The Potential of the Social Media University

I’ve really learned a lot since I started using social media, and that got me thinking. The true potential of social media isn’t meme’s or duck face selfies, or some form of gratification from the apparent slathering of random attention, it’s knowledge.

Real knowledge, not just information. Imagine a university full of top shelf scientists and teachers that didn’t require you to follow a specific curriculum. If you wanted to learn astrophysics or talk quantum mechanics with an expert you can do that, if you want to learn more about politics or the humanities or neuroscience you could just wander in and go.

The concept is both beautiful and alluring, and one might think unrealized, but the truth is it’s already out there, just waiting to be discovered. We have all the elements for a free radical style of learning environment right at the tips of our fingers, all we have to do is reach for it.

That’s what I have taken from the last few years of social media. It isn’t impossible, it’s already happening, it just needs to be defined for what it is and get some top shelf talent on the train, which there already is but there can be so much more. the potential is virtually limitless but first we need to take some preconceptions off the table.

The first one is the idea of the lay person being unable to quantify and digest the copious amounts of information governing any one specific topic. I’m sorry if you had to pay six figures for your degree but that doesn’t make it impossible for someone not saddled with the debt and workload that comes along with college format education to be able to understand a thing just as well as you.

The second is that information should cost something, it shouldn’t Especially when it is easy to put it out there for everyone to see. Does this threaten the business model that is the college education market? Damn right it does and it should, because using money as the means by which we as a people define our right to learn and to grow is the absolute opposite of the way things should be.

In all honesty it should be easy to get an education, arguably it should be easier to get an education than it is to get welfare. Think about that for a second, we can help you with poverty but we won’t lift a finger to help you gain a skillset so that you no longer need the assistance with the poverty that comes with a lack of education.

Getting a job is not the simplest answer, it’s the one thing that makes the need for skillsets all that more relevant because minimum wage isn’t about making a living, it’s about being given the smallest possible amount under the law. We should be able to fall down and hit a new set of skills quicker than we can apply for food stamps, but here we are today doing it the exact wrong way around.

I have spent the last few years on social media talking with artists and scientists and best selling authors all of which are more than willing to share their passions and knowledge. From that knowledge true information can be exchanged and before you know it your having conversations with professionals in a variety a fields from all walks of life on a level you didn’t think was possible before, because it wasn’t.

A college education is a necessary thing, no one is disputing that, but what we have now with the emergence of connective technologies and the rapid fire ability to harvest knowledge and to talk with someone who can provide the relevant context what you have a is a recipe for education, for the advancement and sharing of knowledge, and the gaining of true skills that were before only to be had at the end of a long and very expensive process, one that is not conducive for everyone.

I call this concept social learning, and the more professionals we can get writing and posting and talking with people and realizing the potential of this new social tool to communicate not only their passions, but to telegraph true understanding, is limitless.

I have lobbied some of my favorite scientists through social media when they occasionally talk about abandoning their social posting in favor of more fertile ground in blogs and academic publications, and honestly I wouldn’t blame them if they did. Yet my point has always been that there is more potential to what social learning can offer than just simple science communication or the gratifying notification.

Those efforts have paid off in that they haven’t quit, they keep writing and posting and we keep talking and I and everyone else lucky enough to find them keep learning, and that’s the part we need to work on, the luck factor. If people knew there was a new way to learn and a new place to find it they would look, they would come, they just need to know where and it is up to us to show them.

Social learning has the potential to elevate those who would have otherwise never had the opportunity to even so much as sniff the true depths of their potential by exposing them to those things for which they had no idea a passion could exist, or that they would lack the ability to comprehend. It’s does this by removing the pressure that comes with spending many thousands upon thousands of dollars they never had and simply letting them find the thing that they love, or letting that thing find them.

I do in many ways consider social media my university. It has taught me more than I ever thought I could know. Even now has I make the first tentative steps into the world of writing it has been because I was encouraged to do so by people whom I learned from on social media, people who had walked a very different path and had found success in that field which I could only envy ever unaware that the potential existed in me.

Soon knowledge banks like universities will close their ranks and pull their lectures and information from the free web because they will have to in an effort to protect their business model, they will have all kinds of reasons on hand but the almighty dollar will be the true driving force behind the hoarding of information. That’s the great paradox of education because to be a great educator and communicator you need to love what you do, and loving something means you are willing to give it away so long as someone else can come to the same place of awareness as you are.

The potential social learning and the social university is that we can find a new way for people to learn and grow, and information in the modern age is free, truly free, as it should be, as it needs to be, as it should have always been. Yet it is only now, in all of human history, that the potential to change the way people learn and think has really reached that place where true cross pollination of thought and idea can occur, where we are not beholden to any one field of study, where we can learn whatever we what whenever we want with the same level of comprehension and awareness as if we studied it for a couple hundred thousand dollars.

Education should be free, because poverty is free and we will never be rid of poverty as long as we need to pay our way out of it when the point of it is you don’t have the money in the first place. To take these first steps we need to follow the course that has already been charted by those who have been spreading their information from the beginning. We need people who are willing to write not the watered down mass consumption articles of our fast and free wheeling entertainment industry, we need people to publish their directly, we need to change the system from one of privileged access to one of open access.

As we move forward into the future of social learning I encourage everyone to post their passions to social media, to tell their friends in the professional and educational fields to not think we won’t understand if you post something too technical or full of detail, we are craving that, we are desperate for it, and for those of us who could never afford to go to college, we have been waiting for it our entire lives.

Now is the time, my friends. Now is the time.