Around the years from 2002 to 2005, while Yuanliang was working on his research in the graduate school, he was greatly disappointed with what was going on with elearning research and development in the academic and industry. Most people are not solving problems, instead they are creating problems.
Greatly disappointed, Yuanliang turned to the grassroots alternative education efforts in America, which are very rich in practice. There is a lot of nutrition there. To name a few, John Tayor Gatto, Sudbury Valley School, Summerhill, other democratic/free schools, and the whole unschooling movement. This is a big treasure. Anyone who is serious about working on online education has to turn to this resource. They really understand learning and education. The only thing we need to do is to spread their models to more people and to the adult world. So we need people who understand software to understand learning/education.
So the great obstacles of online education are:
- Teachers and professors in the education school cannot provide any guidance with their research because what they are doing is actually anti-learning and anti-knowledge
- Tech people working on online education don’t have much experience in learning and education, and they don’t know who to turn to
- The real people who have a lot of practice in real education get ignored by the mainstream and treated like freaks. And they lack tech skills to push their models to a massive level.
So for people interested in working on online education, they need:
- Have rich experiences in learning many different things (bigger ones)
- Absorb nutrition from the grassroots education community and gain experiences in various areas of teaching
- Understand software, and use it as a tool to explore learning/education. Social science can be best explored with software. This is also the research methodology here in Open Source Learning.
So education/learning is not very complicated. We propose the ways above for the pubic to engage in education/learning research. And it is this process that we here at OSL have taken. We believe if we do so we can quickly discover how foolish we are sticking to the century old industrial age educational framework in this internet age. We can investigate education/learning together!
If we understand software as digitization of our human world (and physical world), then if we want to build successful software for education/learning, we have to ask how we can digitize knowledge and learning. For example, what is the basic unit of knowledge?
My experiences from my biomedical study and from my zen practice, in addition to my broad learning experiences in many disciplinary areas and teaching experiences, drive my thinking of the issues of digitization of knowledge and software. Particularly, my oversea experiences of living in a country whose language is totally different from my native tongue provided me unique experiences looking into relationship between consciousness and language.
As a professional software programmer and former academic researcher on elearning, I adopted a research methodology of exploring education/learning (or social science in general) through software, and devoted 3 and a half year’s full time work on this research, and many years’ part time energy. I understand theoretic/academic research in education/learning is vital for our progress in the field. However, as I was greatly disappointed during my graduate school research, and as I know deeply that western social science’s development cannot catch up with what we need now (I agree with Christopher Alexander’s views on western social science that it learned a bad lesson from the natural science and became too mechanic. Education field is just one example.)
So I feel my strategy and methodology for doing this theoretic research is justified. The major outcomes of that research are Knowledge Engine and the self-learning platform powered by the engine. Knowledge Engine tried to build up one’s external consciousness or knowledge based on ones’ Significant Experiences (SEs). Hierarchy of patterns are built on top of those SEs. We think it is ok for us not to be concerned with how brain functions below SEs, with all those biological and chemical reactions, and it is safe for us to first build consciousness on top of SEs, and has something revolutionary in solving our educational problems, which is badly needed in our times.
The resulting Knowledge Engine can help you work efficiently and conveniently with you experiences, reflecting on them and forming various patterns, including very abstract patterns that help you understand and connect various domains’ experiences. (As I read of Ray Kurzweil‘s book “How to Create a Mind”, I found that this model of consciousness coincides with his Pattern Recognition Theory of Mind very well. Actually we do share a lot of same experiences.) So everyone can use Knowledge Engine to help them forming beautiful patterns in their own neocortex and also have that stored externally and digitally, which can be used for learning, teaching, and various things related to knowledge. The abstract patterns you have formed can be applied in the system itself to drive your own learning or help others’ learning. So truly knowledge can be applied, and digitized knowledge can be applied digitally.
As most of above is done by the Interactive Computation through human’s active participation, the next stage of research on Knowledge Engine is to apply AI to it such as automatic tagging and creative writing. The ultimate goal, or the final testing of the validness of Knowledge Engine, we think, is to supply various business cases (such as this case to design a basic financial-services offering for inhabitants of remote communities in Mexico) to the engine and ask it to provide creative solutions. If that can be done, we deem the Knowledge Engine has accomplished its ultimate design goal.
I also realize that western social sciences such as Cognitive Science, Brain Science, Psychology and so on have progressed greatly these years, and it is about time to connect this research back to the western traditional system of thoughts and language. So I started learning of these sciences in order to communicate in the western language as well.
So above are what make research here at Open Source Learning very unique. But to backtrack a little in case above has been overwhelming for you, here are some early stage findings of us: summarization of our research and our articles of scientific study.
Last I want to put a special emphasis here that our exploration and experimentation have demonstrated that self-reflection plays a vital role in people’s learning, and how people can easily cultivate self-reflection skills with a self-reflection tool. Self-reflection totally turns people who have been accustomed to school-way of learning (e.g. fixed, instigated) into a self-driven self-initiated real life learning. It totally opens up their learning. People start to notice various knowledge embedded in their daily lives and start to learn very flexibly and freely. It is just amazing to see such kind of change in people. Just by using the notebook powered by Knowledge Engine, and doing simple editing operations on it each day, they are able to train their self-reflection skills. If you are curious, you are welcome to try self-reflection on our self-learning platform.
Please be reminded that this self-learning platform is a research project instead of a product. The purpose of the platform is to demonstrate the potential of Knowledge Engine. So there are a lot of features there (although we grouped them well and put some into advanced features that you have to turn it on in your settings configuration) and the user interface might not be best tuned for prettiness (but definitely tuned as best as we can for ease of use). Although there are a lot of features still in development, we think the current features implemented are able to demonstrate what self-reflection created content can accomplish. We intend to always keep this platform a free and open public platform so everyone can try out self-learning for oneself. We will also provide the feature to allow you to download all your notes easily.
I hope our research work can be a start to usher the flourishing of self-reflection tools, which will be fundamental for the change in learning/education. And these self-reflection tools will also start the age of consciousness software. With email, webpage, google, facebook, even with mobile internet and cloud computing, we are still at the beginning of this software revolution, which is a process of digitization of human world. We have been lingering around long enough not entering the core of that digitization. Now let’s march into the core! Let’s usher the era of consciousness software! Is that web3.0 or web4.0? I don’t know. But it certainly is the deepest stage of digitization of human world.
These grassroots alternative education communities I refer to in the article have already formed an alliance to spread their methodologies and practices — Self-Directed Education. And the name of the alliance: Alliance for Self-Directed Education, or ASDE: