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This is my personal blog which I began in February 2001. I called it The Obvious? when I wrote anonymously and chose the name to reflect the fact I have to overcome my inhibitions about stating the obvious!

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Can the web be taught?

Following on from my two previous posts on whether the web makes things better, and the great comments on them, I now find myself wondering about the degree to which the web can be taught. I don't mean teaching people how to drive their browsers or how to use a blogging tool, though to be honest most people find even the basics unfamiliar, but more how to pass on what works in terms of using the web to achieve things and make the world a better place. Should we be teaching the ethics of the web, the sociology of the web, the history and politics of the web?

Most people I encounter in business really struggle to get a handle on what is happening. They may use Facebook at home and share their documents in a "knowledge repository" at work but have little experience or understanding of the transformative power of the tool that is literally at their finger tips.

And then ...... my daughter's ICT classes appear to consist mostly of how to do bullet points for Powerpoint!

Reader Comments (29)

Euan - you worry too much. Did people need to be taught how to use libraries?

The beauty of the web is in the eye of the beholder, some will change the world, some will change their living rooms.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterGary Turner

Well yes they did get taught how to use libraries in the sense of book based knowledge replacing oral traditions etc. and the whole world of academia is focussed on this.

I'd agree that in the long run people will pick things up and when I am feeling robust about the web I believe that it will have its impact whatever. Sometimes though I do worry that unless we start talking about these issues it will risk being assimilated into business as usual by those who find it challenging.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

My sense is that its still early days in terms of how we'll ultimately use the web.

I've been using communication networks in one form or another since the mid-70's and that feels like a very long time but in the overall scheme of things its the blink of an eye.

People take on-board whatever they find easy to understand & useful and leave the rest up to the techies. As the balance shifts and we see more and more business being transacted exclusively via the web people will begin to understand its transformative nature

You're ahead of the curve Euan

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob Macdonald

And have an instinct to help others up it Bob :-)

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

I think we should be teaching ethics, sociology, history, politics, anthropology, philosophy - period. What we learn from those can be applied to all facets of human interaction, technology enabled or otherwise. They're the sense-making tools for the information age. Any age, in fact.

I think we're dealing with a much broader issue here than just making people Web and tech-savvy. Western society in general is undergoing a socio-cultural transformation, and we almost seem to be entering a period of second Renaissance, and Enlightenment. Our education and work system at large produces recipe book users, not cooks, and we're living in an age where we need more cooks (hat tip to Dave Snowden for the cook vs. recipe book user metaphor). Our whole education system and businesses needs to start addressing that.

Having said that, there's obviously a concurrent need to educate people about the dynamics of the Web, social media, and the Internet in general. Not only business people, but children and teenagers, too, are often unaware of the reach, the power, and the nature of the Web. This can be addressed, but we should also remember that the whole of Web, as mass media/enabler/channel/phenomenon, is in its infancy. We're all a part of it, in a coevolutionary relationship. We can't manage it, we can only join the party, play a bit, and see what happens.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMika Latokartano

Totally agree on all points Mika! It's not so much that the technologies are driving change as that they are reflecting it and have the potential for enhancing it. When I wrote about studying the sociology etc of the web I nearly added that this should not be in isolation and that the web aspect of life should be incorporated into our teaching of those disciplines.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

I think you ask a great question. The transition from the oral traditional to libraries/print etc was not a simple one without controversies. Plato said that text was the better way to convey information while dialogue was still the way to wisdom. This is a debate that continued for centuries. The web provides more opportunities for dialogue than books and that is part of its attraction and power. There are so many different types of channels now on the Web and it will take a while to understand when to use what in both a tactical sense but also in terms of the higher issues you raise such as ethics.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBill Ives

"It's not so much that the technologies are driving change as that they are reflecting it." (Euan Semple) I think this a quite brilliant observation, worthy of keen reflection.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMika Latokartano

The web has given voice to many viewpoints (not all of them terribly informed, enlightened, or otherwise beneficial) and provides a level of connectivity and sharing never seen before. These are indeed interesting times.

Suspect if you examine the content of much of the undergraduate curriculum being delivered today that you'd see coverage of the web and its implications has been incorporated into most disciplines. I certainly saw evidence of this eight years ago when I was designing post graduate programs.

Really like the notion of technology reflecting change rather than driving it . . . new approaches to problem solving fostering the development of tools for doing so implies that human needs supersede technical momentum . . . it doesn't always feel that way

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBob Macdonald

I devoted many hundreds of hours to help Internet newbies, starting in the late 1990's, here: http://www.ate.co.nz/internet/

My own learning ground was Ryze, one of the few places where from 2002, a social network developed really useful discussion forums. Sadly, Ryze is dying. Ryze taught me the importance of joining groups and the value of networking.

My effort to help Ryze Newbies is here: Social Networking Newbies.

What has this effort taught me? People use the Internet very poorly, but they are unaware of that. They can be taught new things, but it takes a long time to understand what you've learned and how important that is. People don't encourage each other. People don't join enough groups, when they do join, they fail to participate.

People need social permission to use the Internet well. At work, that permission is denied. At home there is usually nobody who has any real knowledge or skill. In isolation people die. Many people say that they "hate the Internet". They have yet to learn how to use the Internet to nourish their interests and dreams. Join more groups, engage in the conversation, and learn to collaborate.

January 23, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterJohn S Veitch

Excellent question and excellent comments. These ideas are stories that should be baked into the entire educational process. My niece turned one this weekend. We're already using Skype. By the time she reaches her grade school levels it will all be norm for her. Will she enjoy an education that tracks to support her online experience? I'm guessing no (beyond her parents & her super smart auntie of course). Should she? I think so. Brilliant as always. Thanks Euan.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMegan Murray

I've spent the past five years as part of a growing group questioning 'ICT' in schools to the point of wanting to see it taken away and replaced with programming. But the only way we can do that - and it is happening slowly - is if the digital literacy skills we at least had a chance of being taught in ICT are seen elsewhere.

