Will knowledge remain valuable if it is democratised?

In the past few months I have engaged with a few thinkers on the issue of knowledge sharing.  I was told that knowledge needs to be handed down by a select few (like professors) to students (novices) before it is valuable. The argument I heard was the learned have the maturity to understand the good from the bad. The novice on the other hand will tend to choose the path of least resistance rather than toil with the ‘good’. I remain unconvinced.

Here are some facts to consider:

Wikipedia and Google killed reference publishing; as the world knew for 200 years!

The very first MOOC that attracted 160,000 students officially shut down in about a year.

  1. Currently only 4% of those who started a MOOC finished it.
  2. About 50% of those who signup, NEVER open their first lesson.

Yet, everyone is now convinced some form of open sourced learning will prevail.

I asked Prof Jagdish Sheth about the setbacks and here is his response – “the first wave of most innovations fail. This is normal. MOOCs might not be effective in the current form. This however, can and will change over time. The only answer to educating the masses is some form of MOOC.”

This sentiment is echoed across academia.

Will further ‘liberating’ knowledge from the hallowed walls (read ‘closed walls’) of education institutions be good or bad for mankind? MOOCs use one path to move away from formal brick and mortar institutions. There could be other ways. But the question still remains. Academics still believe pedagogy of knowledge is the only true validator of acceptable (read certified) knowledge. I think there could be other forms of validation that are perhaps waiting to be discovered.

What do you think?

Do you think there are specific pathways to validating knowledge?

Do you think a new pathway is perhaps around the corner?

If you were to look at a crystal ball, what to you is the future of knowledge?

I would like you to provide your perspective as a student, a teacher, a user and a creator of knowledge.

Please use the comment button to post a comment.

About Vivek Mehra

I am currently the MD & CEO of SAGE Publications India. But I wear many hats that make me the person I am. Between the (public) professional life and the very deep and private recesses of my brain lies a universe of thoughts, actions and beliefs. These have been shaped by events, people and perhaps Karma. It's this universe I seek to put in words. When everything else failed me professionally, it was the power of my words that not just resurrected a career but brought back life to life. It is with these words that I continue to make a difference with those whose karma connects mine. Sometimes it's direct and most times it's not. But the essence of who I am never changes and I remain a person searching for himself. Update: In 2014 I published my first book on Kindle. It was written in 1999 and it never saw the light of day. Reader input welcome... http://tinyurl.com/7shadesofgrey
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3 Responses to Will knowledge remain valuable if it is democratised?

  1. Dr. Sunny Duttagupta says:

    This concept can not be generalized for all the countries as different countries have different education systems and of course a different population aspiring for the same. For a country like Austria, they don’t need a change in their education system as it is best organized to their small population and in fact is nicely streamlined. For example a student interested in Medicine can just walk over to an practising professional of the concerned field and upon showing promising grades in subjects associated with that particular subject in the last 4-5 years he\she can just gain admission to the particular education and start a new journey. Moreover there exist no concept of MCQ based entrance examinations for the above thus giving a student the full liberty to be independent of strict class room coaching for the same and learn in their own way possible.

    However in a country like India, where the population is increasing in an exponential rate, democratizing education and taking it away from closed walls, seems impractical or may be unachievable. May be such a concept can be bought to practice in some limited areas but having it over a large platform or for the entire nation, seems a far distant thought.


  2. Alpana Priya says:

    I agree with the belief and opinion of Mr. Anupam Choudhury and I would like to emphasize on the interpretation aspect of the knowledge. Internet is a good source to extract any factual data and to gain general knowledge on any new subject, but for intense and in depth knowledge of anything, a Guru , a teacher or a Master is needed to bring a naive mind to the path of higher knowledge. He through his innate experience, efforts and dedication make the subject easier for the students to understand along with bringing the correct interpretation of what the text of the subject actually trying to convey to the readers or students. The trend of master and his followers or disciples is coming a long way since the Vedic ages and without either of them, the existence of the other holds no meaning. A naive mind has a tendency to interpret knowledge as per his intelligence level and mental frame of mind and many a times he/she may not be sure of what he or she interpreting is right. So here the role of a mind which has gained expertise in that very field turns vital.


  3. If you follow the trail of breadcrumbs that has led to MOOCs, you will see that it traces back to the origins of the Internet. What internetworking and the world wide web have done is to allow people from anywhere access knowledge anywhere. The subsequent growth in computing power and communication bandwidth (following Moore’s Law) has led us to MOOCs.

    Internet imposes not only democratization, it also allows anarchy. MOOCs are as much about access as it is about ‘random’ access. That means that the cost of access to knowledge has gone down and every person will have the opportunity to get educated. But does that mean that every person will make use of that opportunity? No. Just like even though Wikipedia is there, we do not have much more knowledgable kids around.

    Ultimately, even though the barriers will fall and bridges will be built, the people who cross these bridges will remain limited. Also, there will always remain a premium on expertise, and as long as it takes a lot of effort to become an expert, most experts won’t be sharing their expertise for free — even on MOOCs. Knowledge will continue to be created and validated by people who invest the time and effort in doing that. Pedagogy is a different argument.

    Nothing worthwhile in this world is available for free. Somebody somewhere has to pay for it. Why? Because it has taken time and effort to create that worthwhile thing. This simple economic principle will continue to guide human affairs for years to come.


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