TED Conversations

Megan Summers

Impact Entrepreneurship Group


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Is the internet, not formal education, the new great equalizer?

Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery. – Horace Mann

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    Oct 6 2011: As soon as they change the credentialization process, then yes. Right now it doesn't matter how 'educated' someone is, if they don't have a bought and paid for degree then their knowledge and know-how is almost worthless in the job market. If we had a system in which anyone could seek an education by whatever means worked best for them, whether it be the traditional college experience, online colleges, alternatives like khanacademy.org, apprenticeships, on the job training, or whatever...and a separate credentializing entity that did all the examining and awarding of degrees, then we would all be better served and an education wouldn't have to cost an arm and a leg. It's not as if universities are a repository of exclusive knowledge. A person could potentially sit in a library and become more educated than the typical college graduate.

    And just think of the potential for innovation across the globe both on and offline this would create.
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      Oct 6 2011: Agreed and the powers that be may fight that process. It would be nice to see the internet added as a tool and some kind of credential system in place
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        Oct 7 2011: I think that the K-12 system will change organically from within as more and more parents, teachers, administrators become more demanding of workable solutions...like the concept of flipping the classroom promoted by The Khan Academy. However, fundamental changes to so called "Higher Learning" can only happen from outside the current system. When a for profit organization can simply purchase a struggling private college that has existing accreditation in order to be able to award degrees to their graduates, no matter the quality of education, while Khan Academy (and others), a non-profit organization, lacks this ability, you realize just how much influence the profit motive has in that system. We must put pressure on our elected officials in order to orchestrate this change.
    • Oct 8 2011: I beeive the key words in your stsatement are: BOUGHT AND PAID FOR.
      'Formal education' has a pre-defined cost atttched to it, with no tangible result for its payment, other that a piece of paper, (bearing someone else's say-so), a confirmation that we've jumped through the hoops required to be permitted to receive that document.
      Also, keep in mind that these institutions are FINANCIALLY operated to turn a profit, (the purpose of a business is to turn a profit, AT ANY EXPENSE, using any and all means).
  • Oct 7 2011: These questions always strike me as bizarre and myopic. They are so self-centic to those of us who live and work amongst the poorest people of the world. What relevance does this false dichotomy, this binary between the internet and formal education, have to us? None. In Timor-Leste, according to the governments' latest statistics, 90% of the population use firewood for cooking, almost 70% live in serious to extreme poverty and less than 0.2%, mainly government workers and NGOs, have internet connections. Great equalizer huh? The great equalizer is feeding starving people, demanding access to decent health conditions, protecting the poor from exploitation and so on. Please try not to fetishize a technology that is overwhelmingly servicing an elite few and is most often the province of chatter with little real impact As we say here 'talk does not cook rice'.
    • Oct 7 2011: I agree with the sentiment here. These types of discussions highlight to me how educated, middle-class Americans are, by and large, so out of touch with the economic and sub-cultural reality of not just the world outside the U.S., but much of own citizens. We need to focus on first things, first. Water, sanitation, basic nutrition are still not part of the equation for billions on this planet.
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      Oct 7 2011: anyway i think that internet access exists even in poor areas. But the Internet does not address their problems.
      There are places to learn math or quantum mechanics, but I am not aware of a place to learn how to grow food in a dry area or how to get a microcredit.
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      Oct 7 2011: I'm repeating myself here, but check out the "Hole in the Wall School." If this were put into place (from donor computers), maybe the people would only be dependent on Western NGOs for a generation or two instead of much longer. They can learn about farming and microcredit on the internet, I think our money would be well spent putting these "Hole in the Wall" computers into villages and letting the education spread organically. Why not have privileged Americans raise money for water pumps, farming, AND donate computers and money for the internet. That way they could have clean water and eventually learn to maintain it themselves. Let the kids lead the way. This isn't an either/or proposition; if Western schools each adopted a village (and enjoyed the relationships and cultural exchange this would allow), we could very quickly drastically increase the literacy rate in a few generations AND being working on the problems you mention. And thank you for the work you are doing.
      • Oct 8 2011: Stephanie, thanks for your comment. I know the Hole in the Wall people. We a struggling at the moment with a prior basic - electricity. About 82% of Timorese do not have access to electricity. Solar power is coming slowly, donating and installing would be a magnificent help before or at the same time as computers. Generators are most often highly polluting, difficult to maintain and of course develop a cycle of debt - money for the petrol or diesel. Its solar power kits and computers that are needed, ideally together but if not solar kits first for my money.
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      Oct 7 2011: @Richard: Ummm...this discussion is not for 3rd world people without access to the Internet, so calling it myopic or self-centric IS bizarre. Of COURSE it's irrelevant to those living without the basics of climate control and (fairly) reliable electicity and microwave dinners and filtered water available on tap--or in bottles from the supermarket. This discussion isn't for those folks any more than a discussion of the relative dangers of cholera vs. malaria or leprosy vs. the plague are applicable to most of us here in America. Those folks are not going to "catch up" with the industrialized or information-based economies of the rest of the world no matter how much education OR Internet access we provide--at least, not in my lifetime. To those of us writing from comfy chairs with laptops over wireless connections sipping a non-fat, low-foam Chai Tea Latté (with a splash of Pumpkin Spice!) in Starbucks, however, the discussion is very relevant. I've heard a lot of rumblings, lately, about the lessened value of formal education, and how it has a reduced and lengthened time to recoup the ROI, and a lot of sage, elder folks are giving advice to young folks about the alternative educations available, like vocational schools and such. But I'll tell you this: as a society, we still respect (and for our leaders, we EXpect) those degrees. Consequently, the difference in where you will end up in life with and without a degree is going to remain large for quite some time, Internet or no. Further, the most valuable things I learned at school during my years of formal education were NOT the knowledge itself (most of which has a shelf-life and hard expiration date) but my learning about a larger world through encounters with people from other cultures, my skills at time management and prioritization, the moral and ethical guidance from my instructors, the ability to organize thoughts and speak and interact with my fellow students, teachers and those I mentored along the way.
      • Oct 8 2011: Ummm Thomas.... a conversation point about people who don't have access to internet because of poverty is not relevant to you, your laptop and your armchair, and by extension others? You do them a disservice, read their comments.

