by Stephen Downes
Presented July 9, 2014, Network EDFE Seminar Series, London School of Economics. For audio, video and slides, click here.
Introduction: What learners Need
The talk is called "Beyond
Institutions Personal Learning in a Networked World" and I want to begin
with a story that came across the wires recently and I thought was very
appropriate for this venue. This was a manifesto
that was authored by economic students demanding that the way their profession
be taught be changed.
They made observations about things
like the global economic collapse and global climate change and other things
not really being addressed by current economic theory. They suggested, not so
much that current theory is wrong, although current theory is wrong, but that
they should be given alternatives or different ways of being able to look at
the world. They wanted, in other words, from my perspective, more control over
Professors, meanwhile, far from
embracing this Renaissance of student-led learning, are sticking to the tried-and-true
traditional way of lecturing in the classroom to the point where they want
laptops banned from the classroom. Dan
Rockmore, in an article in the Atlantic as I recall, New Yorker, said,
"These digital assistance are more suitable for play and
Not getting the point that learning
today is about play and socializing. It's interesting to the study he cites,
little study that says, "Taking notes by hand creates better memory
recall than taking notes by typing.'' Again, completely missing the whole point
of what learning is about. Learning is not remembering.
Pretty much anything
works better than the lecture
method that traditional institutions defend. It's funny we're doing the
lecture method here. Actually, what we're really doing is we're in the process
of creating a learning resource that we hope will be used, shared, cut,
clipped, and otherwise abused by people around the world through the years that
This isn't so much about the content of this
talk and you remembering what I say as it is about creating the possibility,
the potential for dialogue and interaction. Iyadunni
Olubode: “Everyone knows
that learning is growing at an increasing depth and an increasing breadth, so
you need people who can constantly learn and bridge that gap, even when they're
in their current jobs.”
This is the shape of learning in the
future. Not learning where you go to a lecture, you remember the gospel wisdom
that your professor has told you, and you go out forth in the world and
propagate it. It's a world where a person is constantly learning before they
get to university, while they're in university, after they're at university.
It's a world where the content, the
nature, and even the means of learning is changing almost on a daily basis.
Look at the setup that we have here which really would have been practically,
not technically, but practically impossible five years ago. Five years from
now, it will be different again.
are looking for learning that isn't so much the repetition of their professors'
ideas, but learning that they can apply, that is a part of their life, whether
it's part of their life in work, part of their life in their hobbies or their
avocations, or part of their life just in what interests them. They expect
universities to be flexible.
We were having a conversation this
morning in the Director's Dining Room, which, if you haven't been in there,
isn't as posh as it sounds, although the walls are very nice. I love the wood
panel walls, the little sandwiches, anyhow, eggrolls. We were talking about how
the university is structured Bachelor's, Master's, PhD, maybe a couple of other
names for these degrees. That's pretty much it. That's not what people are
looking for. In survey after survey, they want learning that is directly and
immediately applicable to what they're doing.
One of the discussions that came up
yesterday... there's all kinds of surveys about what students want. You can go
out and site surveys of students saying, "We want the lecture
method." The discussion centered around the idea, at least my discussion
did, that you can survey students, but students are the people who are already
being successful using the current method. If you're going to survey what
people need from education, it's important to survey both those people inside
the institutions and those people outside the institutions, particularly those
who the institutions did not serve well, those who failed, who dropped out,
Economists, on the other hand, have
their own view of what academia needs. We've been hearing a lot about it,
both here in Europe as well as in North America. The economists, those paragons
of virtue (that's cynicism) when they say something is good, I really begin to
worry. What they are talking about these days is the destruction of the
university at the hands of the massive open online course. As one of the people
who invented the massive open online course, I feel a little personally
It wasn't our intent, I just want to
be clear about that now, it was not our intent to destroy universities. That's
not why we did it. We want to change universities, and we want them to work for
Thinking in Models: for Design, for Learning…
A large part of this talk is about
that change. It's interesting. We go from the first slide about people wanting
to be relevant, wanting universities to be relevant, all the way to the last
slide about what's going to replace universities, without doing all the
thinking that we need to do in between. We need to do this thinking in between.
Let's begin our thinking with where
the current trends, we're told, are going. We're told there will be tiered
service models at universities. We're told there will be analytics and data-driven
management. We're told there will be alternative credentials. To a certain
degree, all of these three things are true.
To a certain degree, none of these
three things are going to work themselves out in the way that the economist or
economists or education reformers predict. When you look at that, basically
it's like they have this model or design in their head of how we could rebuild
the university system, wipe it all out, start over, and we'll have a new model.
Figure 1 - workflow process employed to assist LMS
This model of accountability and
cost frameworks and all of that will solve all the problems that the current
system has. Models are popular in education too. Here's
a model (Figure 1) of a workflow-processed employee to assist LMS
selection. You can't really read the small writing there. It goes from
enrollment to program administration to learner interactions to content
creation to assessment.
It's a fishbone diagram. If you're
in economics or business, you're probably familiar with it. Models
of how to select educational technology including customized lists of LMS
features, a way of picking among those 305 features of a learning management
system that you might want to solve the educational problems at your
Models of how to do learning,
learning design patterns: Grainne Conole
has done a lot on this. Diana Laurillard, who I really wish had been there
yesterday because I really wanted to have a chance to discuss some of this
she's been working on. If you get the pedagogy right, that will solve all the
Best practices for typical learning
tasks: this is a reference to a paper that talks about the conditional release of
materials, what we used to call back in the day programmed learning. You do
some learning, you do a test. If you pass the test, you get to see the next
learning. You still see the old professors with their overhead projectors and
their slides and their little piece of paper that they slowly work down the
slide. Goodness, you can't have people reading the bottom of the slide first.
It would be just wrong.
Even models of how to offer courses,
there's all kinds of discussion like this in the literature. The model of online,
hybrid or traditional models, of course, is broken down into things like
the types of tools, whether you're using discussion boards or white boards or
websites or videos.
There's the selection matrix. Out
the other end comes, again, it's hard to read on this, level two decisions. You
have all of these inputs and outputs. It's very much a system's theory kind of
approach. You get the system, the process right and everything flows out the
bottom the way it should.
In these models, these designs are
being implemented as educational technology. This is what education reform is
about. Wow, as I said yesterday. It's also about making a lot of money for some
people. It's about standardizing and rationalizing the educational system to
fit into a certain set of models or designs. We have Google
coming out with Classroom just as part of Google apps.
It's Google apps for teachers. It
does all the really useful stuff that teachers need to do like marking and
scheduling and assigning learning tasks and all of that sort of stuff. It's
education done by software application, basically. It's being commoditized and
being standardized and being packaged and delivered. This is education of the
It's interesting. The MOOCs that
came out, not the ones that we did, but the
ones that came out after us, are, again, very much in that same model. Get
some videos, get some exercises, get some tests, step them through it week by
week by week. You don't even need a professor. It's nice to have them to do the
videos, but otherwise you just deliver this as a content package.
