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Devlearn 09 - Day 3

Day 3 of Devlearn was a short event day, just 1 keynote and 2 breakout sessions. It started off really well with a keynote by Leo Laporte.

Leo is a wonderful storyteller. He told his story as a youngster trying to get into the mass media business. He described the difficulties and bottlenecks that the industry posed to people like him, from the high equipment costs to the very controlled distribution to the impenetrable bureaucracy. Only few people made it through the system, the rest were outliers waiting for their opportunity.

The opportunity came in the form of the microprocessor and the Internet. These two technologies lowered production and distribution costs and enabled mass media to be truly mass media—from many to many. The social media or Web 2.0 tipped this ability over. Nowadays it is easy for anyone to put up a video or talk station and reach out to the masses. Leo described how he started his Internet-based station with just $15k of equipment that reached out to hundreds of thousands of people.

Leo’s main idea is that the Internet and the social tools have lowered the barriers to entry for anyone who wants to work, play or learn on it.

My big takeaway from this conference is that I see the acceptance of a new form of learning, one that is very social and one that is very informal. The orderly well-defined structure of teaching and learning is breaking down and yielding to a more natural way that does not depend on a specific time and place for teaching and learning to happen.

My big fear is that people will take this new form of learning as the only natural way to learn. This is plain wrong. On the contrary this form of learning takes more from the learner, as now he has to analyse and filter from the hundreds of options and opinions that are available to him. The only natural part is that these options and opinions are coming from other people.

I can describe the situation like this: for many problems there is the possibility that the solutions are ‘out there’. Before the Web 2.0 capability came along it was difficult, if not impossible, to surface all of this knowledge from the community. Now with social media we are able to lower the barriers to this hidden knowledge. For example, don’t know how insurgents are using improvised explosives in Iraq? Well, we can ask the soldiers who are coming across this on a day-to-day basis. The New Yorker has a wonderful article on this type of knowledge at work.

But this is not the only way we learn. Sometimes we don’t know the discipline, sometimes there is just too much to be learned, sometimes it is all too complex. In all such cases we require detailed and serious study. It is how we become good at things. Assuming that all learning can take place through social media will do more harm than good. Let’s not forget this when celebrating Learning 2.0.

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