Is Knowledge All Powerful?

knowledge is power

It has often been said that knowledge is power, and for good reason.

Knowledge can enable us to improve, protect, help, or hurt, and which of these we choose can decide the meaning in our lives.

The question is, though, is knowing actionable or is it just the first step to more knowing, and do those steps lead to effective results? In short, is there a disconnect between learning and doing?

I’ll give you a real life example. One of my very good friends with a Ph.D. and two Masters degrees decided he wanted to learn to code at the same time as my co-founder a year and a half ago. This is a brilliant guy. He came in to my office with a whole stack of books explaining how it works, and today, he knows all about it. He has a very good understanding and he can answer questions for you.

However, he hasn’t built anything. He’s tried and it hasn’t gone so well. He “knows” all about it, he’s studied it, but he can’t “do” it. (My theory is the fact that he was taught “not to get the answer wrong” is the impediment.) Meanwhile, my co-founder screws up stuff left and right then fixes it and makes it work, and I’ll be damned if she isn’t starting to get good at this. Do you see my point?

Our learning structures weren’t traditionally built to learn from getting the answer wrong, but instead to get the answer right at any cost. (More on this from Sir Ken Robinson.) Unfortunately, the accelerated environment that we now find ourselves in doesn’t lend itself well to the fear of wrong answers.

As those in the world of startup ventures know, you have to gravitate toward trying stuff out and failing, and then learn quickly in order to iterate. Being scared to get the answer wrong adds too much time to this equation. I’ve struggled with this issue myself, but even Steve Jobs, as picky as he was about getting every product right, stressed not being afraid to ship and take risks or make mistakes, because that’s the only way you really learn.  Much like natural selection, in order to evolve, ideas need to become mistakes just like animals need to die.

The point is that going forward, there may need to be more emphasis on getting people to learn coping and adapting skills to help close the knowing/doing gap.

My conclusion? Perhaps the real answer is this:

All knowledge is potentially all powerful, but it depends on what you do with it.

Go forth learners, and don’t be afraid to change the world.


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The Educational Texting Epidemic

Like it or not, texting has become such a socially accepted form of communication that the mobile technology revolution now assures that it isn’t going away anytime soon.  In fact, after the recent online-boom of the last five years where social networking sites like Twitter have taken off like flies before the swatter, the human brain itself is beginning to crave smaller increments of information. Technology is changing the way we think.

First, we saw the nasty consequences of the texting epidemic for drivers that led to fatalities and eventually laws being passed in certain states like WA against it. The Federal government has stepped in and is now fully cracking down on what has been coined, “distracted driving.”

Then texting began to become a major disruption within both the real and virtual education worlds. The kicker is that while the more traditional education system can simply take away gadgetry before class begins, in a digital setting it’s much more difficult, and tutors are guilty as well!

The topic is becoming a flash point of heated debate, especially when it comes to the general education levels of the most technologically inundated generations in human history. Here is a really powerful quote from an article on the Huffington Post titled, Texting, The Next Epidemic: Our National Well-Being Is In Jeopardy.

“The time we used to spend reading and writing has been replaced with technological communication — mainly text messaging. One learns to communicate — learns to think, write and speak with clarity — by reading and writing. It is absolutely crucial that we do not become so hooked on using the shortcuts and codes of texting that we fail to develop into accomplished thinkers, writers and speakers.”

Why Texting Negatively Impacts A Learning Environment

An article by Olivia B. Waxman claims that “77 percent of teenagers (12-17) have cell phones, and 75 percent of all teens text.” This means that the chances of students texting when the teacher can’t see them, is incredibly high.

Whether in person or through a computer screen, the focus of thought is a crucial aspect in absorbing information. It’s true that the online realm has made younger kids perfectly capable of thinking about multiple things at once, but casually pondering and learning are two different things.

It’s impossible to really get the point of a lecture if throughout the entire thing Johnny has been texting Margaret and chatting about their relationship status. They have to mentally disengage instruction every few seconds completely, and then return in increments. It doesn’t work. Johnny and Margaret might as well not have been present at all.

The same thing goes for tutors that are distracted with texting while trying to conduct a private course on mathematics. At the end of the day, it drastically reduces the quality of any learning environment.

Turning Negatives Into Positives

Texting and mobile technology isn’t going away, and the more people try to push against it, the harder the transition is going to be.

