Mapping the world through learning communities

Last year, New York Times bestselling author and vlogger (video blogger) John Green delivered an address entitled The Paper Town Academy at a TEDx event in Indianapolis. Green takes off from the practice of cartography and uses it as a metaphor to say that “The manner in which we map the world changes the world. The world is changed by our maps of the world. What we map changes the life we lead.”. He then transitions to talking about how the internet has opened up to new learning communities, allowing for more ways and opportunities for us to map the world  according to our diverse knowledge and experiences.Another interestng point in Green’s address is when he states that the YouTube page resembles a classroom, in that the teacher is speaking in an elevated and central platform (video screen) and the students are engaged in a conversation below the platform (comments section). Green makes a good job in describing how the YouTube comments section is a fantastic avenue for learning conversations and intellectual exchange. Often, when people think and talk about YouTube comments, they focus on the virtual conflicts that arise from online discussions. What Green points out, on the other hand, is that if one only looks closely enough, one would see that social media and popular online platforms like YouTube, Reddit, and Tumblr are also being used by people to share bits of knowledge with one another – as in a regular classroom setting.

This brings me back to another article which I wrote recently about The future of higher education. As I listened to John Green’s address, the idea of a higher education bubble sounded more unreal. Perhaps what’s happening is not that people are being deprived of opportunities and resources to pursue higher education, but rather that more alternative opportunities are popping up to the point that traditional higher education platforms – such as  universities – are not the only options any longer.

The future of higher education: How technology will shape learning, a report from the Economist Intelligence Unit and sponsored by the New Media Consortium, also tackles the topic of the convergence between new media and education. The report is based on a survey and in-depth interviews conducted in 2008 among executives from both higher education and corporate settings. However, while the report lists several impacts of technology (particularly online learning technologies) to conventional settings, it concluded that “for all of its benefits, technology remains a disruptive innovation – and an expensive one”. Though the study was conducted more than four years ago, it is safe to assume that such is still the general sentiment of conventional higher education professionals about using new technologies: disruptive and expensive. As John Green’s speech show, however, there is another way by which we can view this entanglement of education and technology.In his aforementioned TED address, Green says: “I became a learner because I found myself in a community of learners.”. More than higher budgets and stronger administrative tactics for higher educatio institutions, perhaps this is what we really need: a community of learners. Focusing on the technology per se has merely proved to lead to an endless debate. So why don’t we focus on the users of the technology instead? At the end of the day, it is not the technology or the technical platform that makes education possible, but how the learning community uses it.

Knut Harald Nylænde is a Norwegian businessman and investor who currently serves as the CEO of Moxie AS. In his multiple blogs, Knut discusses his views about issues of business, technology, culture, and defence.