The future is connected, messy, loose and open

Why is self-directed learning and professional development so important today? Rawn Shah, commenting on one of my presentations, said that knowledge is evolving faster than can be codified in formal systems and is depreciating in value over time. This pretty well sums up the situation.

Think about the fact that knowledge is evolving faster than can be codified in formal systems … and what does that mean for all of our formal systems? Schools, government, and even religion are no longer stable bastions of knowledge. The logarithmic curve of knowledge, like our population, has hit us like the proverbial hockey stick it portrays.


 Image by Waldir

One of the ways to deal with this knowledge explosion is to use what we have, our humanity. We have developed as social animals and our brains are wired to deal with social relationships. By combining technology with our brainpower, we can figure things out. We are naturally creative and curious. We just have to build systems that nurture our inherent abilities. Schools do not do that. Most workplaces do not. Our economy does not. Most of our governance systems do not. The answers to our problems are within us, collectively. We have more creativity (for good and bad) than any other creature. We need to harness it.

This is what social learning is all about. Not just solving problems, but creating new ways of working. There are amazing technological inventions and discoveries every day, yet we and our media focus too often on our problems. On the edges of society people are experimenting with new ways of working and living together. What is most amazing is that now we can learn about these things with a simple search or click. Two billion people connected to each other is absolutely amazing, yet many of us cannot see the forest for the trees.

Here are just a few examples:

Learn about almost anything, with excellent commentary, from A Man with a PhD

Find out about the new economy from Shareable and Fast Co-exist

Follow what is happening in learning and education with Stephen Downes and his extensive daily newsletter

The Internet is a cornucopia of people sharing what they know. All one needs is the interest and a few skills to filter this. Don’t have the skills? Ask somebody. There are many people willing to help.

It seems so obvious to me, but most organizations are trying to deal with this complexity in simplistic ways. Humans have the ability to deal with some very complex things, yet too often our cultural and organizational barriers block us from using our innate abilities The future is connected, messy, loose, and open. Anything else will be sub-optimal.

10 Responses to “The future is connected, messy, loose and open”

  1. Ed Levinson

    This is rubbish. Without a formal system there is no knowledge. You can have facts without a formal system, but not knowledge.

  2. Ara Ohanian

    Harold it’s absolutely my experience that in the business world things are moving faster than traditional systems can keep up with. The answer as you say is definitely to spread the net wider and ask more people for their help sooner. This doesn’t mean all knowledge gets out of date quickly or formal learning is entirely dead, only that we have to go beyond that and continue to learn, rapidly in our work every day – and a great deal of this could be through informal interactions.

  3. Regi Adams

    Harold I agree with many of your insights here. I think one thing the knowledge explosion is challenging us to do is to become holistic thinkers. The artificial and neat categories we place knowledge within cannot stand against the increasing flow of information. This influx requires us to take a broader perspective on things in order to gain clarity. In many cases we are forced to draw upon many disciplines in order to make sense of what we see. We are doing a sort of intellectual Jeet Kune Do as a result.

    As always thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  4. Martin Couzins

    ‘On the edges of society people are experimenting with new ways of working and living together.’ Agree. There is also a lot of this going on in organisations and also by people (who work for those organisations) in their spare time. A couple of years ago I attended a workshop on setting up your own business. Out of a group of about eight older men it turned out that all of them had a passion outside of work and some had already started making money from that passion. We are also inventive beings and the problem we have is surfacing and sharing the inventive things we do. And that includes in L&D.

  5. Srujan

    Iam with you Jarche. “knowledge is evolving faster than can be codified in formal systems and is depreciating in value over time”. Really well said.

  6. Debbie Morrison

    Absolutely true – the thousands that have signed up for massive, open, online, courses through platforms such as Coursera and edX are examples of people seeking knowledge and forming groups spontaneously, [without being prompted by the institution] using social media platforms. I’ve just finished a course through Coursera, e-learning and digital cultures and the passion and drive that students have to seek out knowledge, form relationships and make social connections is inspiring. Just check out the Twitter hashtag, #edcmooc to view the conversation which is ‘connected, loose and open’. Thanks Harold as always for insightful thoughts and resources.

  7. Doug Belshaw


    “Society is being transformed by the passage from the “solid” to the “liquid” phases of modernity, in which all social forms melt faster than new ones can be cast. They are not given enough time to solidify and cannot serve as the frame of reference for human actions and long-term life-strategies because their allegedly short life expectation undermines efforts to develop a strategy that would require the consistent fulfillment of a “life-project”.” (Bauman, 2005, p.303)

  8. Peter Sigrist

    I agree with the premises of this and think that there is something very valuable at the heart of the idea that social connections can confer more knowledge than silicon. But I think our struggle to apply order to the messy world is – and always has been – in itself a valuable endeavour, and delivers a multiplier on the value of knowledge. Anything else is merely giving up in the face of adversity.


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