Everybody gets the same thing.
That's what works. It's Dan Willingham and Paul Kirschner and they say,
"There are no individual differences in how we learn. The way we learn
depends on the content, not the learner." That's a pedagogical approach
that I feel is incorrect. I think it is obvious that people learn differently.
Learning styles, as a theory, and especially as a design theory, may be wrong.
Models are not Reality
The fact is that people learn differently,
that they have different objectives, different priorities, different goals,
different times that they want to learn, different pets sleeping on their
keyboard, all of these impact how people want to learn. That's immediately
obvious to anyone who actually looks at people learning. Even as I look around
this room, he's on an iPad, she's typing, she's writing on a notepad, he's
asleep. Everyone learns differently.
This is more from Google.
This is the work of education, creating and collecting assignments, making
announcements, asking questions, and, of course, a folder, school folder for
each assignment and for each student, which aside Google will mine. They've
said they will no
longer mine student data for commercial purposes. They recently came out
with that pledge. They did not say they will no longer mine student data. They
just said they won't do it for commercial purposes anymore. Interesting.
With models, again, maybe I'm
talking to economists here, maybe I'm not. I'm not sure, but this was actually
the subject of my Master's thesis, which maybe three or four people have read.
The model is not the reality. That's my 235-page thesis in one sentence.
The model is not the reality. The
model has never been the reality, and worse, when you're doing any kind of
research, if you use a model, typically the answer to the questions you're
been defined by the employment of the model in the first place.
That's what happens here. If we use
these models, or other models, any kind of model design predetermines structure
to define how we're going to understand what learning is, we've predefined what
the outcome will be, but learning needs to be open-ended.
Learning needs to be an exploration
and a discovery, not the output of predefined, standardized products. The
adaptation of these models to computerized learning is no more effective than
the use of these models in the classroom.
New Versions of Old Models
If your teacher walked in and spoke
from a script and answered every question in the same standardized way, we
would not consider that effective education. The same is true if it's done
on a computer.
Again, we're told that these MOOCs
are a new pedagogy. We're told that the stuff that's being done at Stanford,
MIT, EdX, the rest of it, is going to change education, but it's a continuation
of the same models and the same strategies that have defined education for
decades, despite the fact that people are asking for something different.
It's not even that the new models
are the old models with new names. The new models that we're seeing today being
done on a computer are the same models we saw being done on a computer a decade
ago and two decades ago.
Audrey Waters talks about
Fathom. Fathom had a plan. What their plan was, to take learning materials,
put them on a computer, and make them available, even openly, to people who
wanted to learn.
That was 20 years ago, well, not
quite 20 years, but almost 20 years ago. People talk about EdX and Coursera and
the rest of them as being new. It's like they've written off the previous
experiences. Interestingly, the president of Coursera is the president of Yale
who had the wonderful idea of putting courses online and charging money for
Guess what he's going to do at
Coursera. It's the same model being repeated over and over and over again. Universitas 21 was invented something
like 15 years ago to monetize online learning. It's one of many initiatives to
take a course, charge university-level tuition for it, and sell it online.
It's not what people want, and these
initiatives continuously fail. Even LRMI
(Learning Resource Metadata Initiative) is a system of standardizing the
descriptions of learning resources, but it's a clone, in many respects (I'll
talk about a way in which it's not a clone in a number of slides) but it's a
clone, in many respects, of the standards-driven efforts that have come before.
AICC, (Aviation Industry Computer-Based Training Committee): they had a set of
learning resource metadata standards in the 1990s. IMS, Instructional
Management Systems. IEEE, which is the IEEE, learning object metadata.
Shareable coursework, object recognition model.
Again, over and over and over again
we see, you take standardized resources. You create standardized descriptions,
standardized search mechanisms. The standard is the golden standard of
learning, it seems, and it's always though if we could just get this precise
standard right, it'll all work.
The results have been, over the
much what you expect. Here's LRMI again, a Phil Barker presentation on
LRMI. He listed the institutions - there's something like six or seven institutions
using LRMI. As with all of these standards initiatives, the easy part, although
you'd never know by listening, is to define the standard. I've designed dozens
of standards. The hard part is getting people to use the standard, because everybody does these things differently.
Even the terms within the standards,
you have a term, title, or no, even better, author. You'd think, author, how
could you go wrong with author? But you get everything from people, lists of
people, organizations, associations, sometimes pets, sometimes nothing at all.
Right now, I currently have an issue with my own system because people are
putting hypertext markup language inside the author field in their RSS.
Why they feel the need to put markup
in what should be a simple string of characters, I don't know, but they put
anything and everything inside the author tag. New versions of old models don't
produce new results. I'd like to go down to Canary Wharf and tack that onto
one of the buildings. If you do the same thing, even if you do it on a
computer, you're going to get the same result. The same result, even the people
who are producing the result say, isn't sufficient.
The Right Model is No Model
I criticize Coursera. I criticize
the Stanford MOOCs and all of that, but when Norvig and Thrun launched their
artificial intelligence MOOC, in the first week, 150,000 people signed up.
Overall, I think it was something like 250,000 people signed up for one course,
a really hard course that's really difficult to understand, in artificial
Forget the fact that a lot of them
dropped out. A lot of them didn't. Tens of thousands finished. This, by itself,
indicates that the old model wasn't working. There was such a pent-up demand
for upper-level university courses in artificial intelligence that, when one
was finally made available, people knocked down the doors trying to get to it.
George and I launched our MOOC on
connectivism, which some of you may have heard of. Most of you may not have
heard of it. If you talk about a niche subject, this is as niche as it can get.
It's an unknown theory in the field of educational technology.
Try going out onto Fleet Street and
advertise that. No, nobody's interested. We got 2,200 people without
advertising. That was our first MOOC, and that was when we realized we were
onto something, because again, people were beating down our doors.
Not as many people, but they weren't
very big doors. You see that offering these courses to 10 or 12 people at a
time in a seminar, whether it's online or offline, isn't going to work. Here's
where I go meta. The right model is no model.
The right model is to do away
with the models. Think of non-standard-based systems. Think of non-standard
designs. Think of courses where there are no defined learning objectives. Think
of a learning environment where there is no common core of content. Think of a
conversation where you and I have not first established a shared understanding
of the meaning of all of the terms.
That's reality. That's this room.
There is no model for what's happening here. If there is, I'm probably breaking
it, although I'm probably following...you can come back after the fact, look at
what I did, and say, "Oh, yeah, that's part of the model."
