syllabus.

In Part 2 tomorrow, I provide some real-life examples where I explore the real skills that learners should possess to face the disruptive changes in our society. Abilities that aren't taught at school.


The Paradox Of Web 2.0 - Part 1: Is Teaching Equal to Learning?

by Robin Good

Robin's Speech - Audio

Duration: 23' - The audio is edited to play Robin alone. Full audio (65') available here.

Full English Text Transcription

The Web 2.0 Paradox


I'm Robin Good, and my contention, what I'm here for today, is challenging a little bit our way to often assume the beliefs about learning and the way it should be, and maybe also look a little bit more tangibly at what the ideal type of learning or a future type of learning can, or should, or must be for us to be happy about the results or what we are going to produce in our efforts to change and improve all of this.

This is really the focus. I'm arguing, contending, that we are in a so-called 2.0 paradox. That's how I call it. Many of you have learned about the issue of 2.0, Web 2.0, collaborating, participating, sharing, syndicating, mashing up, mixing, listening to the others... All of these are concepts that since a few years we've been reading, and breathing, and writing, and exploring in many different ways, to the point where the advertising, the marketing fields, television, and other media have actually in many cases, already fully embraced many of this.

Software development, for example, is now done in a complete different way. Many of the web 2.0 companies are doing it in a way which it wasn't done before: it's immediately open, it likes to expose its own buzz, it likes to receive feedback and criticism from the audience in a continuous process, it keeps no secrets, it allows those that are going to be the customers to suggest new ideas and not just mistakes. All of this learning, from these explorations we've done in the ways we can communicate, collaborate together, are permeating, are increasingly part of this front-end, these edge areas in which we work, in which many of us work. Advertising, marketing, television, and so on. Certainly these are not areas in which everybody works, but they're in front of us everyday.

The paradox of this is that those same people, those same individuals that have fully embraced, and that promote and evangelize about these ideas and use them in their professional work, when they turn back, and go home, and look at their kids, they have no shame in not realizing or acknowledging the huge discrepancy that there is between these ideas that we have already been implementing in daily life, and the privileged universe in which we are forcing our future generations to go into, with the supposed idea that we are going to prepare them better to manage this continuous change, the innovation, and all of these new approaches, and we send them in a world that is completely secluded from actual reality and in which none of these principles is made real for them to test.


Is Teaching Equal to Learning?


That's not an easy shift to make and we keep just define ourselves in the situation by realizing that we don't want to tear down schools, that we don't want to revolutionize the institution. It's taking so much effort for us to build and they have been there for quite some time. Some of us have been born and most of us just with this universe of education in place, and so the system appears by default to be a necessity in the way it is.

But, maybe if we go and question, and look really at the essence of it, we can see not only that maybe the system has created a monster that we should at least acknowledge, but that we don't need to tear it down, to change the situation from what it is to what we would like it to be.

If we are looking at teaching and learning, first of all, and you guys are very much into this and this may be quite some obvious reasoning, but these are the reasoning that we should bring in front of those that most resist or are most alien to these ideas.

So let's bring in front of them the question of: Is teaching really equal to learning? Because every time we think normally in our everyday life about learning that we need to have some kind of classroom or teacher that is going to help us learn those things. That is basically the idea we get every single day, is the default thing we think about. Is that really so? We should ask.


Put On Your Investigator's Hat


My point is: if we look at the way we look, we learn things in our everyday life, if you look at the work of the many luminaries, opinion leaders out there, what they're telling us is that learning takes place really not so much in the classroom, in the school, where lots of what we learn is how to have fun while the teacher doesn't see, how to socialize with the others sex for the first time in our lives, how to do homework faster than anybody else so we have more free time, how to find out what's going to be inside the next exam, so that we can answer to all the questions right.

That is really what we get to be trained for inside the school. All these things, things that don't appear to be the actual content, but things that are on the side of the things that we learn, while the things we really learn in our lives, are learned in a little different way.