There are really only two options, either you try to beat the texting problem by attempting to erase it through zero tolerance policies, or you adapt, overcome, and use texting to the advantage of everyone involved – students and teachers/tutors alike. Here are a few options that could be used or built upon.

Experiment with Group Texting

There are online tools such as Celly, WeTxt, or Remind101 out there that allow group setting environments to be created and shared between students and teachers. This could be a way for tutors to keep their students updated on what’s going on, and give students a way of communicating in a group setting that they’re extremely comfortable with.

It can go beyond texting. Teachers can attach coursework, resources, short studying tips, or other news to their texts. Likewise, students can send teachers their homework, ask questions, and give feedback.

Anonymous Texting Discussions

Why not hook up the class room computer, projector, and a text display. In fact, the teacher could project it behind the class where they can’t readily see it, and give the students free reign to ask questions via text. Once the instructor gets used to it, this could be a very time efficient tool. Students could share things with the teacher that they perhaps would otherwise be too shy to announce verbally.

Text-Based In-Class Polling

Both Socrative and PollEverywhere are applications that tutors and teachers can use to create polls or even quizzes that allow students to submit answers directly, which can then be displayed in seconds. Online tutors can use this medium to ask their students pertinent questions.

Admittedly, it may sound oversimplified to think we can make lemonade from lemons by using texting to our advantage.  However, rather than trying to fight the distractions, there are worse things than incorporating them into the learning environment and making the technology work for it instead of against it.

The Tutoring Revolution Will Not be Televised

A tutoring revolution is already sweeping through powerful collectives online, parts of Asia, and throughout the western world. Education in general is becoming somewhat of a cyborg, where the human and virtual worlds meet. The movement is still in its infancy, but the numbers and trends clearly show a mind boggling amount of room for growth.

The Catalyst

In the ruins and ashes of traditional education systems in places like America, supplemental tutoring is going to be a powerhouse of not only job growth, but a spur in the side of national testing scores. While the costs of university life inflate to high Heaven, the cost of private tutoring is evening out because of high demand. Online tutoring is even less costly, but proving to be just as influential.

Countless teachers are finding out that going online, starting their own tutoring franchise, or just taking on a few students part time, is preferable to the decimated and debt ridden system of the last few generations. Sadly, the overall average hourly rate for classroom educators in the US is $21.97, barely more than 50% of the hourly wage of the average private instructor.

In Asia, the booming of population and westernization has bred fierce drive for tutors, making some of them more famous than American athletes or movie stars. Right now in the east private tutors are making handsome livings that can get as high as $5-$6 million.

The Evolution of the Tutor

  • In America, consumers are spending between $5-$10 billion a year on academic tutoring services and this is trending upwards.
  • The annual rate of increase in spending on tutoring in general is holding steady at +5%.
  • In Asia, particularly places like Singapore, South Korea, and Japan, online tutoring has become a phenomenon as powerful as Hollywood or the India Bollywood Empires.
  • From the industrialized to the modernizing world, spending on tutoring is beginning to rival public sector education systems.
  • One global tutoring market research report estimates that by 2017, tutoring and supplemental education services will break beyond the $100 billion mark.
  • Tutoring is getting more attention than ever because of the fact that after researching 23 nations, both industrial and industrializing, 25% to 90% of students are already receiving some form of supplemental education.

The Trek Towards Virtual Classrooms

Students and parents for a long laundry list of reasons are becoming interested in e-tutoring. It’s cost effective, produces favorable results, and is well received by the younger generations who are already wrapped up in the digital sphere.  (BTW, another trend for better or worse is that we are also about to see a huge “gamification” influence on educational studies, but I’ll save that for another blog.)

It seems easier than ever to get kids interested and involved in virtual classrooms, because they have already connected the digital sphere to nearly all aspects of their lives.

With the Asian model as reference, a similar phenomenon is just beginning to light a spark in America and across Europe. Some say social media streams will be incorporated, mobile technology will play a massive role, and soon there will be a legislative battle between the traditional education system where books can cost hundreds of dollars and ebooks that can cost a couple.

However, like it or not, there will be no stopping a tutoring revolution. It has already gained enough momentum to be an underlying economy that is keeping many afloat.  (Just try to stop someone from teaching guitar lessons in their home or teaching math to their neighbor and making a few bucks. Go ahead, I dare you.)  The tutoring revolution will not be televised, and ironically, with the internet it doesn’t have to be.