We want to summarize our finding here, so you know what we have achieved through our work. We want to be brief here in this essay so that you can quickly grasp it.
We tried in many domains of education and did various experimentation. Our goal is to find out on a deeper level what is knowledge and what is learning, and how that understanding can help us building software for education or learning in the internet age.
What is Knowledge?
So here is what we find out about knowledge. We summarize as below:
- Knowledge is of big blocks. Knowledge is understanding of the whole, otherwise it is just information.
- Knowledge is flowing. When different knowledge comes together and condense, it forms a concrete matter or thing that we can recognize as a human being. So anything in real life must contain multiple dimensions of knowledge.
- Learning is to interact with these various things, to extract out one particular dimension of knowledge, and to accumulate drops of experience in that dimension of knowledge. Thus learning cannot and should not be separated from daily activities. We should learn in real life, and learn by doing it. So learning activities must be very scattered and everywhere, and one core ability of learning is to extract out that dimension of knowledge from various scattered activities. We need to know how to break down.
- Then we put all our Significant Experiences together, try to achieve an understanding of the whole. Here we need another core learning ability, which is to summarize and to comprehend.
- The key of learning is reflection. The above two activities of thinking (breaking down and comprehending) are the two basic forms of reflection.
- Knowledge needs to be applied. After you gain the understanding of the knowledge on the whole, you will not be limited by the literal expression of the knowledge, and you will be able to “see” knowledge flowing everywhere in real life.
- Since there is no need to separate learning and daily activities, surely learning is naturally driven by what you are interested to learn.
Above we briefly summarized our understanding of knowledge and learning. For more of our understanding of what is knowledge, you can view our frame (a frame is an outline that includes several notes or other frames) What is Knowledge. Below we want to list some daily phenomena to show how they are anti-learning and anti-knowledge.
Anti-learning and anti-knowledge phenomena
- People often pride themselves on possessing a large amount of information, and others often get intimated by them.
- People got confined by the literal expression of knowledge, lack of true understanding of it, and cannot recognize knowledge in other forms.
- School teachers generally lack experiences in the subject they are teaching. They cannot tell which ones are more important in the textbook, and often waste students’ time by reading from page to page.
- When in school, people are very diligent in keeping notes. However, once out of school, they seldom make any notes.
- If schools cannot teach people courage, at the very least, they should be able to teach students on self-reflection. However, after so many years in school, many people still don’t know how to reflect.
- Whenever people think of learning, they think of going to school, or paying money to take courses. They think of getting a degree of certificate.
- People tend to think that learning is the duty of the kids (shouldn’t it be a right?).Only kids need to learn. Adults don’t need to learn anymore. We already learned painting and geography at school, we don’t need to learn them anymore.
- Since knowledge is always taught instead of being explored out of one’s own needs and curiosity, people lack the ability to explore knowledge.
There are too many of these to be all listed here. But I think you get what I mean.
The learning in the internet age
Internet has already changed how people learn. When we talk about how internet changed our world, on a deep level, I think the overall change is to bring us closer to the core values of human being. Of course, that is a big topic. But when people talk about the agile programming methodologies and compare that to the traditional ones such as waterfall, I think it is of that kind of change. When it comes to learning, we can also say that learning in the internet age is becoming more agile, instead of waterfall.
The traditional education is waterfall style instead of iterative. Learning at the internet age, is to meet the needs at hand quickly, and keep getting feedback along the way. The traditional education, however, has a grand design at the very beginning, and you don’t get feedback for a very long time.
The traditional education is separated from experiences, while learning in the internet age is all about gaining experiences quickly.
Thus learning activities in the internet age must be scattered and everywhere. We cannot demand people to just come to our place to learn. That would be too wide a range to cover and too costly. This is the pitfalls of many online education efforts. However, reflection after those scattered activities is the place that we can focus on. Especially, because learning activities are scattered and everywhere, learners need some learning software to help “pull all the strings” and coordinate all the learning efforts. If we say software is to digitize human world, this is what learning software in the internet age should digitize.
Here let me give an example of such kind of learning at the internet age. I use Linux, for work and for life. And I am learning shell programming. So as I am using Linux every day, I will encounter issues, for which I can quickly find solutions on the internet. So I learn little by little about various aspects of shell programming. After some time, I may have accumulated quite many of them. Then I put them together, and try to figure out the rules of shell programming and understand the essence of it. You can also find a book to read it very quickly at this stage. So you can see this kind of learning is very fast, with little waste of time. You also get to train your reflection and abilities to explore knowledge.
So what does the above help us design learning software for the internet age?
First of all, it has to be based on Significant Experiences, since Significant Experiences are the center of all the things above.
Secondly, learning should not be separated from daily life and work. People accumulate Significant Experiences through their daily lives and work.
Third, through simple editing operations, people work on Significant Experiences and accomplish the task of reflection. The result is a dynamic streaming structure, e.g. knowledge.
So any knowledge related cooperation, such as peer learning or teaching, should be based on the Significant Experiences. For example, teaching can be done by giving feedback to Significant Experiences directly.
Hence our work on Knowledge Engine. For that, please read our Knowledge Engine essay and other essays to know what we have done.
If we say software is to digitize human world, then the profession of software programming is about how we digitize various domains of human world. We have domain driven design. Actually the methodologies of agile programming and practice of lean start-ups are also about how we do that work of digitizing various domains of human world.
When we come to online education, we see over and over again that people often treat online education as a place to take tests for a degree or certificate. There are many learning activities in people’s lives that were not captured by these online education software.
Only in the recent years, we get to see breakthrough apps such as khan academy, MOOC, and so on. These breakthrough apps didn’t come from learning theories of education school professors. They also have no real technology breakthrough. They could have happened 5, 6 years ago or even earlier. Their birth is just because someone suddenly realized with all what we have been doing, why not…
Yes, the innovations in the online education field mostly come from thinking outside the box of traditional education system. We are happy to see that now even the mainstream media in America realized this and called for re-think our education from ground up, and really dig into what is learning and what is knowledge, and design software around it.
I was turned off by the elearning research in the academic world about 10 years ago (my research paper only got published 4 years after I wrote it. Well, personally I don’t really care much about publication.) and decided to pursue the research outside of the academic world. Now I am glad to see that people start realizing what is really wrong with our education.
So here is what we share with you our work at Open Source Learning. We would like to get your feedback. If you are willing to join our efforts, you are more than welcome.