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Who owns our education? - With Web3 comes Ed3

May 24, 2022

For a long time now, education has been changing. That change has been too slow for some and too quickly for others, but it is happening nonetheless. Moving from education 1.0, where learning was dictated to us, we are now moving to education 3.0, which coincides quite neatly, and not just coincidentally, with Web3.

A table published back in 2009 about the shape of things to come.

These are phrases you will be hearing a lot, because this is what education is becoming. For years now, the centralised control over education has created a huge number of issues. In education 1.0 environments, learners are passive, lack agency, never learn to learn themselves, but only how to "be taught", which falls so staggeringly short of our human potential that it is almost criminal to think that this still exists,

Education 2.0 moved forward, broadening access by using technology so that learners and educators could connect from home or elsewhere. There was some loosening of the reins, as teachers brought in group work, peer to peer learning, and even things like learning visits and visitors. We started to talk about diversity and inclusion in the classroom, and to understand that one size cannot fit all, and that "instruction", memorization and regurgitation favored only the few.

Education 2.0 is still fundamentally flawed, however. This is because

  • learners who direct their own learning can develop lifelong learning skills and have a much better chance at finding their passions and knowing how to follow them
  • "subjects" do not exist in the real world. Problems and challenges exist. Opportunities exist. The way to solve or meet these will require a fluid combination of knowledge and skills that interact and collectively become of greater value. Numeracy and literacy, language and persuasion, spatial and emotional awareness, social and cultural interaction, knowing when to ask and how to explore. Real life does not silo subjects and skills.
  • We are still controlling access to education to benefit those who can afford to meet the requirements of either travel or being online at specific times of day.
  • We only evidence learning that fits into the boxes we ourselves create; boxes that are products of our own past experience, and not necessarily reflective of where things are heading.

Alberto and the cracks in education 2.0

While in Milan with team NEO, we got talking to a recent graduate in one of the city's skate parks (it wasn't all work!). He had just finished an MBA, but told us that there was barely any mention of sustainability in the course, even though we all know that this is something that should be central to any business education offer. Alberto had not quite realised this when he started the course, but quickly learned that it was something he cared about, and which was vital to his future career.

Because this was not a mandated part of the curriculum, he was stuck. He told us that he was "lucky" to find a professor who could help him learn more about it, but there was no credit given for these efforts. Not in the course content, and not on the radar.

Alberto decided to study himself alongside the MBA. He informally learned a lot about sustainability leadership, taking online courses, listening to podcasts and reaching out to authors, influencers and thinkers in the field. Alberto has no way to really evidence that learning, though it turned out to be his passion, and as he said "The MBA is just the base. It's hard to really put my own stamp on it".

Yes, sure, Alberto could collect his own evidence of learning, but where is the reliability of evidence that employers might ask for? What if he wants to pursue a doctorate in sustainability leadership? And yet, This learner took control of his own learning, followed his passion, built his own understanding of the field, and did so by making the physical and digital community his classroom.

Education 3.0

Now this is a true shift. Education 2.0 saw a lot of progress, but the fundamental system of ownership and centralisation stayed intact. Institutions provide and regulate qualifications, overseen by other institutions who control the accreditation. Learning might happen at home, but it is controlled from the classroom, because as broad and self-directed as the learning might get, in the end it is funnelled back to the same centralised structures.

But that's not how learning works. We learn things all the time, and we can find and create learning opportunities for ourselves, as Alberto and a thousand like him did and do every day.

How can we possibly script out learning programmes that have no space built in for the diversity of learners coming in? How can we expect to control everything centrally, so that only a narrow part of the true spectrum of learning experiences can actually be captured and evidenced for the learner's future progression?

We can't. At least, not within the current system as it stands. Back in 2007, a very prescient paper by Keates laid out the vision of education 3.0 as...

"characterized by rich, cross-institutional, cross-cultural educational opportunities within which the learners themselves play a key role as creators of knowledge artefacts that are shared, and where social networking and social benefits outside the immediate scope of activity play a strong role. The distinction between artefacts, people and process becomes blurred, as do distinctions of space and time. Institutional arrangements, including policies and strategies, change to meet the challenges of opportunities presented. There is an emphasis on learning and teaching processes with a focus on institutional changes that accompany the breakdown of boundaries between teachers and students, higher education institutions, and disciplines"

In other words, learners own the process, and create the learning. The learning ecosystem opens up to be transdisciplinary, trans institutional, and to bring in communities and employers in authentic ways. Teachers don't disappear, but become mentors, shapers, guides and learning resources, rather than the font of knowledge they were expected to be in pre-Google days.

The learners are taking control, and if institutions don't embrace this, there are already paths around them. Now, we truly have the technology to make this all happen.

Web 3.0 in education

We have the technology. Immersive learning experiences through AR and VR, asynchronous learning, adaptive or personal learning, endless customizable resources and self-research pathways. We have communication tools, learning monitoring tools, online journals and peer evaluation platforms, MOOCs and a million others.

There's more. With Web3, Alberto might find a chance to evidence his own learning through micro credentials which can be validated using blockchain technology so that their authenticity is iron-clad. He might have been supported earlier to find mixed-media approaches to creating a learning vitae which could be shown to potential collaborators and employers to say "this is who I am and what I can do".

We can create complex learning communities where time and distance are no longer boundaries and, best of all, more people are able to be a part of this. The biggest argument against education 3.0 was the complexity of trying to structure and monitor it to protect quality, but the tech is now there. We can build learning around learners rather than setting it in stone right from the start.

At NEO Academy we are so excited to watch this change develop in real time. We really are right inside the transition now, and that means there are both challenges and opportunities. Decentralised ownership is just one part of this learning revolution, and the other is collaboration. To find out more about how we can support progressive institutions transitioning to support a new generation of Web3 and Ed3 learners, please do get in touch to talk.

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