        Your statement "This discussion isn't for those folks any more than a discussion of the relative dangers of cholera vs. malaria or leprosy vs. the plague are applicable to most of us here in America" is tragically self-centred. Look around you.There are people FROM ALL OVER THE WORLD commenting about situations in both the 'developed' and 'underdeveloped' worlds. Must an issue discussed here only be for "most of us here in America"! Are you a site administrator?

        Re your "cholera vs. malaria" comment. Sure some health issues don't affect you and me directly, like malaria, which isn't a problem where I am from - Australia. However I happen to believe, alongside millions of others, that just because a problem doesn't touch me directly, it doesn't mean I shouldn't or can't discuss, care, donate, advocate, take action and so on. To do otherwise would be the very definition of myopia, also known as nearsightedness.
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    Oct 6 2011: The internet is a powerful tool in self-education. I personally am only in university because I need an Honors/ PhD to do research, but when I actually study, I prefer searching the internet or reading books and journal articles as opposed to relying on lectures.

    I can't help but feel that the rigidity of high school (even in Australia) wasted my potential. I spent most of my youngest and brightest years learning about things I didn't care about and would never use again. So little of high school stuck that before I started university I spent months re-learning maths from decimals to calculus, and my main resource was — you guessed it — the internet.
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      Oct 6 2011: Hi Desi,

      Thanks for the input! I'm in a similar situation in Canada. When there is a multitude of information at your fingertips, I find it hard to have to learn topics out of context (ie. learning about developing countries from a comfortable lecture hall or statistics for research three years before I'd be doing the research).

      Take care,

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        Oct 6 2011: Exactly! Context and application are a big deal. If what I'm learning seem a bit abstract, I just pop over to read ScienceDaily and all of those concepts are grounded in the tangible.

        Sometimes it makes you feel bad though. I read something about Todd Rider and friends creating a drug that could target and destroy basically any virus by finding the viruses' double-stranded RNA. I thought, "Leave some for me!"
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      Oct 6 2011: Hi Desi ... I think the point that needs to be made is that there are levels of education (Elementary or Primary, Secondary and Tertiary) - and you feel that your secondary education was of little value to you. However, it is the secondary stage - where you were assisted (although quite possibly not with the greatest attention to affective domain) to make the neural connections that you are now using at the Tertiary Level. In some ways, its a shame that metacognition is not given a higher priority in high schools - although to some students that in itself may lead to resentment as yet another "irrelevant" subject.

      I don't know what subject, or what university, you are enrolled - but I'd nearly bet money that if you're in a science rather than liberal arts faculty, you're going to find as you travel the journey that the Internet will not meet your tertiary education needs as much as your campus's library OPAC.
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        Oct 6 2011: I understand the point you're making in the first paragraph, but I'd venture to disagree. Whatever I learned in high school, I learned from the many, many books I read and from off-topic class conversations that my teachers liked to have, and very little from the schooling itself. I generally consider my 'real' secondary education to have taken place when I completed my apprenticeship and became a qualified Pastry Chef; in the battleground of a kitchen, I learned more about myself and my limitations than I could have in any other setting.

        You're right in saying that the OPAC is useful (I am now in Biomedical Science), but even this is being supplanted by online resources. Sites like PLoS ONE and other journal databases provide easy access to relevant journal articles, there are many professionals who provide online resources (some universities have publicly accessible tutorials that I've found through Google), and even my uni library provides pre-paid access to journal articles, chemical handbooks, and so on.
    • Oct 6 2011: Desi, I agree with your take on formal education vs. the Internet. Most of what I use to make my living is self-taught; I did take college courses but they were mostly of the general education variety and not specialized. Do i ever use what I learned? Maybe. Some of the business management classes were helpful to understand people and their motivation. Most of my technical classes were outdated by the time I took them.