So, if you put on your investigator hat on your head, and you look really at how learning takes place in everyday life, you're going to discover things you know very well, but you just don't stop looking at.


What Do We Know After School?


Let me take some examples: we say that we know this and we know that, and that a school is very important because you get to know lots of things that are useful later in your life, but after school, of the knowledge we get there, how much we can really put to use or is effective in our ability to move through the fast changes that are happening, to learn the new technologies, to understand which news are good and which ones are not, to detect propaganda from actual information...

If we were to be sent back in time, say 200-300 years, could we say that we could play God on Earth?

We're coming from the 21st century, we know lots of stuff. We know about electricity, television, radio, satellite, space travel, and so if we went back in time could we just play God inside the civilization where we landed by telling them how to invent and create the locomotive, the train, or the airplane? Could anyone of us do that? Could anyone of us tell them how to bring electricity to their civilization? Have we actually learned any of this stuff that we can put it to use to them? The moment you start thinking that way, though it may appear a little bit stretched, you see that the tools we have at hand, that remain with us are not so much immediately usable.


A Trip to Space


Let me bring another example for you: If you think of going back, being put on a spaceship that goes to a faraway planet, you're on this space ship yourself and you got three or four months of travel in space, and in this spaceship you are there alone with your own two kids.

You have a son and a daughter, two wonderful kids, but the story is that you have to drop these kids on this distant planet three months, six months from now, and there is an alien civilization, probably higher intelligence, but you are just going to land them there and you'll have to go away. This is what has been decided for you, and you have no choice. You're just taking them there to this final destination.

Now, if you had these last six months with your kids, what are the type of things you would be teaching them before leaving them in such a situation. They don't need to know the seven kings of Rome to be able to moving in this outer space. Will they need some mathematical formulas, will they need to be able to communicate to other people? In the most effective way though they don't know the language?

What are the critical things we really need to know in such a situation, because if we can detect and identify those properly, then I think we're going to look really at the type of things we need to learn in real life and that we supposedly they should be learning also in schools.


How Do We Really Learn?


We are really questioning more fundamentally the overall approach...

Making groups or having assignments when the teacher has been pre-selected for me by somebody else on the basis of some certifications he's got by passing some exams, or the kind we've been talking above, or where my peers in that group are people who have been selected only on the basis by their age or the district in which they live, I think it makes very little sense to me.

I think that if we're looking and questioning the overall teaching system approach, we should also be mentioning the fact that all of what we've preached in 2.0 world, that is: bottom-up, participation, contribution, sharing, no dogmatic one-way view, but multiple, multi-faceted approaches, multi-dimensional look at things, just like in journalism is studied, are all critical for learning appropriately.

So we should have: First of all, an understanding that is not closing people in one place, that is not pre-selecting a teacher for them, but it should be me selecting who I'd want to learn from, and we have all the technologies and the resources to do this which we didn't have 20 years ago, but now we do have them. I think they should be allowed to learn with people that are as passionate as me about the topic that I want to learn.

Why should I be forced to learn a pre-designed curriculum of items when I can be free, while advised and supported by people who have more experience, in going after the things that I'm really interested?

If I can follow my passions, I should be able to follow those, with the people that are mostly interested in that stuff.

If I keep having to go to school, and be closed in a room with people who share with me only their age and their geographic residential area, that's not going to work very much. Why should I work with people only of my age? Who says that I cannot learn while sitting with people of different ages, experiences, novices and experts?


Did Someone Teach You How to Drive...


As we look at those fundamental aspects, then we can see how much discrepancy and how much of a confusion in the eyes of the average person on the street there is about teaching and learning, because if learning is equal to teaching, and teaching is what happens in the school, there's no way to get out of that loop easily.

Once you confront them with the fact that when they first learned how to drive their car, there wasn't somebody there telling them they have to lift slowly the friction pedal, or to keep this other foot out the way because you are going to use only the right one to accelerate and then stop, there was no other way for you to really learn that thing than seat down on the driver's seat and try it out, and make some serious mistakes.

