A learner's guide to nurturing wise crowds and taming stupid mobs
Abstract: No one is a completely self directed learner - whether we learn from websites like Wikipedia, our Facebook friends, reading a book, watching a YouTube video, engaging in a community of practice, observing an expert or simply running a Google search or watching passers-by on a street, we swim in an ocean of teachers that guide, influence or shape our learning. To be human is to be a social learner, and the exponential rise in social media gives us exponentially more opportunities to learn from and with others. Moreover, if we engage at all with others, whether face-to-face, through email, Twitter, Google plus, Pinterest, a blog comment or a Q&A site, to be human is to be a social teacher too. To be alive is to share knowledge, whether as a role model or an anti-model, a storyteller or a demonstrator, a challenger or an affirmer, a critic or an approver, a sharer or a commentator, a friend or an antagonist. And no one is a completely autonomous teacher, especially not those that call it their occupation. There are always at least two teachers in any learning transaction. Even the most formal of traditional teachers does not teach alone: from obvious co-teachers like textbook or website authors and other learners, to less obvious but equally powerful co-teachers like designers of classrooms, makers of timetables, builders or managers of learning management systems, and creators of certifications, teaching is always a distributed role, with a cast of tens, hundreds, thousands or even millions, engaged in a massively complex symphony, orchestrated to bring about learning. We all learn from and with the crowd, and we are all parts of crowds that teach. Sadly, however, not all crowds teach well. For every wise crowd there is a stupid mob, misleading, misdirecting, misunderstanding and misinforming at least as easily as leading us to knowledge, clarity, creativity and truth. This is as true of the tightly regimented groups in a formal classroom or the people in our social networks as it is of the loosely connected sets of strangers with shared interests in Reddit, StackExchange or users of a Twitter hash tag. In this keynote we will explore how crowds can teach effectively, and how to school a crowd to teach us better. We will learn ways to avoid the stupidity of mobs, to exploit the strengths of different kinds of crowd and to avoid at least some of their weaknesses. And we will do so together.