Thursday, 11 September 2008

Learning Potential of the Internet

The Rue Sophie Germain named for the French mathematician (1776 - 1831).

I believe that the Internet has boosted learning potential in a way that most of us have not caught up with yet. The full impact has yet to be realized but I think many subjects, or the foundation of many subjects can be easily acquired and practiced by an individual with no need for teachers, classes, university etc.

Of course to learn successfully requires dedication and interest but this is almost always the case, no matter what the method. The internet gives us unprecedented access to information, unprecedented access to fellow learners and experts and supports more media and approaches than most traditional methods.

A big hint lies in the IT sector, of there are many that are formally educated, but due to the ever changing nature of IT and due to fact that the barrier to playing with and building real things with real technology is so low, many people in successful IT careers have no formal qualifications at all, many have learned everything that supports their career via the very same devices and infrastructure they use in their daily work.

Take the mathematician who inspired the French street name above, she taught herself mathematics from books in her fathers library despite all the efforts of her family to stop her (not the done thing for a middle class girl at the time), she had to pretend to be a man initially to correspond with famous mathematicians of the time and develop her theories. Think how much lower is the barrier to entry for a modern day Sophie Germain, the vital inputs and opportunities to communicate are so much more now. The interesting questions is will the availability of information create many more autodidacts like Sophie?

In language learning we have access to media, learning resources, foreign speakers, fellow learners, free tools (Audacity for audio for example, your own personal language lab), I firmly believe that any reasonably motivated learner can learn a language to a significantly better level than most university students in less time as a hobby (it really seems that farcical).

I hear people moaning about informational overload but this is a personal problem we just have to learn to adjust the way we view learning and knowledge, nowadays the possession of information is less important than the understanding of it and the ability to do things with it. The memory tricks of savants like Kim Peek seem much less impressive today, although Kim has show an increasing ability to work with his facts and develop his social skills due to his fame allowing him to practice and use what he knows. Many of us today can retrieve information as reliably Kim does and almost as fast, it is up to us to understand and use it.

I understand that some areas will always need professional qualifications, and some will need access to special equipment (particle physics springs to mind at the moment). But the basis of knowledge acquisition in these areas can still be acquired outside of special institutions.

How many times have I heard someone say "I really want to learn XXXX, I haven't started yet though I am waiting to see if there is going to be a course at the college next year...." how much do you want to learn???

This post will be a small part of the background to my Bathcamp presentation Bathcamp presentation Twine(in progress).

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