The slide, because the article that
I'm referring to referred to Sugata Mitra ( Sugata Mitra has almost been
commoditized these days) – but the concept, the idea behind what he did - and
also, too, there's been a lot of criticisms because people went back years
later to see these computers, and what they found were nothing but holes in the
wall. Computers had been vandalized, the Plexiglas stolen.
That happens. It doesn't mean he was
wrong. It just means that that experiment for that time was finished. People
were looking for a model that would always work, but things don't always work.
They work for a time, then move on to something else.
That's what worked with what Mitra
was doing. There were no roles. This is David T. Jones, with a cameo by Michael
Jackson. "What's missing," he says,
"in the standard-based models is what we used to think of as BAD."
BAD. (Bricolage, Affordances, Distribution).
remember when IMS Learning Design first came out and they did a tour to promote
it. They used, in their documentation and in their presentation, the metaphor
of actors on a stage, and the teacher, of course, would be the director, and
then everybody would play their roles.
My question was, because I'm from
Canada and we have these, you probably have these here, too, improv, I said,
"What about improv?" You can't do improv. That's what's missing with
When people built the Internet, they did not intend to design a system that
would store, I forget the exact number. I referred to it yesterday, 680 million
cat photos. I think that's the number. That was not their purpose, and had
anyone anticipated in the 1950s and '60s that they were building a system for
storing 680 million cat photos, first of all, they would have thought it's
Then they would have thought,
"Who would want such a system?" That's the beauty of the Internet, is
that, although it was designed for academic research and to survive nuclear
wars and things like that, it turns out to be the perfect place to share your
That's what makes it beautiful, the
affordances, the possibilities of technology that come up that you didn't plan
on ahead of time that you can use for other things. History is full of these
things, from the first person to use duct tape for something other than to
repair ducts. The misuse of technology is what makes technology great. I wish I
could think of more examples, off the top of my head, because there are dozens
and dozens of them. I can't, because I'm in the middle of a talk, but you can,
so you should.
The idea that you have to be here to get my wisdom is ridiculous. What new
technology, new learning allows is for this to be not only here, but available
online to web video-streaming people (Hi, web video-streaming people. I always
like to make sure the video people know they're important) (Actually, that's
not true, that’s something I started yesterday). Also, the audio-recording
people. Hi, audio-recording people, who are enjoying a less than perfect
experience, but still, you're there. The idea that things don't have to be in
one place anymore.
We need to question the presumption -- and it is a presumption -- that
there's too much content, too much data. We have information overload. It has
to be organized. It has to be standardized. It has to be categorized. Must be
delivered in packages.
Figure 2 - Apple pie recipes
Weinberger says, "We do not, interestingly, feel overloaded by the effects
of 1.3 million apple pie recipes or 7.6 million..." (He is
dramatically underestimating. I searched yesterday. I actually checked).
"7.6 million cute cat photos."
(Or maybe he was just referring to the subset of cat photos that is
cute, but clearly, it's much larger than that). It's interesting. We're not
overwhelmed by it at all. I don't walk out in the world, wondering, "What
am I going to do? I got so many cat photos."
When we talk about learning, it's
almost the first thing people say. We started our MOOC. What we did is we got
people to bring in content, suggest content to us. We brought in content. First
thing people said was, "There's too much content. How am I supposed to
remember all of this?"
I wish I'd had the cat photos line
back in 2008, but he didn't say it until 2014, so I couldn't. Not without time
travel. You're not supposed to remember all of it. That's the old way of
thinking that you're supposed to remember the content that the instructor is
delivering. For all kinds of reasons, not the least of which, you won't
remember it, anyways, you're not supposed to remember it.
The whole idea of our course, any
course, this course, this talk isn't to get you to remember what I said. Just
so you know it's OK if you forget every word I've said. It's to stimulate in
you the sort of mental experience that will create in you the sort of mental
structures that will, at some point in the future, be useful to you.
It's to stimulate this environment
and this sort of interaction. That's why we want questions and discussions
after, and that's why we want the real reason people are here, the wine and
cheese (I'm assuming cheese) at 4:30 (I was told there would be wine). We're
not expected to master every one of the 1.3 million apple pie recipes. Mastering
one will actually be enough. Mastering three to five will be more than most of
us ever do.
Actually, mastering one will be more
than any of us ever do. The main point is we pick and choose them as we need.
The interesting thing is take a room full of 50 people, and 1.6 million apple
pie recipes, people will choose, not all the same recipe, but different
recipes, because they look different. They seem different.
They appeal to us in different ways.
I have a whole talk on this. How you will read "Perfect Apple Pie
Recipe" from Pilsbury.com, and that will set off one set of mental
associations for you. Someone else will read it very differently. Maybe you have
a favorable impression of Pilsbury, or maybe you think of the dough-boy and
say, "No, that's not for me."
Maybe taste.com.au appeals to the
Australian nationalists in the room. No American would use that one. Australian
apple pie isn't as American as apple pie (at a certain point, my talks devolve
into nonsense; I'm sorry, it happens).
Personal and Personalized
I want to draw a key distinction
here, and it's a distinction that the model builders don't get. It's the
distinction between personal learning
and personalized learning. It's the
same difference as pretty much anything like this. Custom tire, customized
tire. Chocolate, chocolatized. Maybe that metaphor doesn't quite work.
The idea here is that personalized learning, personalized
anything, is you take something that's off-the-shelf, and you tweak some
variables in it, and that has thereby made it personal. That's what's offered
in programmed learning. That's what's offered in customized
learning solutions, personalized learning, adaptive learning. Any of these
design-based systems, they're personalized. Really, it's one package with a
bunch of options in it.
Personal learning is made to order. Personal learning is even learning you make yourself.
Personal learning is where you build your learning, not from a kit, but from
scratch. See the difference? People don't want customized, necessarily.
Sometimes, they do, but typically they don't. They want personal. They want
That's the expensive part of
learning. We were talking yesterday about the Oxbridge model. "The Oxbridge
model is so much better," said the Deputy vice-chancellor at Greenwich.
Why is it so much better? He has a point. It is better, in many ways, because
The problem is it’s also really
expensive. To provide that for everyone would cost more money than there is in
the world, but boy, it sure is nice having learning that's tailored exactly to
your needs. If you can build it yourself, that's better. If you can design your
food or choose your food from an infinite array of choices, that's better than
going to McDonald's. Even if they offer to take the pickle off for you.
Institutions, I would argue,
understand personalized. They don't get personal. There's so many ways in which
this is manifest. Even in some of the discussions over the last few days about
personal websites by institutional staff. The first
response that comes up is, "But will they follow institutional
standards?" The answer, of course, is, "Well, no."
