Crowdsourcing education

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:

Alec Couros

Now in the 21st century, it looks more like this:

Alec Couros

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

5 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing education

  1. Hey Greg – I see lots of this in the IT world now – the agile approach to delivery provides the throughput of requirements that mean we can now use a perfect pool approach – liquid is what IBM have dubbed it – and put the units of work out for “competitions” where people from any walk can provide a “solution: bid, and if successful deliver to the originating node. All bids are open and all can share in the contributions by reviewing the request and solution, and collaboration and reuse becomes very high, very quickly.

    Of course the success is reliant on a network of delivery teams who are keen to crowdsource – without that willingness you just end up with a bunch of unaddressed requirements and a pipeline backlog that never gets addressed.

    Check out the similarities in the approach you mentioned with the IBM Liquid portal in facebook – using social media to drive the liquid approach

    Thanks for your great insights and blog posts
    Neil Joseph.

  2. Neil, thanks for your comments and Facebook link – Liquid is an apt name. Education can learn a lot from the practices of the IT industry and other sectors. The August edition of the Harvard Business Review was devoted to Collaboration; it was great to see how businesses are adopting and adapting this approach to solving problems. I believe the education sector can learn from business and vice versa. Hopefully this will become the norm for teachers and students as we explore all the opportunities available to make learning relevant, engaging and interesting.

  3. Thanks Greg and Neil for the comments and discussion.I had not heard the term previously, however, it certainly made me think about how we do what we do. I have always thought that our schools have a difficult challenge when introducing languages. Staffing a languages department has always been an issue in secondary schools especially in our increasing multi cultural world. The crowd sourcing approach may be a way forward as it allows learning to be through a different medium. Imagine students in a primary school learning languages that they could continue with in high school and beyond.As we know there are shortages of teachers in specific areas and this would help to provide a service for our students.
    A students learning portfolio could be a mix of approaches, designed for them with a mentor helping/guiding them on their journey.The other great aspect is that they are in charge of their learning and have ownership of it.

    1. Hi Peter just browsing through and I connected your comments with a recent discussion with Tony Bryant, from Silverton, Tony’s school offers languages using a variety of sources for the primary children in his school none are taught by a teacher in the school they are all supported by online learning tools , language is student selected and teachers act as ‘learning’ tutors rather than as specialist teachers of a particular language. A good idea that I would have found useful for LOTE delivery ..

  4. Thanks Peter for your comments. Schools are no longer the centre of learning – we need to look outside of our four walls. Our students are already doing this thanks to technology – as educators we need to get on board. It makes sense and would be a great disservice to our students and teachers if we did not access the greater pool of talent, and yes through multiple channels.

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