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The digital scholar
The digital scholar

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1.4  Education and abundance

An image of a silver caravan-style mobile shop and café, with chairs for customers in front of it.
Figure 3 Welcome to the Cornucopia

In examining the changes that education needs to accommodate to be relevant to the digital society, Seely-Brown and Adler (2008) emphasise the shift to participation, arguing that in order to meet the growing demand for education, and the requirements of a rapidly changing workplace, the traditional model of supply-push needs to be replaced with one of demand-pull. Learners need to be able to learn throughout their lives and to be able to learn about very niche subjects (Anderson's long tail again). The only way to accommodate these needs they argue is to move to a more participatory, socially constructed view of knowledge. They stress the significance of new technologies in realising this:

Tools such as blogs, wikis, social networks, tagging systems, mashups, and content-sharing sites are examples of a new user-centric information infrastructure that emphasizes participation (e.g., creating, re-mixing) over presentation, that encourages focused conversation and short briefs (often written in a less technical, public vernacular) rather than traditional publication, and that facilitates innovative explorations, experimentations, and purposeful tinkerings that often form the basis of a situated understanding emerging from action, not passivity.

Any pedagogy of abundance would then, I suggest, be based on the following assumptions:

  • Content is free – not all content is free, but increasingly a free version can be located and so an assumption that this will be the default is more likely than one based on paywalls or micropayments.
  • Content is abundant – as covered above, the quantity of content is now abundant as a result of easy publishing formats and digitisation projects.
  • Content is varied – content is no longer predominantly text based.
  • Sharing is easy – as I have suggested, there are now easy ways to share, so the ‘cost’ of sharing has largely disappeared.
  • Social based – this may not necessarily entail intensive interaction; filtering and sharing as a by-product of individual actions constitutes a social approach to learning.
  • Connections are ‘light’ – as with sharing, it is easy to make and preserve connections within a network since they do not necessitate one-to-one maintenance.
  • Organisation is cheap – Clay Shirky (2008b) argues that the ‘cost’ of organising people has collapsed, which makes informal groupings more likely to occur and often more successful: ‘By making it easier for groups to self-assemble and for individuals to contribute to group effort without requiring formal management, these tools have radically altered the old limits on the size, sophistication, and scope of unsupervised effort’.
  • Based on a generative system – Zittrain (2008) argues that unpredictability and freedom are essential characteristics of the internet and the reason why it has generated so many innovative developments. Any pedagogy would seek to harness some element of this generative capability.
  • User-generated content – related to the above, the ease of content generation will see not only a greater variety of formats for content but courses being updated and constructed from learner's own content.