Online education continues to get a lot of press. But Khan Academy, Coursera and the many other MOOC's (Massive Open Online Course) out there are only the tip of the iceberg for how education can be re-engineered, re-imagined and re-educated with and through social technology. This blog post is the first part of a two part post on why today's social technology is presenting a perfect opportunity to improve the only truly sustainable resource we have on the planet—human intelligence.
There is a "country" in the world that has 3 times the population of the United States where no one can read. These people don't share a geographic space, they share an unfortunate cognitive one distinguished by illiteracy—and there are currently almost 800M adults and over 100M children on the planet with this distinction. This data is from UNESCO and I find these figures stunning and frightening,
How have the rest of us done? Have we at least gotten smarter over the years? Research from James Flynn into whether we have advanced our intellect is an emphatic yes. His research indicates that IQ's have in fact increased over time, quite dramatically in fact. The cause of this improved cognitive ability is however open to some debate, but research shows a significant correlation between literacy and IQ gains—if people can read, maybe they get smarter?
Lower The Cost Of Reading ='s Higher Literacy
And we know from the creation of the printing press and the mass distribution of the printed word that this social technology innovation of 1436 lowered the costs of access to, and acquisition of, the printed word. Literacy exploded after Gutenberg's invention in 1436 because the costs of becoming literate went down along with the costs of the mass produced written word.
Do we have a new opportunity to eliminate illiteracy for the 800M adults and the 100M children who can't read? I think we do, and today's social technology is the perfect tool to attack this global endemic. Here's why.
Higher Literacy Equals a Smarter Planet
Mobile cell phone penetration rates are at almost 90% globally. This technology is rapidly connecting all humans on the planet, and next generation devices like smartphones and tablets are changing the way that all manner of information can get shared and delivered. We know that when the cost of accessing and acquiring the written word goes down, literacy goes up. Gutenberg taught us this 500 years ago. Today's social technology innovations include many different tools and devices that provide cost effective access to the written word and are a new opportunity to eradicate illiteracy once and for all. Here's some good data on the latest in mobile penetration globally.
The cost of a cell phone is far cheaper than the cost of a teacher, school room or books. That's why this issue is a pivotal one for the global intellect of the planet. We've been lowering the cost to acquire the written word for over 500 years, and we just took it to it's lowest level ever and made access available to virtually anyone, anywhere on the entire planet.
The Inevitability of Learning
What I also find intriguing is that people do not wait to be taught, or to learn. People searched out and found ways to acquire the written word 500 years ago, and they are doing it again but through today's version of social technology, i.e., cell phones, tablets, the cloud, the internet, software services, etc.
There's an insatiable human desire for knowledge and information that can't be denied. Today's social technology is changing how we connect, communicate, collaborate and create and shape our communities. While some tried to prevent the free acquisition of information 500 years ago, they lost. Intelligence will win out again, and for the 1 in 6 people on the planet who cannot read, this is good news. For all of us, I think it's great news.
UNESCO is getting involved on this issue with their Mobile Phone Literacy project adding to the pioneering work done by initiatives like The Mobile and Immersive Learning For Literacy In Emerging Economies (MILLEE) project, Nokia Life Tools and Pink Telephone Project.
"Education Gets Socially Re-Educated" is also my ninth prediction for our social technology enabled destiny of 2020 that is covered in my book Social Inc. Think you've seen all there is to see with social? Not even close. For the first time in history, the people of the planet will be connected in real time in the very near future. This has enormous ramifications for business, society, governments, politics, policy, innovation, economics, etc…basically our collective future. Making sure that everyone on the planet can read and can take part in this shared destiny, is a good starting point for these new tools and technologies.
Part 2 of this blog post will address how social technology can make everyone a teacher and a student, and why this will help us solve some problems we couldn't solve before.