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Student as Teacher

Posted by Patrick McCrann on Jun 18, 2010 2:53:41 PM

Kids in the classroom
Creative Commons License photo credit: chrissuderman

People have always wanted to learn; it’s part of human nature. Despite what you read about video games and adult website usage statistics, people still want to learn. In fact, now probably more than ever, as the web has effectively eliminated any barriers that used to exist in the traditional learning model: money, connections, experience, geography, etc.

But despite the spread of ideas and technology and increased access, learning is not one bit easier. Why? Because we don’t know who the teachers are anymore.

Think about it. Back in the day this used to be really easy. Teachers had their own schools. Wise men lived on mountain tops. There were apprenticeships and academies and road maps.

As the world gets flatter, information is more accessible. It moves faster and is potentially more unreliable. Those old school grand masters are drowned out by tech-savvy web masters, video logging junkies, and twitter-wielding tweens.

In the currency of today’s web world, it’s about who’s the most current, most popular, more vocal or most chosen. Some or all or none of which might have anything to do with the best. Or most interesting. Or most inspiring.

So, in a world where it’s becoming harder and harder to identify who the teachers are, something else must assume even more importance: the individual. Think about it.

The web is like a TV with infinite channels full of everything that you always/never wanted to see or hear or learn that’s always on. If you can find any message or guru at any time, anywhere, for free, then the biggest deciding factor today is simple: does this message work for YOU?

We used to pick schools because they did the work of finding and organizing teachers and creating a “learning experience” for us. But today things are different. Now YOU are the administrator, the principal, the guidance counselor and the student all rolled into one. What teacher would you pick?

  • Do you need to be challenged?
  • Do you need to be made to laugh?
  • Do you want daily interactions or less frequent but higher impact contact?
  • Does it need to be an individual or can a community teach you?
  • Do you need to pay or are you involved enough on your own?

Technology is forcing us to rethink our filters: this person looks like a teacher, therefore she is a teacher. We need to throw away our expectations: I will sign up for this course and do 8 weeks of homework, take a test, get a certificate and become an expert.

Instead we need to focus on knowing ourselves better; on what will work and more importantly, why we want to engage this process. In an increasingly self-focused world, you have to take charge of charting your own course because no one else will do it as well as you can.

I see the teacher-centric model being crushed on a daily basis – and for the better – in my online interactions with others. I think this is one of the most powerful intellectual changes of the internet.

Learn from everything and every one. Be hungry, but selective. This is not an all-you-can-eat contest, but a what-you-have-eaten. It’s about quality, not quantity. It’s not about getting full, it’s about getting your fill.

It’s not about the outcomes, it’s about the process.

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