      I have toyed with the idea of returning to college to complete my formal education, as an increasing number of employers are requiring that piece of paper saying you have done your time and paid your fees. However, I am about five years from retirement, and the cost of completing my education would put me into debt at a time where debt is a real issue. Therefore, I will continue my self-directed learning and hope that more enlightened employers will continue to hire talented personnel without a formal diploma.
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        Oct 6 2011: There's a lot of value in what I'm learning presently so I have no real beef with university. The Australian Government also subsidises science students very heavily since this country has a shortage of them, which means I only have debt of around $5,500 per year. That's also very nice. =D

        I suppose what I'm saying is that I wish high school had the open-endedness of university. I would have gone hard into the sciences and technology instead of getting mired in the mess of postmodernist English.
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      Oct 6 2011: I am from a village close to Frankfurt and 21 years old studying Biophysics in 3rd semester. Im my experience school gives an idea about what exists out there. This is its Job and I think it is enough, that it is not the main purpose of University to do the same think on a deeper level for the sake of forgetting it again because I can't apply it to a real problem. I am glad, that it was no all day school, because then i would not have my IT skills I have today. I hat also some teachers who did some very free projects in History or discussions in english, math or politics which were a great experience. But all the facts and skills i got from the internet.

      Now I am at University and learning about electrodynamics for the 2nd time. Why? Well to forget and relearn it again when i might need it after Masters or PhD. I am only glad, that then I can use the same material from khan academy to do it.

      @ Amanda: As a young student, my experience is that the internet can replace University at least to Bachelors. And it definitely replaces my campus library, because a good part of the Books are available as PDF. I could need some help with learning biomolecular methods in the Lab, but that has to wait till masters (if i am lucky). So right now University almost useless besides connecting to other people during lectures. I am curious what tertiary education needs I have to expect, which can not be met by the Internet.
      The only thing I can think of are face to face discussions (although ted is doing a nice job here) and lab material + experience, which is not accessible to me and this will not change in near future.

      @ Desi: I always had some feeling that it is good to experience a real world problem to realize that the basics are missing. But I could't give this feeling a name. Context and Application hits the nail on the head. I think I am in the same situation: I am at University to get a PhD which I can put in my CV.
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        Oct 7 2011: Besides making information available, the internet should also be credited as a vehicle for inspiration just as books are. I decided to go to university after reading a book (Hawking's 'A Brief History of Time'), and two videos (Brian Greene's What's The Big Idea? speech [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tu-_PvllpJc], and one of Richard Feynman's interviews [http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cj4y0EUlU-Y].

        These two men, along with many others I've learned of along the way (like Norman Borlaug), provide me with excellent role models as a person and as an aspiring scientist.
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          Oct 7 2011: Read the same book and i really like Feynman :-D
  • Oct 7 2011: I gain more as a independent learner in a year (with a full time job and family on the side) than I did in four years of undergrad studies at a top state university. I have found that it is access and reduction of friction in that access that makes the biggest difference. e-books, audio books, iPads, internet TV (multiple devices), social media, web apps, mobile apps all make learning better directed and yet broader at the same time. They also allow me to learn while on my morning run, driving in my car, in-between kid schedules and when I just want to relax in front of a good documentary on Netflix or TED talk on Hulu. It is my hope and belief that an increasing number of individuals will see that there is a world of knowledge, communities and support to self-direct a richer more meaningful and individual education than could ever be achieved in a one-size fits all institutional environment. I have a 10 year old and a 6 year old. I hope when they are of college age (maybe sooner), I can say, I put your college money in a trust fund for you, let's see what you can learn.
    • Oct 7 2011: One thing I learned at school and am very grateful for is the knowledge of how to learn and how to question what i learn about and apply my own moral filters. That knowledge I treasure every day and I hope that I am able to transmit some of it to my children.
      Everything else is personal effort. The internet provides both new tools and new libraries but to have it really make a difference one needs to know how to best benefit from it.
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        Oct 7 2011: You're absolutely right. Schooling is essentially teaching to learn but shouldn’t be constrained solely to learning institutions.
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    Oct 6 2011: This is one of my favorite topics! I am homeschooling my 7 year old gifted son with severe ADHD. He also happens to be on the Autism Spectrum, but he's quite high functioning. There simply isn't a place for him in public school that would provide an intellectual challenge AND make accommodations for his developmental delays. We tried private schools, occupational therapy, behavioral therapy, and even medication (no psychotropics). He simply needed a more individualized curriculum. Luckily, the internet, mentors, homeschool co-ops, other homeschooling parents, and various group activities allow me to provide much more enrichment than would be possible in a traditional environment.

    He can't write a paragraph (don't blame the homeschooling, this is our first couple of months attempting it, he was in an expensive private school from age 3 to 6), but loves Chemistry, Cosmology, Engineering, etc. He is able to learn about rather advanced science (for a 2nd grader), age appropriate math (he's a bit ahead), history that many public schools don't even cover at this age, and Language Arts that would normally be taught to younger children as he develops the fine motor skills and ability to focus that he needs to write properly.

    We are not religious or what most people would imagine a "typical homeschooler" to be, yet we have found many families just like us, taking a secular approach, and offering our children all that they need outside of the system. It's fascinating watching my son's amazing brain develop and experience the world, and I feel quite privileged that I'm able to do it.
    • Oct 6 2011: Hi Stephanie,

      My parents homeschooled my brother for a similar reason: severe dyslexia. He did not learn how to read functionally until he was 10 years old, but that didn't stop my mom from providing him with a highly customized education where he especially excelled in math.He is a helicopter pilot (and newlywed) now and a pretty brilliant guy.

      She told me recently that she experienced a lot of worry and guilt about homeschooling him. Now we agree that it made all of the difference in protecting my brother's self-esteem and initiative from a system that could have damaged it because of his unique brain.

