Free Learning

I came across an interesting statement from Chris Anderson in his book “Free” (which incidentally seems to be available for free online viewing on Scribd for folks in the United States only). The context is his analysis around how computer processing power, digital storage and bandwidth are getting “too cheap to meter”. He states:

And the more products are made of ideas, rather than stuff, the faster they can get cheap. This is the root of the abundance that leads to Free in the digital world, which we today shorthand as Moore’s Law.

He also makes the point that it may not be limited to digital products but also in areas such as medicine and nanotechnology. Malcolm Gladwell does a scathing review here (interesting coverage of YouTube and paid content) saying “…plenty of other information out there that has chosen to run in the opposite direction from Free”.

Anderson talks about Alan Kay and states:

What Kay realized was that a technologist’s job is not to figure out what technology is good for. Instead it is to make technology so cheap, easy to use, and ubiquitous that anybody can use it, so that it propagates around the world and into every possible niche.

On another note, David Wiley, writing about Openness as Catalyst for an Educational Reformation states:

In short, higher education finds itself using radical new technology in backward ways, reinforcing outdated ways of thinking with law and institutional policy, and remaining unable to satisfy rapidly increasing popular demand. Sound familiar? Higher education appears to be pitched on the edge of its own Reformation.

Sounds familiar, David!

In context of what we see now with OERs and free software in the educational space, I can see multiple ways in which these thoughts really intersect. We desperately need free, open and participatory technology, processes and practices that propagate around the world and satisfy popular demand.

Is there a business model that embraces the fact that it will cost but can be made both equitable and sustainable?…perhaps. Will it be based on Free?…don’t know, the track record doesn’t seem to be all that great for a business to get into. One investor I know referred to “it” as the holy grail – “it” being how to monetize social media/networks.

Well, if not free, can we generate efficiencies? For example, we have heard of institutions being degree granting bodies – that is an important part of what they do and who they are. Would it be efficient if we were to give directly to teachers the right to award a PhD (or any other degree), thereby making the institution redundant in that respect, but directly reducing costs. Would that work?

I know I would love to do an Open PhD if any expert would want to directly mentor me! It may even be a first, having a network of practitioners mentor in a virtual mode? Maybe I could help them out with associated online teaching, development and/or research tasks in return – like the old age guru-shishya tradition (traditional teacher-student “gurukul” systems from India)?

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