Learning 3.0 fear

I was reading Steve Weeler’s blog entry on Learning 3.0, and really enjoyed the insights and comments that it has generated. I was going to comment, but decided I needed to expand on my thinking a bit to get my point across. In October, I blogged on the difference between talent and labor and the impact this has on learning. My fear is that Learning 3.0 will multiply and legitimise labor type learning.

I think Steve is right when he says that “the social web… will become more ‘intelligent’, and will recommend to its users the best ways to find what they are looking for. It will also recommend things that users don’t know they need yet, predicting their ‘needs’ based on their previous behaviour and choices…“. This is happening already, to a greater or lesser degree, in many aspects of our online lives. We get recommendations for books, music and films based on our past purchases and friends recommendations. As the recommendations become better, we blindly accept what the algorithm is telling us. Fewer numbers of movies, books and music end up being watched/read/listened to by greater and greater numbers of people. We haven outsourced our choices.

The fear that I have is that as Learning 3.0 develops, it will be easy for talent and curiosity to shrivel up and become a smaller and smaller part of the world for to many people. Because our brains are conservative organs (don’t want to waste processing power), we are more and more willing to rely on the brain tools that are available to us to offload anything that can be taken care of by an algorithm. We rarely (if ever) check that the algorithm is right, because it is good enough. The long tail of everything else that is available for us to watch/read/listen to, is accessed by fewer and fewer of us. I’m afraid that the same thing will happen to ideas as Learning 3.0 becomes more pervasive.

I am already seeing this in the work of my students. I give them the freedom to bring back what they want, and most of the ideas come from the first page of a google search. The references accessed for writing essays are the most frequently accessed references. The ideas are the ones easiest to find in Wikipedia. As Learning 3.0 refines the suggestions we receive,w e are all going to end up looking at and thinking about the same ideas.

In a different post, Alec Couros wrote about bananas (it really is a good post), and how he was concerned that quick and easy internet access can quash curiosity. Although several commentators argued that access to the answers can enhance curiosity, I worry that the norm is for curiosity to be dampened. I fear that Web 3.0 will provide us with too many easy answers. Web 3.0 learning will enhance learning for algorithmic labor in the many. While enabling the learning for talent as well, learning for talent is difficult and if there is an easier way, I’m afraid it will turn out the way most often trodden.

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