      Good luck!
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        Oct 7 2011: It's nice to hear a success story! We are learning, and adapting as we go, but I'm so glad we chose to give it a try. My curious, very intelligent, loving son, was beginning to hate everything about school and felt that there was something "wrong" with him. Simply because he couldn't sit at a desk for 8 hours a day. We are hoping that he will learn to love learning again, and that we can encourage his interests, creativity, and thirst for knowledge. I want him to be a lifelong learner, who knows how to find, judge, and understand good sources of information. We are using the many amazing tools available today, from educational apps on the iPad to Khan Academy, to ebooks. They all serve to get him interested and allow him to approach learning in the way he needs to as his brain develops. Am I positive this is the right decision? No. But I know that what was happening in a traditional school would never work for him. I hope we are able to find a school that will work for him some day (and plan to work to bring schools here that could accommodate him). Thanks again!
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      Oct 6 2011: Have you used khanacademy.org? You can find a TED Talk about it.
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        Oct 7 2011: I replied to you, but it didn't appear in the thread, may have accidently used the general reply box, so reposting: Yes! We love it. We don't use it as a base curriculum, as it is a bit dry for a 2nd grader as far as math those, but I consider it an invaluable resource and use it often. We also enjoy watching TED videos. Our favorites are about the "Hole in the Wall School" and the Redwoods. The iPad has been amazing for science and math, my son has taken quite the interest in the Periodic Table, atoms, and molecules.
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    Oct 6 2011: I think presently that someone who is educated enough to understand how to use the internet and be able to detect truth from assertion, can easily use it too educate themselves further. It's a case of being multimedia smart, if there is such a term.
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    Oct 4 2011: An interesting article pertaining to this conversation. Stanford's Sebastian Thrun is offering his course "Introduction to Artifical Intelligence" free over the internet. Non-Stanford students will get the same lectures, assignments, and exams, but a "Certificate of Accomplishment" rather than a Stanford credit. Does this make you think differently about the future of formal education?

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      Oct 4 2011: It seems to me that, in this case, the format is still "formal". Its delivery is merely expanded.. As mentioned in another string, it is the means by which the instructor synthesizes and distills the material that is the essence of "formal" instruction. As far as the availability of MIT or Stanford courses goes; it's great to have these distinguished professors ideas on a subject. On the other hand, their ideas are not the final word. There are even instructors at community colleges that have insight also.
      Because the big name schools have a greater ability to distribute their content, it will likely cause more equalization, but not with necessarily good results. More students get exposed to fewer voices. This also renders the value of a less-than-Stanford education worth less.
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      Oct 4 2011: As one of my favorite professors used to say: "Yes and no." I worry that a formal education might become more elitist because it will be economically less possible for more and more people to attend in the flesh. Going online will be the only way to get access for most and a "Certificate of Accomplishment" is like an honorable mention (how does it stack up to an actual degree?). I wonder about what is lost when we strip education of its face-to-face component. I know I would not be the person I am today without the interpersonal engagement with smart, energetic, and compassionate professors that I was lucky to experience. At the same time, I can imagine some engaging ways to organize an online class. I also wonder if the push for virtual learning will have a streamlining effect on formal education.
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    Oct 1 2011: I am a college student and I feel like I benefit more from online learning resources than in the class room. There is no distractions. www.khanacademy.org saved me in my calculus and chemistry courses.
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    Oct 8 2011: Internet is the ultimate democratization.

    Everything it touches gets democratized by design.

    Education isn't the exception.

    So, yeah... no doubt about it
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    Oct 8 2011: We have become a nation obsessed with needing to prove ourselves to someone else, rather than encouraging innovation, creativity, and risk-taking.

    I am not against college, I am against what it has become.

    A degree has become a permission slip to middle class status, and is no longer about personal enrichment. Anyone who does not obtain one is seen as unintelligent and lazy by many people in society.

    Currently, academia is designed around a specific kind of student. - the students who obtain high GPAs and have high SAT scores. Not everyone is suited for college and not everyone has the resources and support network to ensure that they perform well enough in their academic careers to get into a good school, let alone obtain a degree.

    High achievers usually come from families which value education, but some are not so lucky.

    Will you say to the people who were not lucky enough to have had support, that they do not deserve a chance at having a good life?

    Some people make better artists and entrepreneurs than academics, and many learn in different ways.

    While I understand the usefulness of a college degree, we are creating a large underclass of people, many of whom are intelligent, and hard-working because the belief that unless you have a bachelor's or higher, you are incapable of doing anything worthwhile in life, which is quite false.

    I have known people in my life who are doing just fine without it, and many who do have loads of education and experience that are struggling.

    It is more about the individual than anything else.

    When did America become a country that valued a piece of paper as the only way to obtain a decent standard of living over people forging their own path in life?

    Maybe Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, and Bill Gates tdidn't deserve happiness or success in life because they didn't finish college.

    That is the message we send people.

    It's time to rethink it.
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    Oct 7 2011: I framed this question on Mr. K's Classroom (Facebook) as: "Should we be putting our resources towards 'internet for all', rather than trying to provide a formal education for all? The Classroom thinks so."

