This is the second in a series of posts where I’m publicly fumbling my way toward the EBook for the Future of Learning, Freedom and the Web, which will appear early next year. This is scary for me! I am used to having an editor, not 1000s of people to edit what I’ve written before it’s finished. That said, I’m embracing the fear, and this is submitted to the community for your response and hopefully constructive derision.

So I’m playing with relating the themes of Learning, Freedom, and the Web, with the intuition that these three could be fertile enough ground on which to build a whole manuscript.

Let me start with learning cause that’s what I know the most about (ahem):

Roughly speaking you might say there are two kinds of learning: scholastic and empirical. Scholastic learning means accessing the accumulated body of knowledge that humans have been building up since the beginning of recorded history. Read a book, memorize words in a new language, practice algebra: you’re engaging in scholastic learning.

Empirical learning means engaging in discovery, expanding the borders of that accumulated body of knowledge through creative work or factfinding. Write a poem, conduct a scientific experiment, code a new program: you’re engaging in empirical learning.

Laying out this dichotomy should make it clear that it is inherently flawed, however much it may be perpetuated (usually by debates between vocational studies and the liberal arts, or pure and applied research, or the hopelessly academic and the supremely practical.)
Scholasticism and empiricism are really two sides of the same coin. There is no one with out the other. One generation’s shocking empirical discovery ages into the next generation’s reliable historical scholarship. The young have something to teach the old, the old have something to teach the young. And between the poles of these two kinds of learning there’s a clue, maybe, to the key relationships amongst learning, freedom, and the web.

Maybe “empirical” learning embodies the principles of freedom, individual unbounded exploration, and “scholastic” learning embodies the principles of the Web—knowledge of the basic architectures and grammars, following the rules that make us intelligible to each other and allow us to work and play together nicely.

Or alternatively, you could say that “learning” embodies the principle of humanities scholarship, or study and rediscovery of what already exists; “the Web” embodies the principle of scientific empiricism, or following scientific methods to build and discover new things; and “freedom” is the awareness and permission to switch smoothly and appropriately from one to the other.

Or perhaps “learning” is the verb: the key organizing, refining, and review process by which the ideals of freedom, openness and transparency that enable empirical explorations are compiled and codified into the structures and networks of the web (the scholastic codes)?

What do you think?

One Response to “Does learning keep the web free? OR How can the web free learning?”

  1. Hello Anya, I just bought the book last week, read it up and enjoyed it thoroughly. I appreciate your commitment to popular education and exploring digital learning. There is a gap between the tech/business community and educators who are too tied to the current system to embrace the changes. The future is painful, but it does not have to be…

    As per learning, freedom and the web… learning is not the narrow dichotomies of the Western mind. A canon that does not include West African dance, Mayan cosmology, or Chinese calligraphy… very different ways of experiencing the world and transmitting culture is a stunted view. Education reform is very in the box thinking as the management/labor debate of Waiting for Superman, and so much of the Race to the Top innovation is focused on.

    So is a definition of learning that is relegated to scholastic or empirical… learning as accumulated knowledge versus the discovery of direct experience. There is no such thing as a new experience, an original idea, a true innovation, as all advancements are built on the shoulders of those that have influenced us and I tend to think we arrive at novel ideas spontaneously but as a small mass. Most of what gets published or recorded in history has been thought before, but the record is lost. What the web promises is a place to record our collective thoughts, the more people join the conversation, the more complete the map. That’s exciting.

    The problem as I see it is that public and private education institutions have attempted to monopolize learning in the past 100 years, and its not working out very well. The education system is producing a growing gap between winners and losers, very few at the top, too many at the bottom and not enough social mobility. Learning is and will always be free, because it is an autonomous experience enriched by collaboration. Everyone learns, and there are multiple intelligences. The shame is that academic achievement is narrowly defined with how well you do from the neck up, as Sir Ken Robbins humorously describes in his Ted talks. We have a one size fits all approach that elevates people with social capital and rejects those without. Too many talented people are excluded from participation.

    I see the web as a tool, an important tool to make explicit an interdependent world, but it is the people that are paramount. I fear we have a tendency to get so caught up with the tool, whether it be a school or a smart phone, we lose sight of the people it is designed to connect. I like your work and will continue to follow you on this. All the best…

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