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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Web Of Knowledge

7:26 PM Posted by Deepak Nayal , No comments
Curiosity is one of the most basic characteristics of human beings. It drives our thirst for knowledge and desire to learn. Earlier, we used to satisfy this desire through TV programs, radio, books, newspapers, magazines and talking to other people that we come in contact with. Now, the World Wide Web has completely transformed the way we learn about things. 

The web has become the single largest source of information in the world. And with the advent of new smartphones and tablets, anyone can tap into this massive source of information anytime and anywhere. The web is full of open and free sources of information. Open not-for-profit projects such as Wikipedia and KhanAcademy enable people to learn about new things free of cost. Many commercial, though free, sources also provide interesting information - YouTube has many informative videos and Quora is full of interesting questions and answers on large number of topics. In addition to that there are many interesting (and unknown) blogs and university open research and lecture programs (such as the ones from Stanford and MIT) available on the internet that most of the people are not aware of. Along with these usual sources of information and knowledge, we also learn a lot from the people around us. The web has spread its magic here as well. While earlier we could only learn from people that we used to come in direct contact with, now we can connect and learn from people almost anywhere in the world. The social networks have helped in putting together the framework for connecting people with similar interests. 

While this ocean of open and free information is a gift, it has a big problem as well - it is so vast that you can easily get lost in it and miss out on a lot of good though [relatively] unknown sources. There is so much information out there that people generally only refer to a handful of sources. Google has been very helpful in getting the [relatively] unknown sources of information to us, but it still has not been able to solve this problem. People still only refer to the few sources of information that they are use to. This situation highlights a key point that search alone is not the answer to this problem of vastness of information on the web, it has to be complimented with information assimilation and representation as well. 

This problem of vastness has a corollary, in that while there are many good and free sources of information available, these are generally good at only one aspect. For example, Wikipedia is good at information on almost every topic but it is just text, lots of it. KhanAcademy is full of good videos but only the academic types, and while YouTube has many good videos those are general purpose and a bit difficult to find amongst the pile of many irrelevant videos. Quora is another good source of information, but it is only in form of Q&A and does not provide much in-depth information on many topics. And while Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are good social networking tools they are general purpose and are not too helpful for learning and educational purposes. So while we have the right ingredients with us to improve the learning experience, we do not have the right framework that can use these different sources and provide a coherent learning experience. 

Technology has given us the tools that we can use to improve our learning experience. It has now matured enough to enable seamless exchange of knowledge, while providing great user experience. Our education system can leverage these technologies in cultivating the curiosity in students and giving them the right framework to quench their thirst for knowledge. 

Learning can be improved by engaging people, and technology can help us in increasing that level of engagement. The more a person gets involved while learning a topic, the more he or she will understand it. It comes down to using your [five] senses. The more senses you use while learning something the more entertaining and engaging the experience becomes. This is why effective learning has to be a process of both give and take. You take interesting information in by using a combination of text, sounds, images and videos, and you give by writing (blogs and comments) and talking (discussions) about it. You give by providing answers and you take by asking questions. A good learning platform will be able to harness this understanding of human nature, in creating improved and engaging learning experience, and the power of technology, in aggregating information and connecting people.


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