    We have limited resources and formal education is expensive. I love the comments about Sugata Mitra's S.O.L.E.'s and hearing people acknowledge the unique qualities every human being brings to this world. We are born learners, we create structure and meaning for ourselves from the time we are born. We are then conditioned by what is known as 'formal education' - it's beginning earlier and earlier in people's lives. We're conditioned to think the way we're told to think, and know the things we're told are important for our future. But we can determine relevance through observation, and we are keen observers until that talent is destroyed by schooling. We determine relevance through meaningful social interactions, but we're often asked to push those interactions to the end of our day, when our 'learning' is done. I know there are thousands of incredible teachers around the world who don't embrace the destruction of our natural talents and individuality, but who still feel stifled by a formal education system demanding standardization and 'basic skills'.

    In the future, we will learn through connection to the actual world, not The Classroom. We will structure our environments so that young people can both learn and contribute to the world around the them, much as young people did for thousands of years before formal education came into existence. Having access to the internet deserves our attention - trying to get kids around the world into a 'formal classroom' does not. Do we need educators to act as guides, servants, explainers, coaches, mentors, etc.? Of course we do. Do we need to bring people of all ages, across all nations, together to learn what they are most driven to learn? Without a doubt.

    I'm an educator. I don't need a formal school.
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    Oct 7 2011: I am also trying to acquire a degree to research. For me, that is all about the reason that I work so hard to get through those classes. Aside from it, I see little value of sitting in lecture halls while my imagination could explore many topics that are needed to be solved throughout the world.

    In addition, bureaucarcy of educational institutions are incredibly stegnant, ineffective, and slow espectially pertaining to innovative ideas and usage of technology in education. Formal education must reform its existing way to teach so that it will be absorbant to the speed of technology advancement and make paralleled approaches (and solutions) to teach students.

    Of course, currently learning in the internet realm seems little organized in various ways, but it is a powerful learning tool at least to individuals who are willing to find effective materials for meeting their intellectual needs.
  • Oct 7 2011: This tool we use daily will continue to transform the world! Self education can be organized into communities of learners who make commitments to one another to learn new ways of interacting in the world, inventing things, streamlining processes and solving collective problems. For students age 8 on up, the tool is remarkable. Caring adults will still need to tend to those who must learn to use the internet in order that they may learn to read and write. These adults do not have to be teaching from a brick and mortar building however. Unless we embrace and understand the power of virtual learning environments, we will waste our resources on trying to improve a system that has outlived its usefulness. For those concerned that our students will grow up without social skills, or that teachers are replaced by computers, I suggest you consider teaching the skills needed to work socially through the internet. Teachers are even more important with this type of learning. Your job will simply change. I have been in public schools for the past 25 years as a K-2 teacher, reading specialist, Special Education Director and Principal of a K-8 school. Life happened and I needed o stay home from work this year to support my t3 year old twins. I was able to find a job teaching K-2 grade online through on online charter school. These kids thrive!!!!! Socially and academically. I am so convinced that we need a new instructional model. The students I work with have a Learning Coach in their home with whom they work with daily. I realize, this is not possible for everyone. Yet I am willing to investigate this model deeply. Students in this environment are working at their own pace in a proficiency based model., much like the Khan Academy Human contact with teachers happen minimally two times a week. There has got to be a way to retool our education model and honor all of the teachers out there who work their tails off each day. This is an important discussion!
    • Oct 7 2011: I think we need teachers more than ever, school...not so much.
      • Oct 7 2011: There are a few dimensions on this topic. Tooling aside, I think there is a role for both formal education, the village and the Internet. In a perfect scenario, formal education would teach you how to learn, the Internet would provide the learning material and the village would give you the values and the common sense you need to filter your learning.
    • Oct 7 2011: "I was able to find a job teaching K-2 grade online through on online charter school. These kids thrive!!!!! Socially and academically."

      I am curious as to what you mean by "thrive", especially regarding "socially"... hell, I am curious as to the whole process of teaching young students online.... if it is anything like an online college course, any metrics used to judge "social quality" that I imagine teachers using now (observing behaviors, interactions, etc)... well, how does that happen online for younger students?

      And, not to be offensive, but please consider breaking up your text a bit. You are presenting a wall of text that is difficult to read.
      • Oct 7 2011: No offense taken. The post was not as well composed as it could have been. Thriving in this environment is quantified by formative and summative assessment data with regard to academic learning.

        Judging social quality in the virtual setting is not that much different from teacher observations in the standard classroom. Students are still required to actively participate in class, take turns speaking and follow the directions of the adults, Each child is taught to use formal conventions such as saying" hello" and "good-bye" when coming into or exiting the classroom setting. .

        Additionally, students are encouraged to use the 'chat' feature before class starts and for 5 minutes after class ends. With young students, their learning coach is present and helps with the typing. This dialog is monitored by the teacher and mini lessons in social skills are taught during class when needed.

        Parents and teachers also discuss the need for students to be involved with groups of children in some way (sports, church, clubs. etc..). Finally, monthly outings allow teachers to observe the children interacting with one another in person.

        • Oct 7 2011: To be clear, I am NOT a teacher, and I would not consider myself "well read" on lot of pressing education issues... just wanted to get that out there

          But what you're describing seems like such a drastic shift that, to some degree, makes me very nervous.

