We’re All Experts in the Instructional Age

The other day, my 10 year old son said he wanted to learn how to make an Origami crane. He was thinking of his cousin, who recently had surgery and is having a painful recuperation. He wanted to give her a Christmas present of a paper crane. (He had also just read The Strange Case of Origami Yoda, so he was inspired a bit).

He didn’t bother to ask me if I knew how to make a crane. His first impulse was to ask if he could use the computer to find a video tutorial on how to make the crane. (And then later, it was to ask if I could run out and get him some Origami paper).

In a matter of minutes, he was watching someone’s  hands folding paper into a crane, step by step. He was then cutting up paper and trying his hand at it. Later, he needed the help of his uncle, who knows how to do Origami, but the video tutorial led him on his way.

Which had me thinking of the session that I was part of in Orlando with the National Writing Project and Make Magazine, and how we talked about the ways in which the Internet is spreading knowledge so quickly, and how regular users are now becoming the experts in any number of ideas, no matter how small, strange or arcane. My son knew where to turn. He knew where the experts were, and it was on the Internet.

In the most recent edition of Wired Magazine, TED Curator Chris Anderson poses the argument that we are now in the era of Crowd Accelerated Innovation, spurred on in part by the ease of video production and publishing. Those small pockets of unknown experts are suddenly visible and available, and inspiring others to become experts, too. Anderson uses the example of a six year old child who learned to dance like a star by watching moves on YouTube, and then he got noticed by (his parents, I assume) posting his own dance moves on YouTube.

Anderson notes that the world is awash in instructional videos these days, and he’s right (I wrote a few weeks ago about the use of a video that helped me with my designing of a video game). He notes that a community of learners needs some key players in order to bring the video or idea into the public consciousness:

  • The Trend Spotter, who notices an innovation early on;
  • The Evangelist, who makes the case for that innovation;
  • The Superspreader, who broadcasts the innovation widely;
  • The Skeptic, who keeps the conversation honest;
  • The General Public, who become the participants.

This list has me wondering how it might translate into the classroom. But it is more likely these kids are already there; they are just working under our radar screen. It reminds me of when I introduce a new technology, and how discovery by one student gets fed to the whole room — usually by the second person to learn about it. The discoverer is not often the one who broadcasts it to everyone. It’s usually their friend, who realizes the social cache of sharing something cool.

So who is most often the skeptic? You got it. The teacher.

Peace (in the instructions),

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