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: Formal education and the Internet are not necessarily analogues. The Internet is a tool for dispersing and interacting with information, while a formal education can be a myriad of programs created by humans for any number of purposes.

    Many argue that the formal education system began in order to train people for the Industrial Age, where we took jobs that required learning redundant/algorithm-based skills, essentially trade skills (secretary tasks, arithmetic, etc.). Many of those jobs are becoming obsolete as technology provides a superior solution (Calendar/mail apps, Office apps, etc.). Therefore, formal education from this standpoint is obsolete, if not counter-productive.

    The Internet is ultimately a tool for communicating and depositing information; before the Internet, we had libraries for this. Thomas Edison had an extremely limited formal education, but spent hours upon hours in the Detroit library as a kid learning all he could. The Internet provides an exponentially similar opportunity. Not everyone will take advantage of it, just as everyone around Edison didn't use the library in the way that he did. In this sense, the Internet (so long as the majority of information is free) is indeed an opportunity-equalizer.

    Formal education can lead one out of ignorance, given correct subject matter and context (as previously discussed). Y Combinator, for instance, can be seen as a hybrid formal/informal education in founding startups.

    Certainly, though, Internet access is the equalizer in terms of the beginning of one's opportunities.
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      Oct 6 2011: The uniqe thing about the internet is that it allows for publishing, republishing and distribution of materials that were previously not easily accessable. Materials whose copyright and protection made distribution by means other than the internet time consuming or impractical. Now at relatively little cost to the person distributing these materials and almost no cost to the person downloading these materials you can educate yourself.

      Case in point is Cisco's student guides. They provide the answers to their tests. You can't obtain a student guide without taking a class with a Cisco learning partner. These classes are expensive. So people scan the book and distribute it on the internet. You can read the book and pass the class without paying a Cisco learning partner thousands of dollars once you have access to these materials.

      The distributor has effectively become a point of publication and the internet allows this to be done efficiently, cost effectively, with little time and energy required by the uploader or downloader and with little risk of prosecution for copyright violations. Anonmous republication of materials that normally would cost a great deal of money. This is the power of the internet.

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