Too much content, not enough curation

Why online education is failing

Every school or university has a library. Some universities have dozens of libraries. Everyone recognises, though, that simply having access to information stored in a library is not enough to give someone a good education. Teachers in schools and universities guide, curate and inspire students to find the right information and to present it back in a coherent fashion. Teaching a way of thinking, rather than just studying facts, gives students the ability to learn for themselves and become adaptable and critical of new knowledge and ideas. With no guidance, the only way of studying books becomes to start at “A” and work your way through to “Z”.

A university with no teachers

Technology gives anyone with an internet connection free access to information. The Web contains more content than any library, and more information than any single human being could ever know. Yet like a university with no teachers, there is no one to guide or curate this content. For people who want an education, there is a core component of knowledge missing from the web: how to learn. For those who know how to find relevant information online and utilise it, the web can play an important role in educating and improving their intellectual capital. But there is a key precondition: knowing where to look.

Open source teaching

To counteract this problem many universities are now opening up their courses to outside observers. What used to be restricted to a privileged few is now available for the masses. Want to learn about photography? Take a free course from Harvard. Need to brush up on Philosophy? Go to Edinburgh University’s website. Although these courses are free, they ironically ignore what is best about the web: that a lot of the content and information is out there already. Rather than recreating much of the content that has been developed already, a teacher might just select the best resources relevant for the student. Teaching a way of thinking is not teaching the facts.

A new model

What does a teacher fundamentally do? They help you achieve goals; developing your way of thinking and challenging you. Content alone can’t do this, yet technology might be able to. Developing responsive and personalised challenges and tasks could help a student to reach their goals in a scaled and open way. Importantly, the learning is goal focussed, allowing someone to apply their knowledge to a new job or opportunity. Though someone may not know what they need to learn, they will certainly know where they want to get to in life. In this way curation on the web could help them get there; turning the content on the web to good use and democratising the knowledge for people who don't know where to start.