          I know that there have been examples here of how this has greatly benefited many students who would have struggled under "traditional" education in a "traditional" school, but we have to keep in mind that there ARE policy makers who are highly supportive of a greater shift to increased technological use in American public education (I've heard some Reps talking about the possibilities of actually reducing the number of days at school, etc, because of the possibilities for children learning from home via computers and the Internet).

          So, while I see that you do emphasize, encourage, and teach some of the basic social behaviors (saying hello, goodbye, etc), I feel these are very, very different online than in real life.

          For example, in a traditional school, a student may greet another, notice they seem "down" a bit, and try to cheer them up.

          Further, how do you know if a student struggles with helping others? Who is shy? Who might be struggling with an issue at home?

          This all depends on the exact format of online learning; I am unaware of the details, but if it is chat-based, then it seems very restrictive. Saying "hello" is very different from learning how to share, how to be truly friendly, etc.

          And while you do observe once a month, that seems like a very limited interaction to truly understand the individual student, help them adjust, see their progress, and all the other things that good teachers SHOULD be doing for our younger students.

          I'm not saying that this can't be done, at all, for anyone... but I have quite a few questions and concerns, particularly regarding how a shift like this may affect the social learning of younger students.
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      Oct 7 2011: Laurie, I would love to hear more about K-2 reading, we have just started homeschooling using a lot of tech, but of course, traditional books, workbooks, and texts as well (we adapt them to our needs, no busy work). My son is 7 ADHD/Aspie and struggling with writing and reading comprehension. He understands beautifully when read to and his decoding skills for reading are at a 7th grade level, but little comprehension when reading himself. He also has trouble with inferential speech/reading and has an especially hard time with writing. I am currently struggling with attempting to push him to keep the skills he's already developed or backing off for a bit and just reading with him a lot to give his brain time to develop a bit as we use other tools. He loves science and knows quite a bit, and is pretty good at math (definitely ahead of grade level), but can't write a paragraph and has trouble coming up with a creative sentence and keeping it in his head long enough to put it down on paper while paying attention to capitalization, grammar, and punctuation. He has had OT for handwriting, but I think it's made him hate it more. I do encourage fine motor activity. I would love to hear any suggestions you have and your opinion. My email is Learning Inspire (at) gmail.
  • Oct 6 2011: Neither is really an equalizer. Both limit access to their resources to select members of the population.

    As far as education is concerned the internet is a far superior tool. The bureaucracy involved in formal education makes the inclusion of new subject matter a painstaking process. So much effort and time is wasted making sure that the new information is not offensive or contrary to previous information. On the internet the information is presented and immediately subjected to individual scrutiny. True it is not always the scrutiny of experts, but that is not to say that people with knowledge on the matter are not among those who participate.

    A hybridization of the two would be the ideal. Formal education based on information shared through the internet.

    Still not an equalizer as the information is not readily available to all.
  • Oct 5 2011: There's no reason why formal education can't be symbiotic with the internet.

    If we're talking about formal education versus simple access to vast quantities of information, then the latter can only go so far.

    Formal education is valuable for it's structured approach - in a world where vast quantities of information is available at the finger tips, the ability to find and digest the relevant information is an important skill - one that only very few would develop naturally without external input.

    Additionally, accreditation is an issue - how do we know what you know in a quick and easy manner if you don't have the necessary accreditation? Part of this means that we relook at assessment - we should use a quick, fast, iterative feedback and dynamic data driven approach to assessment and accreditation.

    Imagine in the future, where we apply a search engine like algorithm to the quality of people's posts - people who have their comments upranked in discussions are more likely to know what they're talking about - but those upranks are weighted on the basis of other factors including the types of discussion and the rank of the person doing the upping - not unlike what google did for weblinks back in the late 90s.

    I think sites like Khan Academy and MIT open course ware show us a future where internet based education can be deep, meaingful, powerful, effective and efficient for all involved.
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    Oct 7 2011: I believe that education at all levels going forward needs to incorporate an "immersion" approach. Life is just getting too complicated to learn it in a two-dimensional kind of way (classroom). The world is now small enough and connected enough to become the new "classroom". We just need to figure out how to make the transformation.
  • Oct 7 2011: If, by the internet, you include all current forms of "social media", then the answer MUST be yes.
    The free-flow of ideas, in both directions, (such as this discussion), has the potential to surpass everything the human species has dreamed up, to date.
    We are on the verge of being a QUANTUM SOCIETY, each individual allowed to learn what they please, and share all that education with all others who wish to know.
    No rules.
    I've learned more from TED talks than anything I was ever exposed to, before the 'internet revolution'.
    ALL of my teachers, (back in the day), had 5-year-old teachers' editions, with the 'answers' in the back, (they didn't know the truth of anything). And the info they had was outdated.
    The biggest problem with the internet, is in the verification of these stated 'facts', the ability to put these 'facts' into an appropriate context, and the control of who is 'allowed' to have this knowledge.
    Anyone with a keyboard and internet connection can Google anythiing, and get a precise, one-meaning answer to anything.
    The issue becomes 'how correct is this information, to YOUR specific query.
    But we still require some sort of formal education system, to teach us how to use, or not use this technique of learning and teaching.
    I do not believe we (as a society) will ever allow it to fully replace our antiquated form of educational system.
    The internet makes us all equal, yet, for the most part, anonymous.
    We all have access to the same information. Sometimes it's mildly inaccurate (in context), massively incorrect (wrong), or outdated (from old posts, that cannot be removed).
    But at least we ALL have it, equally.
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    Oct 7 2011: For the young ones some direction and structure is required and craved - not to rule out the importance of spontaneity and creativity and self directed learning. I am amazed at the extra learning my children acquire on the internet through my neglect. But surely we must work in the group and bounce of other human beings. Get bruises in the playground and notice Jimmy's peculiar behaviour. The stand up in front of 30 kids and teach has always had its drawbacks but the physical/social life the traditional school offers remains important for brain development.
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    Oct 7 2011: It won't completely replace traditional institutions, but it will change them.

