Posted by: soniahs | November 2, 2010

Exam reading: “Minds on fire”

I had a strong reaction to this paper, probably because I’ve been thinking about these issues from a different perspective than the authors. This paper ties into some of my core T&T readings, like “Laws of Cool” and “Datacloud,” that address the knowledge economy and the future of work. However, here the focus is on learning.

John Seely Brown, and Richard P. Adler. “Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0.” Educause Review Jan/Feb 2008.

Summary: Main idea is that an educated workforce with opportunities for lifelong learning is necessary to maintain competitive centers in a globalized world. The need for education for multiple careers and constant re-skilling (my term; they use more positive vocabulary) can be facilitated by Web-based free education & Web 2.0 networking technologies. The Web facilitates social, collaborative learning: work in small groups, “learning to be” a participant plus traditional “learning about” a subject, problem-based collaboration. Idea of legitimate peripheral participation: learners gain both explicit (factual) and implicit (social) knowledge at once. The authors look at online tools for learning: Second Life, “e-science,” informal discussions in social networking sites (I would argue that several of their suggestions aren’t good examples.) Discuss similarities between “long tail” niche marketing being supported by more popular commerce- the Web facilitates this setup- and how online education can be similar (once niche courses are developed, they’re out there forever.) Overall idea is to provide an environment that both facilitates and promotes lifelong learning; they call this “demand-pull” rather than “supply-push” approach.

Comments: Authors do not discuss what to do about the digital divide, the social dislocation associated with constant retraining, how hypothetical developers of free online courses would actually be employed themselves, how to evaluate accurate vs. inaccurate content, erosion of expertise and traditional methods of validating knowledge, etc. Basically, this reads like a Web 2.0 cheerleading piece for non-centralized/distributed education systems, and does not address a wide range of major economic and social justice issues (granted, this is probably not their intent.) The fact that the authors lump in non-online examples into their “online tools for learning” section suggests that they are stretching for examples.

Links to: Howe (discusses crowdsourcing-ultimate result of this educational style? or at least linked); Lave & Wenger (LPP)



  1. […] to: Brown & Adler (general online learning); Howe […]


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