But that's not what happens in school.

In school one is supposed to be able to be taught, shown on the blackboard, and if you make a mistake, you get a bad grade. You don't get an encouragement because you've made a mistake, you have explored new grounds, you are trying new things and the things don't work out, normally. Of course, there are plenty of exceptions, but let's look at the overall reality, let's look at the school were my and your kids are going. That is what I see.

In reality we do not learn with somebody telling us every single move.


...Speak a Foreign Language...


Take for example language learning. You want to sell me that I've learned the languages I know because I went to classes, that I learned English as a foreign language. Forget it!

I learned language first because I was a DJ and I had lots of vinyl records containing sheets with thealbum lyrics, and I loved to learn how to sing every single song I liked. And so by learning to sing I learned the pronunciation, and I had to learn the words and what they meant to not look stupid, that my first girlfriend would ask me: "Why are you singing the way you are singing this one?"

Then because I travelled, and I went to other countries. And when I was hungry, I had to say something meaningful for them to feed me and to give me a dead and everything. I've put myself in uncomfortable situations, where I had to change to make new things, but there wasn't somebody there always telling me: "the grammar is this, one comes before two", and so on. That can help structure, make sense of things, but many times this structure is given BEFORE you're able to use it while it should be given most of the time afterwards.




I first want to play, get into the game, get my hands dirty, and then you tell me the grammar, because I want to know how to write better, I want to show off myself better now that I know how to use this tool with this language.

Again, teaching top-down, one-way structure, doesn't work and we have this in front of us everyday.

The same thing when we learn how to swim. Was there somebody telling you: "now move this left arm a little bit in the front?" Yes, they did try, but you have to go into the water to try, just like you had to do with your video games.


...Play a Video Game?


How many times did you have to die inside a game or get smashed against a wall with your car to really learn how to drive? Millions of times for me, and many times.... in fact I just gave up because the encouragement from my partner wasn't good enough, but if we were in an ideal world, they should have encouraged me because I was learning through my mistakes what it didn't work, and there was just not enough fun, because my partners were too good and too much ahead of me to make me learn.

But making mistakes, is the way to learn, and I'll tell you what... in all of these situations where we actually learn stuff that stays with us for years, and years, what we do is not just make mistakes, this is not my key point; it's a number of things that we do that are completely different from what we do in school, in the supposed institutional environment that makes our learning so valuable.

  1. First of all, in most of the situations WE ARE with some peers, that we like, that are passionate, interested in the same stuff.
  2. Secondly, we go ask, when we learn a game we go find on Google a way to go through the game, to learn it faster, to find the shortcut keys, to find out if there's a cheatsheet, whatever. We go to people who have a lot of experience, like my friends before and ask: "How do we do that?", "How do you turn in the curve like this or like that?". We ask in the moment we need it, and we're so much craving for that knowledge that once they tell us we put it to use right away, and we master it.

That's not what takes place in the classroom. We don't do any of those things, and we always do them in an order that is unlike the typical order, in which we will learn so fast, and so fully in real life.

So one of the key things for the paradigm shift to take place is to bring all of these stuff in the face of everyone else.

End of Part 1

In Part 2 tomorrow, I provide some real-life examples where I explore the real skills that learners should possess to face the disruptive changes in our society. Abilities that aren't taught at school.


Robin Good Summarizes the Web 2.0 Paradox

Robin Good on the Paradox of 2.0 - Le Web 2008 from Erno Hannink on Vimeo.
Duration: 2':35"

Originally recorded by Vance Stevens for Vance's GeekSpeek on February 26, 2009 as "The paradox of 2.0, an EDUPUNK perspective".

Robin Good -
Reference: Vance's GeekSpeek [ Read more ]
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posted by Daniele Bazzano on Friday, March 20 2009, updated on Tuesday, May 5 2015

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