    I'm mostly hoping that it will decrease the costs of education, especially general credits.

    As for my own experience, I'm in a computer related field and it's a continually expanding industry. It's generally better to learn online versus an institution because of what I do. Schools simply can't keep up with industry standards.

    It still has a long way to go. Many online resources lack structure or decent documentation. Someone learning computer science would have a bit of a difficult time starting from scratch off of the internet (not saying it doesn't happen regularly) without some sort of curriculum to follow. Guides in how to progress education in a building block manner don't really exist right now. What programming language is good to start with? Do I follow along with some sort of programming logic guide? Do I start with something basic like scripting for the web or do I dive in head first into API development? How do you even know how to ask these kinds of questions without any foundation?

    $22k USD just to have a foundation is idiotic though. (It's what I did.) In some ways it was nice to have ground to start from, but I've learned far more online than I ever did in college - and it wasn't for a lack of drive. There's very little in my field that can't be sought independently.

    A doctor on the other hand... not so much.
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    Oct 7 2011: Formal education has a very successful structure and track record. But there are two very important sides to this conversation that should reflect the two main streams of education that support the jobs within our economies.

    Intellectual education and academia are responsible account for most University Programs in Canada. Many of these students have offices, that collect dust along with supervisors that corresponding via email. The majority of their work, research and management takes place right on their laptops.

    On the other side we have tradesmen that train at a variety of institutions ranging from interactive online classrooms to workshops and work placements. These students are receiving hands on training from seasoned professionals in their industry that pass down their craft like a legacy.

    I guess I am saying that there is a time an place for different educational institutions. As our population grows and different generations reach retirement, it will strain our economy as needs fluctuate. For instance, how many new universities in Canada have been built in the last 5 years vs the amount of Colleges. Consider that in tandem that the baby boomers are gearing up for retirement.

    Internet has eliminated the need for many types of education that are becoming common knowledge and is raising the standards for what we deem an expert or prof. Im certainly glad to have the wealth of information at my finger tips... I am also certainly glad that when I have surgery, my anesthesiologist did not get his degree on you-tube.
  • Oct 6 2011: I think the Internet is a great tool, but education is still the great equalizer. As noted inEli Pariser's book ,"The Filter Bubble," the internet is filtering information away from us that might not be to our liking. As as a result, the Internet is making us more segregated. Formal education forces us to socialize often with people who don't agree with us.

    A friend of mine is the head of education at our local Science Center. She takes low-income kids (most non-white) and teaches them science. In return, the kids work at the Science Center after school Her biggest challenge in getting them to think that they can succeed because "whites" have been told different rules. The kids dont' think they can succeed because they don't know the rules. Her team spends a lot of time showing themthat there are no rules.

    The great equalizer is understanding. Formal education gets us closer to that goal, but it's not perfect by any means. I'm afraid that our society is moving away from understanding and into a world where we only hang out with similiarly-minded people. That will keep us fromsucceeding.
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    Oct 6 2011: The Internet is a phenomenal tool but I expect that, certainly at this point, it is the opposite to an equalizer, especially versus a formal education.

    At the outset, a formal education equips one with a set of fundamental tools that enable the use of the Internet. For instance, one can hardly imagine using the Net without already being able to read and I don't expect that, without having the ability to do so, one would be able to navigate the Web to get to any educational resources aimed at illiteracy.

    Beyond basic literacy, one needs to be 'computer literate'. To be computer literate access to a computer or, at the very least, access to a mobile device is required. Either that computer or mobile device needs to be connected to the Internet for it to become any sort of connected educational resource. And that requires money, infrastructure, or public access. Even then, Web literacy or the ability to use the World Wide Web in such a manner that it is useful as an educational tool is a final hurdle to overcome.

    For those of us that have had the privilege to grow with the Internet in such a way that it seems utterly ubiquitous, it is difficult to imagine life without it and difficult to imagine not knowing how to use it. I presume a lot of us would have trouble functioning without the ability to access the Web for quick answers, updates, and at-your-fingertips entertainment. But, even among those of us that have been using the Net for years, many scarcely understand it let alone use it as a learning tool.

    For the Net to become a great and sweeping equalizer, everyone would have to have access, interest, and literacy (and similarly robust broadband). I'm not sure formal education has been much of an equalizer either. Very similar issues apply.
  • Oct 6 2011: The idea of a great equalizer rests upon universal access. Access to the wealth of wisdom and knowledge available on the internet relies on bridging the technological divide and finding a way to get young minds to the right sites, neither of which has been accomplished. Even if both conditions are met, relying on the internet as a primary source of education leaves out aspects of traditional instruction that are uniquely nourishing and effective.

    Educational systems as a whole - and especially in the United States - are fractured and unequal in what they provide to whom.

