What if all human knowledge was free and accessible?
Imagine that for lunch today you had to go into your storehouse and find the peaches you canned last summer, the meat from the cow you slaughtered and smoked, and the grain you packed away after harvesting it while heading up to the kitchen to prepare it all. Pretty ridiculous to consider for we urban dwellers, heh? We instead go to the grocery store and get what we need all nice and shrink-wrapped or just head over to our favorite local restaurant for lunch to be served to us all piping hot.
The farming, ranching, slaughterhouse, bakeries, food service and distribution system (e.g., refrigerated trains, trucking, grocery stores) ensures that most of us don’t need to think too hard about where we’ll get today’s lunch or tomorrow’s remarkably inexpensive calories. We also expend laughingly few calories to obtain what we need compared to even a generation ago (thus why we’re so fat…but I digress) and this whole food ecosystem has allowed all of us to move to a higher level and specialize in our work in ways our great-grandparents could never have foreseen since we’re not expending so many calories (not to mention time) to grow, gather up, store and prepare them.
One thing is clear if you’re investing any time staying abreast of the acceleration in Internet-centric knowledge repositories (e.g., Wikipedia, Google Knol, Instructables, Connexions), as well as higher learning institution initatives (e.g., MIT Open Courseware), then you’ll begin to understand the vision and promise embodied in a new initiative by Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales and Rich Baraniuk, respective founders of Wikipedia and Connexions, called The Cape Town Open Education Declaration (via Smart Mobs).
We are on the cusp of a global revolution in teaching and learning. Educators worldwide are developing a vast pool of educational resources on the Internet, open and free for all to use. These educators are creating a world where each and every person on earth can access and contribute to the sum of all human knowledge. They are also planting the seeds of a new pedagogy where educators and learners create, shape and evolve knowledge together, deepening their skills and understanding as they go.
This emerging open education movement combines the established tradition of sharing good ideas with fellow educators and the collaborative, interactive culture of the Internet. It is built on the belief that everyone should have the freedom to use, customize, improve and redistribute educational resources without constraint. Educators, learners and others who share this belief are gathering together as part of a worldwide effort to make education both more accessible and more effective.
Does this mean that your training, learning, knowledge work or content is going to be free or cause you to give it away?
My take on the Cape Town Declaration is this: it promises to do for the creation and dissemination of baseline knowledge and learning what the food and calorie delivery ecosystem did to allow most of us to redirect our energy toward ever higher specialization and achievement.
Baseline is a key point I need to reiterate: if you are delivering knowledge and learning content, process or methods, you’d better start considering right now how to step-up-your-game and deliver better, cheaper, faster, richer, easier-to-use content and information since the easy, baseline stuff is going to be open, free and easily accessed everywhere.
Fortunately there are tools, methods and marketplaces launching this year (disclosure: I’m on the advisory board of the emergent leading provider so have performed analysis on the space as well) that will allow educators, trainers and content experts to deliver that high value, specialized knowledge better, cheaper, faster, richer, and easier-to-use.
NOW imagine a world where “content and knowledge calories” are cheap and you can access baseline knowledge for some given subject or topic while having easy, shrink-wrapped-like access to the high value knowledge, presented in an easy to use and learn way.
This giving away of baseline value to focus on higher level value is one reason why I gave away my Rise of the Participation Culture (RPC) report (temporarily offline as we refresh it). RPC is a report on Internet-as-a-platform, Web 2.0, and the people who’ve emerged as participants online taking advantage of all the new tools and approaches.
By asking future audience members at a client presentation to download and pre-read this report before my two hour presentation to them, their baseline knowledge allowed us to quickly leap to the next level and move higher up the value chain. Since we had a common nomenclature and the audience understood the key concepts discussed in my presentation, it allowed us to push against the membrane of the future brainstorming about their own pain points and what they might consider delivering on the Web, instead of going over things like, “Here’s what RSS is” or “A podcast is…”.
Recognize that the Internet is making the inefficient, efficient and that’s the primary reason an initiative like an open education resource vision will get traction. Supply chains, processes, methods, collaboration, communication and a multitude of other key areas are being poked-n-prodded with new startups or approaches as people try to figure out how to leverage the Internet to get rid of the inefficient and allow us all to jump to the next level of creativity, innovation and human cognition.
Educating the world’s children is the right thing to do and is key to enabling and assisting them to achieve self sustaining status. But it also ensures that we have a hope the world’s knowledge will achieve equilibrium and thus higher standards of living, creativity and innovation will emerge everywhere.