There's the concern that widespread
adoption of social media brings shared interactional practices that do not
match university arrangements for learning. They talk about classes to people
who aren't in the class. That's just wrong. You can have a personalized class,
but it's still this thing in a box. Something that's personal can go beyond the
Autonomy vs Control
Autonomy, for many reasons, rather
than control, is essential in education. This is a bit of a digression, but I
want to be really clear about what I mean here (by the way, I'm a huge Bill
Waterson fan). Autonomy does not mean no structure. It means choice of
Think of touring a city. The way the
autonomy-versus-control thing is typically sketched is, if you're visiting a
city for the first time, either you wander around with no idea of where
anything is or where you are, or you're taken on a guided tour. If you actually
want to get someplace in the city, you pretty much have to do the second. You
can't do the first, because you'll just wander around aimlessly.
That's a dumb distinction. Those are
not the choices that are given to people. If you're visiting a city for the
first time, you have a number of choices. You could -- and I do this frequently
-- wander around, aimlessly, not knowing where you are. Or you could wander
aimlessly around with a map on your phone.
Or you could wander aimlessly around
with a dead battery on your phone, but using maps that are put up in the city.
Or you could ask someone for directions. Or you could, as I did this morning,
take the train, which will drop you close to where you want to go, although you
might have to ask for directions to do that, too. Or you could get on one of
those hop-on, hop-off buses.
Or you could get a friend to drive
you around the city and show you things. They offered to do that for me in
Greenwich. Or you could join a guided tour. That's choice. That's autonomy. The
other option is they kidnap you and take you around the city, no matter where
you want to go. That's control. Those are the real choices.
Ironically, we do education the
second way. Control, really, is
an illusion. Really. When you manage and control a work for outcomes, they
tend not to result. This is the interesting thing about these designs. They're
of the actual process. They're not useful, as prescriptions of what should be
done. If they're useful at all, they're useful as descriptions of what was
done, but only partial representations of what was done.
The personal, by contrast, is not
designed. It's based on -- and the photo of the murmuration should a big clue
here -- based on self-organization.
Figure 3 - Murmuration
It's based on the idea that people
can manage themselves and manage their interaction with others, including
learning, for themselves. The murmuration. They've
on the murmuration, and of course, there's no head starling. What's interesting
is there's no mass communication, either.
It's rather more like a mesh
network, in which each starling is reacting only to the seven starlings around
it. Anytime a starling changes position, the seven starlings around it change
position. That's what produces the cohesive movement of the whole.
It's interesting, because when you
think of it -- and that's not even in this article -- when you think of it, a
murmuration is a perceptual system for starlings. It's a way a whole flock of
starlings can magnify the perceptions, say, of a hawk, by any individual
starling. The great wildebeest
migration, same sort of thing.
They're not actually going
somewhere. We think they're going somewhere, but they're not. They're just
searching for food and water, and their migration follows the natural patterns
of the climate and the environment. It takes them around in a big circle, over
Complexity, Cause, and Murmurations
It's interesting. This whole concept
of design, organization, planning, et cetera, suggests that we can cause these
events to happen.
But for anything that's remotely
complex, there is no cause, properly, so called, of the event. Landmark ideas
are created not necessarily -- not at all, pretty much -- by individual people,
societies, by this large murmuration of people interacting with their
The modern technological world is
giving us new examples of that. The hashtag
is a way of creating self-organizing networks. Imagine if we tried to plan the
Internet so that we could account for and index and abstract all of the
conferences that will happen from now on, before they happened. It'd be
ridiculous. Couldn't happen. A new speaker series like this would be impossible
to anticipate. Hashtag networks can be seen as self-organizing
ideas. The hashtag is a murmuration of tweets (that's a neat line; I'll have
to remember that).
Mary Meeker -- if you're not
familiar with Mary Meeker, you should be, if you're at all interested in
education technology and markets -- has
observed the proliferation of apps, not just in education, in everywhere. What
the app world does is facilitate this kind of network interaction. What she's
noticing is that the edge, which is jargon-speak for the link between two
nodes, is more important than the node, where the node is the person, the
computer system, the learner, the starling, whatever. It's the connections that
are interesting. That's what's interesting in education, as well.
The starlings, in education, are
the students. The university, the learning institution, properly conceived,
should be organized like a murmuration. Should be a self-organized assemblage
of students. But then, of course, you don't need that institutional structure,
at all, and it becomes really difficult to justify a $20,000 or 9,000 pound
A Reclamation Project
It's happening. There was a critic
at yesterday's talks saying, "Do you know there are no students involved
in these conferences?" I did a search. The search for "student
panel" actually yielded 199,000 results on Google. The search for "ed
tech student panel" in quotation marks, so it's the union set of those
words in that exact order, yielded 2,000 results.
The students are doing this. They
are organizing themselves. Audrey
Waters says -- and I think she's quite right -- "The future of
educational technology is a reclamation project." The idea here is that
we, the learners, the people who need to learn need to reclaim the management
and organization of learning for ourselves.
It's interesting. It's like the
whole Facebook thing. Facebook has taken over conversations with our
grandparents. They're using it to run tests on emotions and to sell stuff. We
need to reclaim our conversations with our grandparents. We need to reclaim our
interactions of Plato, Socrates, and the person next door. We have to reclaim
control of the data, the content, and the knowledge we create.
The idea that this belongs to the
university that it belongs to the institution is ridiculous. The idea that the
university has any say over what students or even its professors would produce
in this Internet is absurd. Lucy Gray does what I do. She puts her
presentations up on Slideshare. One day, Slideshare
deleted everything. No explanation. No recourse. She couldn't even contact
She had to tweet it to get any
attention from them. No notice. They were just gone. That's why we have to be
the owners of our own education. I read this morning -- I didn't have a chance
to put it in the slides -- there's a guy who started a course, a Coursera course.
Went two weeks into the course, and then he deleted
the entire course. It was, he said, "An experiment in causing
confusion." (It’s not
the first time this has happened).
One of my colleagues, Ben
creating something called Known. Known is an application where, as he says,
you can still share selfies, make friends, listen to music, et cetera. Put up
cat photos, very important. But in a space that's yours and that you get to
have control over.
Ben Werdmuller, with Dave Tosh,
built a thing called Elgg a while back, which is now widely respected as a
social networking environment for learning. They also built something that
really should have been much more successful than it was, called Explode, which
was a similar sort of thing to Known, except I think Known will be better
produced. David Wiley gushed
when he heard of the "publish on your own site, syndicate elsewhere"
anti-model, it's called model in the article but I'm calling it an anti-model
because it's not really a model.
There have been (if you check out
the #indieweb hashtag you'll see) indications of this, from Diaspora (disclosure:
I invested a hundred dollars in it - that was my only investment; I'll never
see a return on it) to App.net, which I actually pay money to as well.
Even to syndication itself, it's
this idea that what’s today a silo (which is learning) is going to become the
syndication end point. These applications, these services, these resources, are
the things we reach out and touch but not where we invest our entire lives.