    I have taught in both traditional and nontraditional (unschooling) settings, and I don't see "formal education" as our current system, but rather as the guarantee of high quality, free, public education for all.

    The balance wheel of the social machinery is broken. Figuring out how to increase access to an uncensored web, and how to enable students to reach out beyond the biases of their environment and the internet's wild west to reach useful information, is an essential tool in fixing that machinery. However the guarantee of universal education cannot be ripped out without leaving a whole in society, and a balance wheel without a hub.

    The answer is therefore: Formal Education and the Internet hold - together - the potential to become a great equalizer that lives up to the promise of Horace Mann's quote.
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      Oct 6 2011: Agreed - except one addition: We need more inter-cultural education - how to understand communication with other cultures. In the global world this is not a nice-to-have competence as it used to be national closed markets. it is the key factor in my experience to bring the power of knowledge on the street - without it... very very difficult.
      You get an idea of the value of cultural competences if you keep in mind that the fusion of large companies often does not work because of different "company cultures"....
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    Oct 6 2011: More than ever, the schools need to teach critical thinking because the internet has no "filter" for truth.
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    Oct 1 2011: By the way, it's amazing that this conversation hasn't drawn more attention. This is what TED is all about! In fact TED has an initiative called TED ED that wants to play a role in educating students and teachers to the new "great equalizer".

    Hope it re-surfaces again soon - I'm passionate about education reform!!
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      Oct 3 2011: I agree. I have given talks on the definition of religion and was delighted to learn about TED and very soon start a conversation. The TEDsters taught me so much. I am astounded.
      Same thang with "Tolerance is insufficient: I suggest respect."
      However, if you are not a doctor want to know how many natural abortions occur, it seems to me you need help wth the research. There are too many "code" words. For the days before an embryo attaches, you may need a statistician as well.
      So, I see the need for overview courses: how to learn the necessary words for accurate research in a new field; how to use the internet for research; how to use the internet; where to find such courses on the internet for goodness sake!I
      n many areas, such as history, we already have amazaing power. For example, the other day I wanted to respect Abraham Lincoln's assessment that only God could be accountable for the Civil War. After about an hour of finding and reading key documents--actual texts of his letters and speeches and such, I formed an opinion. Of course, we cannot know what he meant.
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        Oct 4 2011: Hi Phil.... What are you talking about?
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          Oct 4 2011: Getting out of your personal tunnel through conversations on TED.
          Learning the concerns and viewpoints of other people at a revolutionary pace, even though the sample may be small.
  • Oct 8 2011: Yes, most of internet is equal for all, full of resources and free! Formal education is restricted, internet is accessible by all. It is THE great equalizer, in today's world!
  • Oct 8 2011: I'm not sure that everyone uses the internet like we (TED fans) do. I am certain that there are a good number of people who spend as much time on the internet as we do, but they never do any research on it. They check Facebook manically, they write YouTube comments [shudder], they look at inappropriate material, they send messages that could use some proofing.
  • Oct 8 2011: Simple enough:

    Unless you can use the internet to consistently direct a child's attention and effort in a focused way throughout several hours you will always need formal education (teachers in a structured setting). However, given the internet's ability to quickly engage and maintain a child's attention, the challenge is to use that unique tool to better use the skills of teachers.
  • Oct 8 2011: A CHALLENGE: Stop complaining and turn those that "fetishize" a technology into active supporters. I would have loved to have had the internet access in 1964 in Malaysia.

    I SPEAK FROM EXPERIENCE, not just reading. I was there, lived it, improved, in a small way, their life. Example follows. Also, the "great equalizer" is not feeding people, etc. It is enabling people to feed themselves, etc. "Teach a man/woman/child to fish."

    I recall hearing, while serving as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1964 in very rural Malaysia, a radio playing music. It was a battery powered radio, with an antenna strung up a +/-100 foot tall jungle tree. That radio, as well as a subsequent road into the village, provided access to knowledge that opened up the inhabitants to ways of learning and "doing" to improve their lives.

    The internet can do the same, in a SUBSTANTIALLY more effective way, including bringing the plight of the less fortunate to the eyes and hearts of the more fortunate, eliciting support in ways that print, radio and TV never could. The two way visual communication is a great tool for you.

    Real world example: with the support of the Catholic Relief Services we started a school lunch program utilizing food from the Service, cooking utensils from the local government, and labor of the teachers and parents.

    With the internet I could have more quickly set up the project, found more outside help, and provided more support for teaching youngsters and adults.

    Instant communication between Malaysia and the world could have provided additional assets with which to teach a man/woman/child "to fish" (we taught them how to raise fish by the way). More real world examples available.

    So, challenge those you chastise as well as those that respond here. Use the internet (instant photos/stories) to educate those that "fetishize a technology" about how it can be utilized in your country. ASK THEM TO STEP UP WITH ACTIVITY - WE BOTH KNOW TALK IS CHEAP.
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    Oct 8 2011: In some ways the answer is yes. You can see a word that leads you to its definition and then to further research and the next thing you know you are learning physics, or some other subject that you may have never been exposed to.

    What I hope never happens is that we are kept from exploring. I know that happens in countries with more censorship and I think it is just horrid--as bad as book burning.

    I hope the internet continues to be a library of life and that information be open to all!