the problem is to know what questions to ask

“As we move to driverless cars and machine learning and an economy in which any action that is repeated can be automated, let’s spare a thought for the kids who only get Cs in school. What will become of them? What do you mean you have no idea? That’s your job! Let’s bring some small measure of consensus back to political culture.” – John Ibbitson, Globe & Mail 2016-10-07

As we move into a network society, every existing form of human organization will come under pressure to adapt to the new realities that are beginning to emerge. Almost everything is changing, except human behaviour. First we shape our structures, then our structures shape us. We are in desperate need of new structures.

We are the media: Social media extend emotion, obsolesce the linearity and logic of print, retrieve orality, and when pushed to their extreme result in constant outrage. This is what John Ibbitson is so concerned with. But this is the new nature of a digitally networked world. We cannot ‘go back to Peoria’, as it no longer exists as a convenient litmus test. It has been fragmented into millions of disconnected pieces.

We are the experts: Formal learning and explicit knowledge are not enough to navigate and make sense of the complexities of an interconnected world. We need new mental models to share and to better understand others. The problem is not getting a C at school. The problem is the structure of the school itself. As Eric McLuhan said, “The new media won’t fit into the classroom. It already surrounds it. Perhaps that is the challenge of the counterculture. The problem is to know what questions to ask.”

We need to organize work differently: I have an idea, actually several of them for John Ibbitson and others. If we as a society think it is important that citizens are engaged, people are passionate about their work, and that we all contribute to making a better world, then we need to enable self-organization. Central planning and hierarchical decision-making are just too slow and ineffective, especially for complex situations involving lots of people.

Using the network learning model, one can see how people constantly navigate between social networks, communities of practice, and work teams. Personal knowledge mastery is the individual discipline that can enable this, while working out loud is how groups stay in touch and learn. It all hinges on individuals taking control of their learning, and organizations giving up control. It is not a model of building consensus around the ideas of a dominant group, but one of constant learning and working in perpetual beta.

Hopefully what will become of those getting C’s at school is that they will have an opportunity to work in a network economy, where creativity, curiosity, and empathy are more important than subjective grades in arbitrary subjects. Learning is of critical importance, education as usual is not. The question is: how do we shape our structures for tomorrow?

“So, when we say that education is the best tool to prevent conflict, we are not only talking about education as usual, but about brand new skills to master and control the new powerful tools that ICTs and social media put in our hands. And it is not only digital literacy in the sense of knowing how to use a computer, or an Internet browser. Not even digital literacy in the sense of knowing where to get good information and how to manage it. It is about new strategic literacies to live in a brand new world that is just disclosing itself.” – Ismael Peña-López

One Response to “the problem is to know what questions to ask”

  1. Lorne Epstein


    I enjoyed the deep perspective you took in modeling what our future of work and education could look like. The first and second diagram you present are clear and thoughtful. Thanks for sharing.



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