Reclaimed learning is network learning
Groom has been running something called, "Reclaim your domain." There
have been various other wordings, "Reclaim innovation, reclaim
learning." Starting now, he writes, “a technology that allows for
limitless reproduction of knowledge resources, instantaneous global sharing and
cooperation. All the powerful benefits of digital manipulation, recombination,
That was the potential of the
Internet twenty years ago and it was basically stopped by the institutions that
decided it should be organized a different way. The idea of "reclaim all
of this stuff" is to bring back that idea of the Internet. That begins
with personal control over your own resources and your own access to external
services including leaning.
I've outlined the model in our
discussion earlier today. It used to be the case that you would go to one
institution, maybe two institutions and you did all your learning there. It's
changing now so that you access learning from multiple institutions. Not just
multiple universities, but multiple types of institutions, from colleges and
universities, potential employers, current employers, past employers, to pet
food stores, to fringe networks, to special interest groups, to hobby groups,
to the government, to whatever.
They're all sources of learning. The
idea is, you are at the center of this network of learning. Reclaimed learning
is network learning.
Reclaimed learning is having access to the tools and the mechanisms to freely
author and create your own learning and share it with others and to access and
use learning that was created by others and shared with you.
It's your mechanism for talking to
the starlings that are nearby (I really love that murmuration example. I'll try
not to beat it to death, but just happen to be beating a starling).
That's something like what
we were building when we were building the first MOOCs. Our MOOCs are called
"connectivist MOOCs" or "cMOOCs." What makes them distinct
is that the people, the individuals are at the center and the learning
resources are all distributed.
You might think, "Well, how do
you build a course where the center isn't your course?" What we did is, we
pointed students to mechanisms on the current internet where they could build
one of each. We said, "Create a blog on Blogger. Create an account on
Delicious and do that. Put photos on Flickr. Add videos to YouTube. Create a
Google group." Do any of these things.
In the future we'd say, "Use
your own personal web space to organize and coordinate your resources and then
tell us what these resources are." You create your space, we'll create a
space like this too, and then we'll join them together.
That's what we did. It wasn't a
course where we had a pedagogical model in mind where we tried to step people
through. It was this ridiculous no-rules mess that turned into a murmuration,
that turned into a MOOC, that turned into something that can attract hundreds
of thousands of people.
Technology Behind the Reclaimed Web
Some of the technology
behind the reclaimed web, technology that allows us to have comments on our
sites without having to author a comment management system...
There's a tool set these days is
distributors' developers stack, where you can build your own website and
access external services like storage. The old stack was called LAMP - Linux,
Apache, MySQL, and Perl. Perl's programming language. That would be where you
manage all your data. Today, the stack is your website, but then all the remote
system that you can access with your website.
Making it easier for search
engines to index (and this is the promised clarification of LRMI) is Schema dot
org, where you manage and create your own metadata. You don't have to adopt and
adapt IMS or IEEE or whatever. Schema is being set up by the search engines.
The search engines are saying, "Here's what you can do. It's almost like
tagging with tags for websites.''
Figure 4 - Bitnami Apps
Or this is one called Bitnami, it's an app
store for server software. These are all different apps. Again, they're kind of
hard to see. But Word Press, Joomla, Redmine (which I don't know anything about),
WAMP stack (Windows something, something, something, probably Python) Moodle,
Magneto, for e-commerce, just to name some of them. There are actually 50-60
You want to run a survey. The old
way to run a survey on your website is you download and install software like
LimeWire, configure it, set it up -- and hope it works -- and launch your
The modern way to do it is you get
an account with Amazon web services or something that will give you some Cloud
hosting. You use the app store you rent a LimeWire for $1.99. It installs in
Amazon web services, you put a link to it, you have a survey ready. You're not
even using any disk space and Amazon is taking the hit for all the traffic. It
cost you a little money but it so much better than Facebook.
Take your data back
from Google. This will be a thing, a personal web server, preloaded with open-source
software that lets you run all of your web services from home, your home
If you don't think it's going to be
a thing, think again. People use to go to the Western Union Wire Office to send
messages to each other, then the fax machine was invented, and Western Union
installed a fax machine on each one of their offices and figured, "This is
great. Now, we can charge people for sending messages, and now they can send facsimile
But what happened instead is, people
bought fax machines and put them in their homes. You would think who would put
a message sending device in their home? Now, we carry them in our pockets.
This is the future of this
technology. The personal learning that I've been talking about isn't just
personal learning in a conceptual sense, it is personal learning in a concrete
hardware sense. Your university will be a box in your living room.
The modern web
is distributed, interactive, murmuration of services and people -- 2RCode,
OpenSearch, Windows Live Tiles, touch icons, RSS and even a thing called human
dot text. All of these are little pieces. Your flavors will all be different as
they should be. The idea that every website must be exactly the same is absurd.
Only an economist would come up with that.
Social Networks and Neural Networks
This changes learning. This is what
George and I are getting at is of the theory of Connectivism. “Connectivism
repositions media as type of content” - but content is, remember, the McGuffin;
it's the thing that gets us talking to each other.
We use media. We use our own
services. We use our interaction with each other to create links with each other. These links with each other, these
connections between people, between neurons, between concepts, between ideas.
That's the actual learning. I could go on. I have two hour long talks about
that, which I won't do.
One question that's always asked is
what is the
connection between social networks and neural networks? What is the
connection between tweeting each other, or sending email, or skyping, and
learning, where learning is the formation of connections between your neurons? Learning
is, manifestly, the second. What is the link between this and the first?
There are two ways of looking at it.
Connectivism embraces both ways. These are not alternatives, although they're
alternatives, but they're not exclusive alternatives.
George's answer is that it's a multi-nodal
extension. What that means is when you learn it's literally the formation of connections
between your neurons. You have a network in your brain. This network extends
out of the brain and into devices, into the Internet, and, eventually, through
to other people. It's an adaptation of the old McLuhan idea that a
communication system is like an extension of the body. An information system is
an extension of the mind. Pretty smart.
My answer is just as smart. My
answer is pattern
recognition. My answer is that neural networks and social networks are, in
fact, ontologically different, and one is not an extension of the other, but
They're related by, first of all, a
common set of underlying principles described in the mathematics and the
methodology of networks. I talked about underlying network principles like
autonomy, diversity, and that sort of thing.
The other aspect of it is that
networks learn by pattern recognition. The learning in a network is literally
the formation of connections. A society learns by forming connections between
its people. A human learns by forming connections between their neurons.
What these connections are actually
doing is creating a capacity on the part of the network, as a whole, to
recognize characteristic patterns. Just like a murmuration of starlings can
recognize a falcon. Not because it has falcon-like content in its collective
mind (when you put it that way, it's pretty absurd, right?) but, because it, as
a whole, is a system that can react to the presence of a falcon.