Generally, I've been impressed by how modern studies/politics teachers have tried to give students opportunities to see how the web has influenced politics. Some cracking craft, design, technology teachers have shown post-digital power, in letting students create 3D prototypes from their computers using 3D printing services (and Aberdeenshire have bought 3D printers for all their schools as a result of the demand).

Some of us plug away day in, day out at trying to help the wider non-geek teaching population see how the web has permeated every area of their specialism, every area of learning. There are still far too many who think it's not their issue, but we're winning, I'd say.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEwan McIntosh

The web as techno platform can be taught only after having potential to carrying out as “machine learning” moving from being as KM Tools becoming KM Process Framework or from level 1.0 to 2.0 and beyond. Within level 2.0, web as smart techno platform behaving as “human learning”. I’m not sure whether web 2.0 and beyond in the future could be thought doing “organizational learning” as in KM Standard Culture n Value ( visit our Human System Biology-based KM (HSBKM) model framework - “HSBKM© CoP model framework” http://bit.ly/g3B4jo and K-base http://www.delicious.com/mobeeknowledge/humansystembiology )

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMd Santo

Ewan - thanks for the comment. I was aware when I referenced my daughter's experience that there were a number of you in there fighting the good fight!

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

MD I am afraid I don't understand much of that comment!

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Dear Euan
I came here from your Linkedin profile, thanks to a common friend: Nick Trendov.
I envy your desire to share and disseminate.

But, I wonder if you have seen the studies conducted by OCLC and PEW on the cyber citizens' use / preferences?
Most probably you have seen and so you know what keeps them busy, according to these studies. Then, if they are already busy and 'know' their route, do we still need a Columbus or Vasco-de-gama to learn newer ways? Or are we thinking about the deep / dark Web, and creating awareness?

And, I think this subject has more about what and how the cyber citizens can be led to weigh options--rather than taught (many are already doing this: computer literacy, browser literacy, virus literacy, web-security literacy, information literacy, digital literacy)--about the best practices in use, bad pratices or misuse, as well as the underuse of the Web (some comments already suggest this apect).

Just curious with another perspective, with malice towards none.
Best wishes

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMohamed Taher

Taught is maybe the wrong word but especially in business contexts I encounter lots of people for whom the whole thing is pretty unfamiliar and in particular they struggle to see how using the web can benefit them or their businesses.

January 24, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Euan, I guess your daughter is being groomed for a profession in internal comms.
As it's Burns night tonight, I thought you might like an injection of poetry. It's good for the soul.

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered Commentersean trainor

Love it!

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Dear Euan,

Don't be afraid not too understand, try to learn thoroughly this link http://bit.ly/g3B4jo and learn extensively through many choices HSBKM related at K-base http://www.delicious.com/mobeeknowledge/humansystembiology

January 25, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMd Santo

Do I need to understand who Michael Marks and Thomas Spencer were to buy a pair of socks in M&S? Of course not.
Will my usage of Facebook change after a seeing The Social Network? Unlikely.

Do my kids recognise or give 2 hoots about the existence of 2.0? No, but nor do they have any fear or preconceived boundaries of the possible. That's a massive concern in terms of their security and wellbeing but also the key to the next generation's innovation.

My 6 year old son already knows how to download onto a microSD card, earn Rox on Moshi Monsters and sync his DSi with friends for example.

Does that make me feel older than I felt 5 minutes ago...er yes. (Thanks for making me think).

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterAndrew Routledge

I did say that I wasn't talking about any need to teach people the basics or indeed anything to do with technology but more to give them the wherewithal to do good with their proficiency and I think that sort of thing has always been taught by societies throughout history.

January 26, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Hi Euan,

I just wrote a blog post about a new approach to leadership called 'Learning-orientated Leadership' – which I think is a good example of what is needed if any workplace is to grow towards Enterprise 2.0, and really take the staff along too.

The post is: 'The new 'Learning-orientated Leadership' for LIS: the importance of attending to staff developmental diversity' and is here:


If you're interested, take a look at the 2009 book 'Leading Adult Learning'.

What's particularly novel is that this approach is that it calls on leaders to attend to the 'developmental diversity' differences amongst their staff.

If you want to teach the web to people, I suspect you'll need to be aware of these differences in people's developmental diversity – so that you can frame your message in a way that resonates with people.

I also like the 4 'Pillar Practices' the author recommends:

* Pillar Practice 1: Teaming
* Pillar Practice 2: Providing Leadership Roles
* Pillar Practice 3: Engaging in Collegial Inquiry
* Pillar Practice 4: Mentoring


Matthew Mezey

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterMatthew Mezey

Thanks for the comment and the link Matthew - good stuff.

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

Thanks for the comment Wilson. If by business orientation you mean between businesses and customers it really does go back to the Cluetrain idea of conversation. Unless the business is genuinely interested in their customers communication will stay broadcast in nature.

If we are talking about within businesses then many of the posts on this blog relate to the challenges of helping people to think hard about what they do and then share that with others. It too relies first and foremost on people being interested. Curiosity isn't always seen as businesslike but so much of what we are talking about here relies on what I have called the "ooh that's interesting effect". This starts with someone noticing something interesting, writing about it in a way that piques others' interest and encourages responses, and then other people re-blogging or retweeting because they too have thought "ooh that's interesting"

The way to "make" people engage is to "be" interesting!

January 27, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterEuan

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