Learning Revolution + Cognitive Surplus = Incredible Opportunity

I’m a walking contradiction.

I’m a nature boy at heart, and love to be in the backcountry where it’s quiet and clean and unplugged. I’m working toward our dream of an off-grid homestead and permaculture-based food forest, with the intent of living more simply and sharing that experience with others.

But I also love our new digital world, and have managed to make that my source of income, through blogging, web and social media consulting, and building websites. Consequently, I spend a lot of time online, researching, writing, absorbing information, and curating and sharing it.

And I believe that those two sides of myself aren’t mutually exclusive – in fact, they’re complementary. Nature heals and calms and revives us. The web educates and connects us.

We homeschool our kids, but we haven’t quite embraced the digital world with them. We don’t use the computer that much at all in their education – paper and pen and books are our mainstay, though we do access the web for research at times. We’ve got quite a few reasons for homeschooling our kids (future post on that), but high up on that list is our ability to personalize and revolutionize their learning experience – something I wish I could have experienced as a child.

So I think about education – or sometimes lack of education – quite a bit, as a component of giving the next generation the tools they need to build a more sustainable world.

I recently watched these two videos from the TED Talks back to back (serendipity?), and realized that the two ideas – a revolution in learning, and our ‘cognitive surplus’ – if taken together, present some amazing opportunities. Incredible opportunities for innovation, social change, and improving the quality of life all over the world.

Right now, we have access to more information, more technology, and more people all over the world than at any other time in history. We also have staggering amounts of poverty and pollution and sickness in the world, coupled with insufficient or non-existent education for many children.

Luckily for us, we also have some big thinkers who are sharing their solutions.

First, here’s Sir Ken Robinson: Bring on the Learning Revolution!

“Why don’t we get the best out of people? Sir Ken Robinson argues that it’s because we’ve been educated to become good workers, rather than creative thinkers. Students with restless minds and bodies — far from being cultivated for their energy and curiosity — are ignored or even stigmatized, with terrible consequences. “We are educating people out of their creativity,” Robinson says.”

And here’s Clay Shirky: How cognitive surplus will change the world

“Clay Shirky looks at “cognitive surplus” — the shared, online work we do with our spare brain cycles. While we’re busy editing Wikipedia, posting to Ushahidi (and yes, making LOLcats), we’re building a better, more cooperative world.”

What do you think? What would happen in the learning revolution once it’s fully enabled by our new-found ability to collaborate?
Image: Mickey van der Stap at Flickr

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

5 thoughts on “Learning Revolution + Cognitive Surplus = Incredible Opportunity

  • A. Marina Fournier

    One word: technopagans.
    We love nature, but technology is also a part of us (along with modern medicine, thankyouverymuch)

  • A. Marina Fournier

    It’s been around since the late 80’s at least, and became more prevalent as more pagans, heathens, Druids & Witches took to the world of computers. Alas, these days, many pagans are urban dwellers, “at two with nature” due to allergies & sensitivities and mobility issues. It’s sometimes difficult to follow a basically agrarian spirituality when most of us live in cities, and can’t get to parks or preserves with enough privacy, access, and flat space!
    At pagan gatherings, you will see bumper stickers proclaiming the driver is, as you are, a tree hugging dirt worshipper.

  • I really enjoyed this post, and think it’s admirable that you home-school. I also agree that the two world’s don’t have to be mutually exclusive, though I have some guilt about typing this from the iPad I love dearly, but was made from cheap Chinese labor.

    We want to home school as well, and I plan on using every tool I can, from educational games on the nintendo DS, to worthwhile apps and podcasts, in cooperation with good old pen and paper. By the time Cole is ready, there will be so many greate resources out there.

    I heart the future.


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