Part One: The Decentralization of Everything

Part One: Bringing Order Out of Chaos …

What you are reading was born as a simple post about elearning, and ended up taking on a life of its own…

I wanted to write about why it is of critical importance at this point in the history of human evolution that learning is becoming available to almost anyone, anytime and anywhere.

I actually had a philosophical “chicken-and- egg” debate with my self late last night about whether history somehow consciously provides what is needed to take the next step, or do we rummage about in the attic of history and find what we need to keep evolving? I’ll leave the question for my two favorite Radiolab philosophers Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich.

Here’s the point. If we are to continue to evolve from the treetops to the Savannah to wherever we are headed in the futures, we need to find a creative and innovative way to transfer knowledge and know-how. There’s just too many of us who need learning, and not enough people to do the teaching.

Here’s great story that illustrates the point. It’s from one of my earlier posts.

Daphne Koller is a computer science professor at Stanford, and a MacArthur “Genius” Fellow. She has been working for years to make online education more engaging and interactive.

“On the long term, I think the potential for this to revolutionize education is just tremendous,” Koller says. “There are millions of people around the world that have access only to the poorest quality of education or sometimes nothing at all.”

Technology could change that by making it possible to teach classes with 100,000 students as easily and as cheaply as a class with just 100. And if you look around the world, demand for education in places like South Africa is enormous.

Almost two weeks ago, at the University of Johannesburg, more than 20 people were injured and one woman was killed trying register for a limited number of openings. Thousands had camped out overnight hoping to snag one of the few available places and when the gates opened, there was a stampede.

Koller hopes that in the future, technology will help prevent these kinds of tragedies.

Up until this writing I was overwhelmed by the number of choices for learning technology in particular, and technology repurposed for learning in general. Chaos makes me nervous. So I have this need to find a pattern that provides order.

As often happens in my mind the pattern emerged while I was dreaming.

I saw my hand write the word “Decentralization” with white chalk on a blackboard. When I awoke, I wrote the word at the top of this post, realizing that everything was being driven by decentralization.

So before I take on writing about the decentralization of education I thought it would be a good idea to write a Part One about decentralization itself.

Decentralization: From The Many to The One

Not too many years ago I read that we were in the third great economic paradigm of modern history, one that at that time generally known as The Knowledge Economy. I recently changed my thinking and started to define it as The Idea Economy.

Then this morning I was looking at the stack of bills that tries to hide in an old wooden inbox on my desk. I was considering the cost of going solar and generating heat and electricity. I started to imagine what that could mean for my bank account. For some reason, I envisioned a huge centralized electrical generating plant, run by a large central supply corporation.

I watched as it generated electricity that flows out on main transmission lines to substations onto transformers to ever smaller lines and ultimately to the thin vulnerable wires that entered my house. Like a giant heart beating and sending electrical pulses to the arteries and capillaries. Sending it to millions of homes strung together on a grid.

Now if I could get off the grid, then others could as well. And if we were all off the grid, we would be suppliers instead of consumers. The grid would take in the excess, and the old central supplier would become a redistributor, sending the excess from the more sunny spots to those that needed a boost. In other words, energy that was once centralized would become efficiently and effectively decentralized.

The Consumer would be the Supplier.

Add electric cars that I charge from my own batteries in my cellar, and another central supplier bites the dust. And that was when it struck me and seemed to all come together.

A moment when the seemingly separate and disparate things that were flying at me like the old Windows Flying Toasters screensaver formed a coherent picture. IPods and iTunes. eBooks. YouTube Channels. MS Word. Kindle Fire. iPad. Facebook. Twitter. Arab Spring. Bloggers. eCommerce. Social Media. American Idol. Virtual Classrooms. Apps. Smartphones and Smartwallets …

… And so much more …

Entire industries changed, disintermediated. Writers becoming publishers. Musicians becoming producers. Small Indie films replacing large movie studios. Internet TV nipping at cable TV. Examples everywhere you look.

And all a result of demand for decentralization of services and products.

Decentralization is and will be the central tenant of the 21st Century, the driving force behind all change.  If the last ten years, and the next 90, have a theme, it is decentralization. So how does that impact on learning? Stay tuned for Part Two: Anyone, Anytime, and Anyplace.

One comment

  1. Thomas · January 26, 2012

    Brilliant piece of writing. Spot on analysis that everyone needs to know to make the best decisions about approaches to learning.


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