(I'm assuming that falcons predate
on starlings. I could be completely wrong, but I assume a murmuration would move
away from a falcon. Anyhow, I don't know a lot about starlings, but you get the
The same principles underlie social
networks and personal networks. A social network is a perception mechanism for
a society. A neural network is a perception mechanism for a person. Persons can
recognize patterns in society. Societies can recognize patterns in persons. The
interaction begins to flow.
You can see that the Downes answer
and the Siemens answer are really two sides of the same coin. Different ways of
seeing the same topic. That's really common in network learning.
Even if we're examining the same
thing, we're all looking at it from a different perspective. Our understanding
of it is never going to be the content of any individual's mind. Again, that
would be ridiculous. Rather, the combination, the pattern created by the
multiple perspectives that come into play as we all look at this common object.
If I put a chair in the room, our
understanding of the chair is the totality of our perceptions of the chair (which
is why Wittgenstein was right and Moore was wrong - but that's an aside).
Connectivism can be thought of as a
learning theory. Personally, I don't care whether you call it a theory or
not. But, it accounts for existing theories, it explains where we are, and it
we can make predictions.
One thing I do a lot of is make
predictions. The predictions based on connectivism can be tested. I've got a
history of making predictions, and I'll continue making predictions. One
response of connectivism was
the MOOC. We built a course in this network style. What we discovered (and
frankly, we did discover this, we did
not know this going in this) was that building a course as a network allows you
to accommodate a lot of people with very few resources.
We had a budget for our first MOOC
of nothing, yet we still managed 2500 people. I shouldn't say nothing - George
wrangled the free Elluminate account. What we were doing is we were testing
connectivism by using connectivist theory to create a course, and that course
resulted in the MOOC. My verdict is the experiment was a success. Participants
seemed to agree.
Creating networks, developing
professional connections, studies of MOOCs - This one is a
study done by a couple of my colleagues, Helene Fournier and Rita Kop. The
people who actually took these MOOCs report that the really important part
wasn't the content, because the content was just the stuff that George and I
sent, but the creating
of networks, the developing of connections, the networking, building on the
affordances of this particular network.
Where are we going? Here comes the
prediction part. Although, it's not just me anymore. I've been talking about
personal learning and personal learning environments for a number of years ago.
The Aspen Institute - they're
actually one of these right-wing think tanks, but we'll leave that aside - even
are saying learning has to be personal. Learners have to be empowered to
learn any place any time. The idea is to use networks to support and guide
learners and, most importantly, build operability across learning networks.
Grain of salt: they're thinking of this management design perspective. You
can't do exactly what they say, but they have the right in saying learning
needs to be personal. Learning needs to be connected. Learning needs to be
Learning control is moving
beyond computer-assisted programs “towards authentic learning context,
mediated by technology.” If you think about it, if learning is a network and
not an on-site event-based kind of process, it can happen anywhere. It will
happen anywhere. It will happen and be managed and controlled by people using
their own devices, wherever they happen to be. The devices that are implicated
in learning will multiply.
This is an
interesting one. I love this one. Reading and networking will become one
and the same thing. This is not exactly what Steve Pettifer is saying. Steve
Pettifer developed a program called Utopia. It's an Adobe Reader, but when you
read it, a sidebar opens up and gives you all kinds of resources from other
We built something similar to that,
called Plearn. It was an in-house proof-of-concept project that we did between
2010 and 2012. I've seen similar sorts of things in Microsoft Word. The norm
will be to have, if you're consuming (terrible word) consuming content, the
norm will be that you have a sidebar experience. Even watching television. It
used to be you just sit there (and watch). Remember that? But now, we have what
they call the second screen experience.
Reading, watching television, all of
these things will be, are becoming networked experiences. In the workplace,
connective learning is already changing the workplace. It is going to really
change the workplace when our learning becomes
present in our devices. I used to talk about the fishing rod that teaches
you how to fish. Now, recently, I saw an advertisement for a tennis racket that
teaches you how to play tennis. Somebody actually built it. It exists. I wish I
had the link for it. You have internal sensors. The internal sensors know what
a good swing looks like. Feeds back to your device. Your device says, "You
really ought to work on that backhand." Or whatever.
Teams and collaborations will be
transformed. The old way, the design way, the management way, the control way
is to form teams and collaborations, and put people in groups and get them all
marching to the same tune, singing the same song, et cetera. The new way is to
connect, to interact, but to work autonomously. In software development,
they're calling the
oscillation principle, where you get together and connect, and go away and
do your thing. Get together and connect, go away and do your thing.
Cooperation is basically defined as
a set of interactions
in a problem space. The problem space might be anything. The idea here is
that you can achieve results without actually having all the overhead of a
collaboration. A murmuration is cooperation. Each starling is autonomous. Each
starling decides for itself where it's going to go. There's no shared vision.
"Hey, let's have this really
neat kind of amorphous mass." It's like one starling's saying, "That's
a falcon," and making its own decision. In
cooperation, we don't share models. We don't share designs. We don't share
goals. We don't share objectives. Axelrod
talks about cooperation. All cooperation requires is a durable relationship.
the overhead that we typically associate with managing activities on the
web, including learning -- things like centrality, commonality, learning
objectives, learning management, controlled outcomes, even trust -- all of
these are unnecessary for self-organizing systems. They're overhead. They make
the institutions rich. They don't do the kind of job that the students need.
Cooperation means working with
others. Working with them directly, without the overhead. Doing away with the
negotiations, the discussions, the accommodations. All you need is to be able
to interact and communicate with people. That doesn't mean you can't have
negotiations, discussions, and accommodations. A lot of people like that stuff,
and it's OK. But it's like the guided tour. A lot of people like the guided
tour. If you want to get on the guided tour and share an experience with
people, you can. The point of cooperation is we can run a society where you
don't have to.
The new skills, therefore, both in
teaching and learning are network skills. The new skills, pretty much in any
discipline now, are network skills. This is a reference to Coding
For Journalists so that journalists will understand the real meaning of
things like lists, loops, and application programming interfaces. The whole
idea here is to understand the concept of how individual entities are related
to form patterns, data structures, and entities.
People forget about things
like Codeacademy, which have proven, very successfully, through millions of
users, that people can do things like learn to program on their own, without
being told how to do it. It's like I mentioned at the beginning of the talk.
The model for learning is like socializing and playing games.
A New System of Learning
If you've ever been to the media
center, I visited the media center once at MIT, the Media Lab
- it was a really interesting experience, because the place is a mess. It's
utter shambles. It's probably a fire trap. But it's brilliant because people
can interact any way they want, using whatever kind of device they want. If you
want to build a robot, that's cool. It's all play, but I'm sure it's not all
We have these models. One model is
super-university. It's going to respond to government directives or
commercial imperatives. It will be designed. It'll produce outcomes. It'll
create jobs. Economic development. Employment for graduates. Even manage
immigration. Commercialize research. This is a line; people have told me this:
"It isn't innovation unless it's been commercialized."
