Learning in the Digital Age - John Seely Brown

Hat tip to Fred Zimny on finding this gem. I embed this video here because I wanted to also give some initial thoughts on what I've learned watching this.  You may be tempted to skip the video once you see it will take an hour out of your life.  This would be a mistake, but just in case I thought I would share some of my notes. At first, I hesitated when I saw the title "digital age," because I presumed I would be hearing more about the "digital learner," and how kids are just so different today.  I don't find there is much science to support this notion, and believe strongly that 'generational' characterizations are lazy, deny our shared humanity, and empower us to ignorance.  I'm looking at you, Myers-Briggs.

Much to my delight, John Seely Brown instead here touches on a core problem that I've had a hard time describing.  Specifically, and this comes during the Q&A: "there is no norm, no prototype, no typical example, in a power law distribution.  And the human mind is unprepared to reason about things that don't have examples."  We are trained to believe in Gaussian (normal) distributions, whereas much of our world is made up of power law distributions.

What? Brown gives an example:  what if architects had to account for humans who didn't adhere to a normal distribution for height, but rather a power law distribution?  There would be millions of us around 1 foot tall, and a few poor folks 1 thousand feet tall.  How would you design that building?  Fortunately for architects, humans generally follow a normal law distribution for height.  Unfortunately for the rest of us, much of the world does not.

Translation:  we are surrounded by 'black swans.'  The more we rely on the established wisdom about how the world works, the less prepared we are to succeed in a world that is in flux.  The good news is that our digital age, properly embraced, can help us adapt our notions of learning.  Our first inclination with new technology is to use it to evidence existing practices.  "Digitizing paper," if you will.  Moving beyond this will be key to embracing what Brown calls the "new disposition" for a digital age learner.

Other nuggets:

* The biggest obstacle to innovation is wisdom.

* Singapore is reinventing their education system based on a single maxim:  "teach less, learn more."

* Marking on a curve creates incentives that fight against social learning.  And all learning is social.

* Nothing clarifies ideas better than explaining them to others.

* Learning through creating, playing provides the foundations for constantly mastering a world in flux.  If your world is static, learn through teaching. If it is in flux, learn by tinkering.