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Information and Learning for the Future: the IL2011 Keynote

John Seely Brown

We were very fortunate to hear John Seely Brown, Chief of Confusion (what an interesting title!) and Visiting Scholar at USC, in the opening keynote address, who spoke on entrepreneurial learning, or educating people who are constantly wanting to learn in a world of constant change.  Brown is the author of a new book on this subject shown here. It’s available from Amazon.


There is no stability in sight. Learning is being driven by continual exponential advances in computation, and the half life of skills is constantly shrinking; it’s now about 5 years. This quote summarizes the situation:

Libraries are central in this because they are on the edge of information flows all the time. When we want to evaluate something, we no longer have time to see who the publisher is, so librarians are more important than ever.

Entrepreneurial learners are marked by:

  • Curiosity–pulling information on demand and to afford curiosity in a networked age.
  • Questing–seeking, uncovering, probing
  • Connecting–listening to others, engaging.

Perhaps we need a new tool set–new approaches to learning and new practices.  Are we prepared and are we preparing our students for this kind of world? It requires new dispositions which can’t be taught–they can only be cultivated.  Nothing beats collaborative study groups; in fact, the indication of how well a student will do in college is the extent to which they form or participate in study groups. We used to focus on content, assuming it was stable, but in a world of social media and networked knowledge, it is more fluid, so blogging and remixing have an increased importance.  Social networks extend across students, teachers, and global friends.

The world we are moving into is exemplified in a forthcoming book by David Weinberger, Too Big to Know, due in January.  We need to know how to know.  In the Internet age, knowledge has moved into networks.  Topics have no boundaries, and nobody agrees on anything.

Collectives are composed of people who share participation over belonging.  They make no demands on members, yet learning occurs all the time. They are a place for both play and imagination.  hee is a sense of a person meshing with the collective and learning more; for example, Yahoo groups, gardening groups, etc.

In a world of constant change, entrepreneurial learners must be willing to regrind the conceptual lenses through which they make sense of the world. An essential for this is play–the freedom to fail repeatedly and then get it right. Play is the progenitor of culture and innovation. We never forget epiphanies, but play is more important than ever. We are faced with riddles that can only be resolved by new lenses and reframing.

If you pick up something new, there may be things that don’t work right, and if your only response is to go to the manual and try to look up a solution, you will end up hating that piece of technology. But if you get used to tinkering with it, you will be stunned by how fast you can figure it out. If you get comfortable with that, you will embrace and like change. We hate change because we have not embraced tinkering techniques.  Here are the blended epistomologies of today’s learning and thinking.  Man must know, make, and play.

Here are some important shifts that must take place.

The one-room schoolhouse–one of the most significant learning spaces ever created. Teacher becomes an orchestrator and mentor to get kids to learn together, older kids teach the younger. The one-room schoolhouse is about to be replaced by the one-room digital schoolhouse.





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