Again, if you're in economics or
business, you've probably heard this. I really don't think that's true. You
might say it's not innovation unless it's used, but that's something distinct.
That's the one model. That's the kind of thinking that (is typical of) the
people's that are saying, "There will be 10 universities left in the
world." That's the kind of thinking that goes into that sort of model,
that sort of design.
They talk about the importance of
universities because we need them. They don't talk about what it is, in fact,
we need. Think about the topics I've talked about in this presentation. Do we
need more models and more designs? Does the world really need another theory of
Do we need more standards and more
measurements? I showed you half a dozen ways of standardizing learning
resources. I could go on about standards and measurements. Do we need more
centralization and control? Are the people out there yearning, "Control
me! I don't know where to go." Do we need, quite frankly, the same mistake
We're able now to rebuild our system
of learning. Why on earth would we do it the old way? What is it that we need?
What we need is the mechanism to support learning itself. When you ask the
people what they want, they don't want immediate economic development. They
want better lives.
They see things like learning - All of
those people who went to the artificial intelligence course, all of those
people who flooded into our MOOC, they're doing the same thing that the people
of Leiden did
when they opted for a university instead of lower taxes. They're doing what the
people of Tublingen
did, when they said, "We want a university, not industrial
We have an alternative. We do
have an alternative. There is a model. It's not a model. I shouldn't call it a
model. We have an anti-model. Maybe I should be anti-anti-model and call
it...Never mind. I won't go there. We can, as they say, reclaim learning.
We can have a way of looking at
learning where learning is not structured, designed, and set up to create
outputs, but rather run, operated, and controlled as an unorganized, unmanaged
system by individuals. I say we're moving beyond institutions in learning, toward
a cooperative model, toward a knowing society, based on network knowledge.
That's the model of the future.
It'll be based on software, technology,
resources, systems, interactions, communities, and the rest that take learning
well beyond formal education. People talked about, "What is the role of
formal education and institutions in all of this?" It (the role of formal
education and institutions) is to serve that.
Institutions need to adapt and get
out of the mindset that they control and manage learning, and now think about
how they can serve many different people in many different ways, with the
resources, the learning, the coaching, the mentoring, et cetera, that they need
when they need it.
We're going to get the opposite
of these large, control-based universities. People say, "This is the death
of the university, these MOOCs." It's not. This is the beginning of the
university. The shift of the university from something big and large and
available only to a few, to something much smaller, much more nimble, much more
independent, a lot like community music artists -- that line was for George
Siemens -- that will cater to specific learning needs. They will number in the
hundreds of thousands, not the tens. They will be everywhere.
I thank you for your time and your
attention. We do actually have a little time for questions, but I won't say how
little. Thank you.
Peter: Thank you very much, Stephen, for that.
We do have time for questions, therefore the floor is open. We do have a
microphone for those of you who do have questions. That's so that the feed can
get you, and we can keep you on tape forever. The floor is open for questions.
Male Audience Member: Reclaiming the web.
Reclaiming learning. Given that the Internet has been around for a while, how
come the institutions took over? Why hasn't this happened already if your
predictions...? You have been making those predictions 25 years ago, right?
What went wrong?
Stephen: 14 years ago. The predictions I made
back in 1998, and you can check them, they're online, have come true. This is
new. These are the predictions for 2014. It's not that the predictions I made
back then are wrong.
Back in 1998, I wrote a paper called
"The Future of Online Learning." I predicted a device that would be
widely used by students. It would about this big by this big. It would cost
around $300, and it would be called the "PAD."
Male Audience Member: I suppose what I mean is
we're all part of institutions, so we're part of the problem.
Stephen: Oh, yeah.
Male Audience Member: Why do institutions come
about if what you're saying is so brilliant?
Stephen: Why was there 2,000 years of history
before there was the Internet? Why didn't they have the Internet back in
creation? That's the logical structure of the question, but I'll be a bit more
If you look at the Internet, and by
look at the Internet, I mean look beyond Facebook, and look beyond Twitter, and
look beyond your universe in the intranet, you see exactly what I'm describing.
You see a billion web pages, 10
billion web pages. I'm not sure the exact count. You see tens of thousands of
Google Groups of people getting together. Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, other
groups. People getting together to talk to each other about the things that are
important to them. You see informal learning like crazy.
You see things like the Khan Academy
before Microsoft bought it. Where some guy just creates a whole bunch of
Male Audience Member: Microsoft did buy it though,
Stephen: They bought that.
Male Audience Member: Wouldn't it be the case that
all of these things will get consumed.
Stephen: They bought that, but not the 90 other
things. What you're doing is you're focusing on the big media thing, and you're
missing the other 90. The reclaim the web thing is ignore the big media thing.
It's the other 90 that are important.
There's another thing too. It's hard
or has been hard to setup things like your own web server. It's much easier to
simply sign on to Facebook, but the technology is being developed. It used to
be really hard to publish a book. It used to be the only books that ever got
published were published by publishers. Now, anyone can publish a book online.
Yeah, there are still publishers, and they still exist.
You can say, "Why are there
still publishers if anyone can publish a book online?" Because there's
still a business model there. People still make money off of it. That does not
negate the fact that anyone who wants can publish online.
Do you see the point? Are you happy
Male Audience Member: I think it's part of a
larger discussion. I'll resign to the argument.
Stephen: Good enough.
Female Audience Member: If I may challenge you on a
rather distinct hypothesis. Namely that people really want to restructure their
own learning, or do want to define their learning in the first place. I have
made the experience that a lot of people, in general, in life are actually
quite happy to have control, to a certain degree, taken over and that they can
rely on structures that have established themselves as successful in the past.
Even though I, personally, very much
agree with you, and I'm doing a PhD, so I actually am in that position that I
can restructure my learning. I can sit here and not somewhere else. I still
believe that there's a lot of people who don't want to do that and actually
find it very stressful.
Are you not basing, in a way, your
very argument on a very small, I'm going to say, elitist group? Basically,
saying that this is not very representative of everybody.
Stephen: This is why I was really careful and
even used the extended analogy, and I felt very badly at the time for going on
so long about it...The analogy of touring a city.
You're quite right. Even apple pie,
right? Many people would just rather buy the pie from a store that produces pies.
That's kind of where I'm at. Other people if they're actually going to make a
pie, fools that they are, would rather follow the directions. Then, there's
this small set of people, this miniscule, elite set of people who wing it and
design an apple pie for themselves by scratch.
