I watched Stephen Downes’s beautiful slides (99 MB) about “The Future of Learning Technology”, and here is what I noted.

The title slide saying "The Future of Learning Technology: 10 Key Tools and Methods", "Stephen Downes" and "Contact North", before a beautiful creek landscape.

“9. Agency”

What we learn depends on why we learn“. I think curriculum makers still don’t ask why stuff is still required to memorize which can be looked up.

We can think of this as the attractor as opposed to a driver.” Ha, pull rather than push. Great.

Agency – […], for better or worse – is impacted by technology.” That is exactly my fear: that patronization by prosthesis technologies will become even worse.

“7. Creative Experiences”

The dialogue and interactivity that takes place sets the work into context and enables learners to see it as a process rather than an artifact.” I like the link between activity and context. The limitations of “knowledge transfer — reading, lectures, videos” (slide 45) cannot be overcome just by alternating between reading and subsequent writing of responses to the questions, nor by creating an isolated artefact. Only by mixing passive and active modes.

This is what “allow[s] us to redefine what we mean by ‘textbooks’ and even ‘learning objects.’” (slide 17). And I don’t think just of high-tech solutions like Jupyter textbooks in the cloud (slide 17), but also of simple things like annotation and rearranging that is enabled by externalizing to the ‘extended mind‘.

Apprenticeships” (slide 47) — this might sound as if it was limited to vocational training or practical tasks. But it could also be scientific apprenticeships — if only the ‘masters’, too, started to leverage the digital affordances of ‘extended mind’ externalizations (just mentioned), instead of insisting that what comes between literature review and the paper outline must be done entirely in their big head.

“5. Consensus”

In a democracy, many of these decisions are made through some form of majority rule.” Probably I haven’t yet fully grasped the importance of ‘Consensus algorithms’. For me, majority is not a poor surrogate of what the consensus of the wisest big heads would achieve. I think majority is often about economic vs. political power. Ecomomic power (of the few) is mostly derived from the very fact that they are few who are controlling some scarce resources. And this is just because, for an economic transaction between two subjects to take place, each one has the ‘veto’ right to refrain from the interaction, so, consensus about the price etc. must be achieved. Unlike economic power, political power is the power of the many, who could override and confine the former (at least in a democracy). So, consensus does not seem only positive to me (let alone the one needed by the veto right in the Security Council).

And economic power is what hampers many of our hopes for the future of ed tech, such as “Open Data” (slide 10), or IMHO also the great idea that “The credential of the future will be a job offer” (slide 54), or the whole idea of decentralisation against the monopolies.

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2 Responses to Future

  1. On consensus: I think we need to be careful to distinguish between consensus as a decision-making mechanism, as it is used in political affairs, and consensus as a source-of-truth mechanism, as I am applying it here.

    For example, consider the question of who owns the Mona Lisa. This should probably be regarded as a matter of fact, not opinion. In other words, we don’t let people vote on it. Rather, ownership is determined though a source-of-truth mechanism, which in turn is based on a system of records, transactions, provenance, etc.

    Or consider the date I was born. Once again, this is not determined by a majority opinion of anyone. My date, location and nationality of birth is established by the fact of its occurring, which in turn is documented through a source-of-truth mechanism based on certifications, statements, and so on.

    My point in my presentation is that what defines a *community* is changing. Instead of being based on sameness (including ‘sameness of belief’), it is based on consensus as defined by source-of-truth mechanisms. You may be conservative and catholic, and I may be socialist and atheist, but what defines us as a community is that we agree on how ownership is recorded, how births are recorded, and various other facts. This allows us (crucially) to *disagree* on other things, but still maintain a common social structure and infrastructure.

    A democracy just is a type of consensus on a specific sort of source-of-truth mechanism. We agree to a process, voting, which assigns to a population the right to make statements, or laws, that apply to all of us. We all agree that ‘the law is the law’ even while being able to disagree, and resolve by voting, on whether the law *should* be the law.

    One real question that we face is where we will draw this line. On the one hand we have digital ledger source-of-truth maximalists who would leave no decisions whatsoever to be determined by any other mechanism, for example, Balaji Srinivasan’s The Network State, and on the other hand we have, let’s call them ‘truthers’, who argue that the truth is whatever people say it is, and can be adjusted to accommodate the will of the majority.

    Another question is whether we can in fact create a single common consensus around source-of-truth mechanisms. That there are different communities, I think, can’t be defined. A Biblical literalist will define truth with reference to Scripture, while an empirical scientists defines truth with reference to scientific method. Can they find in common a source-of-truth mechanism for at least *some* things? We find the answer here not in foundations of metaphysics or object ontologies but in a lot of things that we would normally think of as contingent – currency systems, meanings of some words, weather reports, etc.


  2. x28 says:

    Ah-ha, thank you very much for the extensive explanation!
    Also thanks for the comment on OLDaily.


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