09 December 2011

Okay, this is what I meant to write about when I accidentally wrote and posted this :)

First let’s start with an image from the awesome XKCD:

You can find the original post here and I encourage you to actually visit the site. I haven’t hot linked the image because I don’t want to eat into the author’s bandwidth but obviously I take no credit for the image itself.

The Internet has changed the way we think, work and play. With an Internet connection you can quickly get up to speed on almost any topic assuming you have a basic education. Want to know about how a nuclear power plant works? No problem, we have got you covered. What about aeroplane design or advanced software development systems? We have a page for that…

With all this information available at the press of a button, are we eroding the value of a university education? Are we teaching children the wrong skill set for 21st century life? Rather than teaching students how to do X or Y, should we instead be teaching them how to search the Internet and cross-reference information to gain a higher chance of the information being correct?

Of course we can’t teach everything this way and skills require practice - you can’t just read about how to use a language for instance. But are we really that far off from what The Matrix demonstrated over a decade ago? The concept of downloading new skills and knowledge into your brain is not as fantastic as we think.

Literally, if you come up with a new topic right now and punch it in to Google, chances are high that you’ll find a lot of content on it already. You can quickly assimilate it, cross reference it and in many cases find worked examples and explanations. You can dip in and out and effectively tailor your education experience to precisely the information you need.

Admittedly the risk here is that whilst you understand the specifics that interest you, you might not understand the broader concepts and key ideas that you need to execute them but again another search will quite likely help relieve that problem quite nicely.

Now I am not saying a university education or apprenticeship can be replaced by a quick Internet search. There are some things that just cannot be learned that way. But how many of those skills that were important ten years ago are still of key importance today? How many have already been replaced?

My son is just over two years old. He can operate an iPod touch without difficulty. He likes to take pictures and videos and then go through the gallery and look at them. He replays the ones he likes and skips the ones he doesn’t. At two he is already operating a hi-tech device.

With immediate access to information and with people being connected to the Internet wherever they are, does anyone else think we might soon push this a little too far for comfort? Far enough perhaps that we cannot get out of the mess we’ve just caused?

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