The argument is not that everyone
wants to design a pie by themselves by scratch. The argument is that people
want the choice. If the only way in your life you could have an apple pie was
to go to McDonalds and order an apple pie, you would find that limiting. Even
if you like McDonalds apple pie...For me, the only thing I'll eat at McDonalds,
the very few times that I go in there, is the apple pie, because it's good, and
it's delicious, and it's got this nice hot filling.
But, if that was the only way to
have an apple pie, I would be up in arms and so would everyone else. You see
the difference? It matters. The nice thing about doing a PhD is you're
willingly putting yourself under the direction of people who are experts in the
field. It's a powerful experience, and I know you're enjoying it.
If that was the only you could do to
get a job, period, now, all of a sudden, your willingness to do this takes on a
different character. That different character is what people are worried about.
Male Audience Member: On that point, I was just
reminded about Chomsky's lecture "Education for Whom and for What,"
which was talking about the stratification, political side of things. I'm
reminded of Zizek's problem solving and creative thinking or thinking as he
makes the distinction. Institutions and economies depend on people
executing...It's like serving the Industrial Age. You need to read the manual,
so you can operate.
Psychologists come to diffuse
dissent. Urban planners come to organize cities, so the dissent doesn't erupt
and can be contained. Nobody really wants thinking in a political sense in our
institutions anyway. Let's assume that's the case. You said perception on a
collective level is somehow sort of uncorrupted or sort of clean.
What about perception of society?
BBC shapes opinions in this country. Private's use a reason. Public's use a
reason. CNN...It's like holding up a cardboard [inaudible 1:31:01] instead of
[inaudible 1:31:03] , which is not a real [inaudible 1:31:05], but they react
in a certain way. I applaud your idealism. I'm part of it.
I had the privilege to talk to
Richard Storman about privacy not far from here at IET at Savoy, and he was
using a MacBook for his publishing. He had to succumb to all the issues he as
partially against in some ways. We have to obey gravity, I guess.
Stephen: A lot of people say, "I applaud
your idealism, but it could not possibly work." Yet, at least, in my life,
it has worked. It's not a sample set of zero. When you say nobody wants the
people to be educated. The universe of discourse of nobody here is limited to
managers and those above managers. I don't think most people have their
ambition in life to work in a factory and be told what to do.
I don't think so. They may choose
that, but we have to consider the choices that we're offered. You're quite
right. When you point to the influence of media in our thinking, that's...Yeah,
absolutely. It's one of the really interesting consequences of the Internet.
That we now have at least a billion choices of points of view and perspective.
We don't need to depend on the BBC
or the Guardian or any of the newspapers that have recently been closed. You
know what I mean? We have many choices. I get my news now from a wide variety
of sources. One of the things the Internet has done is it's lifted this impact
of particular vehicles of ways of looking at the world. I think this is really
I think it's replacing them with
others, but, at least now, it's the choice thing. It used to be if you wanted
news, you had to watch BBC or maybe ITV after a certain date, and I understand
you have other channels now. Now, we can get our news from almost anywhere. Literally,
Where I live in New Brunswick,
there's a guy called Charles Leblanc, who's a self-proclaimed ADHD individual,
who's been permanently banned from the provincial legislature for various
indiscretions, who is one of the major sources of news about political affairs
in the province. The guy is crazy. Certifiable. But, he's wonderful, and he's
just as accurate as the local newspaper.
Male Audience Member: I've got a question from
Sonja Grussendorf. Looking forward 200 years, how sustainable is the change
you're proposing if it's dependent on things like energy and technology? Can
self-organization happen without technology?
Stephen: Without technology, we'll be depending
on self-organization, because there will be no means, except a club, to impose
control, and the effective limit of a club is the circumference of the arm. OK.
That was badly put, but I tried.
What doesn't go away, presumably, is
a lot of the technological capacity that we have today. We know that there are
other sources of energy besides fossil fuels. Wind, solar, et cetera. There is
no a priori reason why 200 years from now there would be no energy. The bigger
problem is probably the lithium shortage, because it makes portable batteries
tricky. We'll have things like carbon nanotube capacitors as a way of having
stored, portable energy.
I don't think that energy is the big
problem 200 years from now. The fact that many of our major cities are flooded
is a big problem, but energy, I don't think so. I think, in broad strokes, self-organization
is sustainable in that way. As long as we have the capacity to communicate with
each other to any significant way in a free and open way, self-organization is
The bigger threat to self-organization
in the future is the reemergence of authoritarianism, non-democratic or post-democratic
forms of government, nuclear war. That kind of thing. Those are threats.
Corporatism is a bigger threat than the lack of energy, quite frankly.
Corporations are not democratic. They're explicitly anti-democratic.
Communication within a corporation
is very typically monitored and controlled, and that's extending into
government. Both senses. Those are more concerns. Interestingly, we're to the
point in technology now where we can build alternatives. What's it called?
There's an alternative point-to-point WiMAX network being setup that operates
outside the boundaries of the traditional telecom system.
It's not very popular. There's no
particular need for it. The thing is the possibility exists with existing
knowledge that we can form a mesh network without the existing
telecommunications infrastructure. Even things like silicon chips. There are
enough silicon chips in the world now that even if we stopped making them, we
could go out and mine them from garbage dumps and have a supply for years in
It's a novel I want to write one
day. Mining for silicon chips. Got to find the knowledge.
Female Audience Member: I was intrigued very much by
the assertion you've made about institutions understand personalization but
don't understand personal. I would like to ask, do you think that through what
they understand as personalization can they get to the personal? Can they reach
the personal and through what way, perhaps?
Stephen: That's a really interesting question,
and it's interesting in an ontological sense. If it's true that we can
completely define a person as a set of options, where completely means not
fully completely or universally completely but completely enough, then personalization
could take us to personal.
But, if there are aspects of
individuals that could not be defined, a priori, as sets of options, then
personalization can never become personal. You see why, right? Personalization
requires defining the set of possibilities for an individual service or
resource by these sets of options. If the set of options is not complete, at
some point, some percentage of people will find a barrier or a limitation.
Not that all barriers or limitations
are bad, but when they're imposed on you by the structure of the learning or
production network, they become something people struggle against. That's an
empirical question. That's not a question I'm going to say, "Well, it's
conceptually impossible that this could happen, or it's practical." it
could happen. We could do it.
Humans are not infinite. Nothing is
infinite. Not even space. Probably not even time. Conceptually, it's possible,
a priori. Whether it's practically possible is a matter of just how detailed
can our technology get. People like Neal Stephenson and "The Diamond
Age" with the notebook that reacts to your every learning need. That's the
sort of picture that they have in mind where the notebook learns enough facts
about you and throws enough switches that it becomes completely personal.
Maybe we could design a system
that's sufficiently complex, but if I had to pick one, I'd say probably not.
I'd say maybe it could be done, but it would probably be too expensive. It
would cost as much as a professor, and it would require more money than there
is in the world to provide one for everyone. I think personal is the way to go.