Could students learn from strangers or learn from lessons created by people who are not teachers? Could your next best lesson come from an outside source, someone with knowledge but not organisational authority, and delivered to the student via the web.
If so, what would this mean to teachers and students? What would this mean for teaching and learning? These were interesting questions posed by Rob Jacobs around the possibility of crowdsourcing education.
Recently, social media innovator Tom Hulme spoke at a conference in Brisbane on the topic, in which he stated that crowdsourcing is not a new phenomenon and has been around since the industrial revolution. However, its popularity gained traction in 2006 thanks to journalist Jeff Howe and the internet. According to Howe, crowdsourcing happens when an organisation takes a job that was once performed by employees and outsources through an open call to an undefined audience of people.
Hulme says crowdsourcing has evolved from a mere transactional model to something much richer – the ability to open up and engage our ‘customers’ (or stakeholders) in the process of delivering our product or service. This means that instead of just being users of our product or service, the ‘customer’ can now have a meaningful input into ‘how’ the product or service is made or delivered.
If we transfer this idea into the education system – this has vast implications not only for how educators’ network, collaborate and learn but how we approach learning and teaching in today’s world.
In Jacobs’ blog he explains how a educator’s typical network use to look like this:
Now in the 21st century, it looks more like this:
Crowdsourcing has enabled the ability to collaborate in unprecedented ways. As Jacobs puts it:
The person is the portal to the network. The person is an autonomous communication and collaboration node. Each member can potentially leverage not only their network, but also the network of others who are in their network. This principle is known as Metcalfe’s Law. The number of potential connections between nodes grows more quickly than the number of nodes. The total value of the network where each node can reach every other node in the network grows with the square of the number of nodes. In other words, when members connect their networks, it creates more value than the sum of networks independently.
Director of the UK’s Innovation Unit, Valerie Hannon provides an example of a crowdsourced education model, which she calls a ‘learning eco-system’. This model has far greater connections with the professional and wider community.
In her research she came across an innovative web based organised called ‘School of Everything’, founded on the principle that everyone has something to learn, and everyone has something to teach. The website connects up those who want to learn with those who want to teach. The SOE’s premise is that learning is personal and starts not with what ‘should’ be learned but what a person is interested in – so they build a tool to help anyone in the world learn anything, and teach anything, how and when it suits them, by putting them in touch with each other and not institutions.
This is but one example of the possibilities of how crowdsourced education can broaden the way we ‘do’ schooling today and into the future for the benefit of both students and teachers. It is an idea which cannot and should not be dismissed out of hand because it mentions “customer or stakeholders”.
As I have written previously schooling is no longer the centre of the education process, it is now but one option of many places to go to learn. The challenge is to explore how to best respond and be open to adapt in doing so