As a tool for knowledge collection, organization and distribution, nothing has revolutionized the way we think about information quite like the Google search engine. “Just Google it” is a common phrase when someone asks a question that could be easily answered by factual data. We now have the whole of human knowledge at our fingertips; this understandably must change the way we think about education, intelligence and the future of our world.
The World Before and After Google
Prior to Google, a person’s intelligence could be ascertained by how many facts he had memorized. A man seemed intelligent if he knew five languages, had the periodic table memorized, could recite poetry from memory or always had a quote from a famous historical figure ready to discuss. Intelligence was determined by the breadth and depth of information a person could provide. However, by this measure, the Google search engine is far more intelligent than any human being alive.
Kids intuitively know this; the first resource for help with homework is the almighty search box. “What year did World War II start?” “Who was the 25th president?” “What is the Pythagorean Theorem?” Many in the older generation decry kids’ lack of reliance on their memory. However, as our knowledge base gets larger and larger, questions like these may become the norm rather than a simple youthful activity. What is the purpose of education when the answer to every question can be found in a digital archive?
The Inevitability of Process Learning
Some, like tech expert Richard N. Katz, believe that education should be changed to teach children how to navigate search engines like Google. This fundamental shift in curriculum to a search-based model would reduce the number of memorization and fact-based exams and increase the number of computer skills-based lessons in public primary and secondary schooling. In other words, the world could be seeing far more people who know nothing, but who know how to find anything and everything.
Process learning, aided by search technology, social networks and knowledge circles, may be the future of education. Proponents of search learning say that it was always inevitable. The amount of knowledge required by the average citizen to navigate the world has grown exponentially over history. It now takes decades to claim any level of expertise in fast-growing fields like physics or computer science, and even then, the speed of new discoveries often outpaces the rate at which individuals can learn about them.
The only solution, say some experts, is to develop technologies like search engines or “wiki” sites that are able to track the ever-widening scope of knowledge. Rather than focusing on knowledge insertion, education is a matter of teaching children to interface directly with these technologies.Of course, this sort of education isn’t as simple as giving kids access to a Wikipedia portal and leaving them to their own devices. Part of the education of becoming an information farmer in the endless fields of search is to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff. We have to educate on how to ask questions and find sources in such a way that the answers we receive are both elucidating, informative and reliable.
The Role of Social Networking and Knowledge Circles
One of the key ways to verify the reliability of knowledge on the web is through knowledge circles and social networks. If many well-informed, intelligent people can vouch for information discovered on the Internet, a student can generally trust its value. Many experts predict that such knowledge circles will function as expert-level social networks replacing things like encyclopedias and reference books as the de facto source of truth when it comes to verifying public information.
People who have spent their lives steeped in a particular field have more practical, working knowledge than any book could ever provide. Because the knowledge required to perform high-level functions has increased exponentially, the new leaders will be those who can synthesize information from many disparate sources without having to learn it directly. In the coming years, students will learn to access and join all the necessary knowledge circles where they can both share and find information with others as needed.