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Our coming age of networked intelligence

By Don Tapscott | June 14, 2013
Our coming age of networked intelligence
Don Tapscott

Many of the institutions of the industrial age, from the corporation, government and media to education and science, are stalled and government can have an important role in creating new ones.

Probably the most important thing the Canadian government could do is transform itself around the Internet and the principles of collaboration. For example we need open government – where governments release raw data and in doing so become a platform for partnerships between government, external organizations and citizens. This is not about so-called “freedom on information,” but rather a new division of labour in society about how we create government services and public value.

The British Columbia government’s “Apps for climate change” initiative was a good example. The government released a ton of data about carbon emissions and challenged the software industry to create applications that could use this data. The cost was virtually nothing but the results were spectacular.

The healthcare ’net

Governments also need to lead in forging a collaborative model of healthcare. Countries everywhere are struggling to develop effective yet affordable healthcare systems. But all these debates assume an old model of health where patients are passive recipients of medical care and play little or no role in deciding their treatment plans. Patients are isolated from one another and rarely communicate or share knowledge. Healthcare occurs primarily when the citizen enters the healthcare system.

For many years, this was the only model possible. But Web 2.0 enables a new model of medicine that experts call “collaborative healthcare.” This approach would be less expensive, safer and better. For the first time, people could self-organize, contribute to the sum of medical knowledge, share information, support each other and become active in managing their own health. Engaged patients manage their own health more effectively, reduce costs and improve medical outcomes. Every baby and citizen should have a web site – half medical record and half social network for health.

A new model of learning

I call this the age of networked intelligence. The biggest danger is that we will fail to transform our schools and universities for this age. We have the best model of learning that 17th-century technology can provide. For many years I’ve been arguing that the universities need to embrace the Internet and collaboration or they will lose their monopoly in higher education. This is now underway big time.

It’s not so much the curriculum that needs to change than the basic pedagogic model. Since the invention of chalk and blackboard, university professors and K–12 school teachers have given lectures standing in front of many students. The student’s job was to absorb this content and regurgitate it on exams. It’s a broadcast-style, teacher-focused, one-way, one-size-fits-all model and the student is isolated in the learning process.

We can now use technology to free up instructors from transmitting information to curating customized learning experiences. Learning can occur through software programs, small group discussion and projects. Instructors will actually become more important – but instructors who wish to remain relevant will have to start listening and conversing with students – shifting from a broadcast style and adopting an interactive one. They will need to tailor the education to their students’ individual learning styles. They should encourage students to discover and collaborate outside the classroom.

Over the next few years, MOOCs (massive open online courses) will shake the windows and rattle the walls of Canadian universities. The big three companies that provide the enabling technology – Coursera, Udacity and edX – were all present at the recent World Economic Forum in Davos, trumpeting their soaring popularity. Coursera will soon offer more than 200 courses in conjunction with more than 33 universities. Having opened for business mere months ago, the company already has more than 1.3 million students.

In a new twist, some universities are saying they want to develop a way to give students credit for the MOOCs they complete. San Jose State University and Udacity will offer three introductory mathematics classes. The courses will still be free, but students who want credit from San Jose State will pay $150 per course – a small fraction of regular tuition.

And get ready for the MOOCiversity, where all higher education becomes networked. Get your computer science credit from Waterloo, your artificial intelligence credit form Stanford, your philosophy credit from Oxford, your environmental science credits from Trent and your Political science from Amherst College. The universities are going to be doing some serious soul searching.

This is not to say that the physical campus is a bad idea. What’s most important in the age of networked intelligence is a person’s capacity for lifelong learning, to think, research, find information, analyze, synthesize, contextualize and critically evaluate; to apply research to solving problems; to collaborate and communicate. Workers and management will have to learn – and adapt, and perform – like never before.

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