Table of Contents
Title Page
Copyright Page
Chapter 1 - We All Learn
Chapter 2 - To Search and to Scan
Chapter 3 - E-Demand Around the Globe
Chapter 4 - It’s a Free Software World After All
Chapter 5 - MIT in Every Home
Chapter 6 - Portals for the People
Chapter 7 - Making a Contribution
Chapter 8 - Collaborate or Die!
Chapter 9 - Who Are You?
Chapter 10 - U-Learning?
Chapter 11 - Learning at Your Service
Chapter 12 - The Treasures and Traps of This Open Learning World
The Author

More Praise for The World Is Open
“If you wonder how schools will evolve in the information-rich Internet Age—if you’d like to ‘see’ what that looks like—this book will show you. Dr. Bonk provides compelling examples of twenty-first century education, and his stories will leave you wondering why we aren’t doing more to ensure that online and blended learning opportunities are available to every student. Picking up on Friedman’s theory regarding the democratization of the workforce, Dr. Bonk explains the ramifications for learning in a globally connected world. This book paints almost endless possibilities in a world where we can now connect young and old across time, culture, language, and geography. It will leave you wanting to open doors for students everywhere.”
—Julie Young, president and CEO, Florida Virtual School
“Taking his inspiration from Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, Professor Bonk’s book The World is Open: How Web Technology is Revolutionizing Education, is a personal account, written in an unabashedly post-modern stream-of-consciousness style, of how the Web of Learning has changed him and is transforming the world. Like Friedman he writes from the American experience but draws global implications. This is a book that all involved in eLearning should dip into for inspiration.”
—Sir John Daniel, president and CEO, Commonwealth of Learning
“It has become a truism to say that the world in which we live is changing rapidly. The task now at hand is to understand the trends and harness their power. In no area is this more important than in education, where we must meet the challenge of a high-quality education for all the citizens of the world. And in Professor Bonk’s new book, The World Is Open, he provides a powerful tool to help us meet that challenge. He argues that because of the Web ‘anyone can learn anything from anyone at anytime.’ But his work extends beyond this basic premise. He defines and documents the specific trends that are influencing how and where learning takes place so that they can be put to use by a wide range of audiences. This important book helps us deliver the education revolution.”
—Gaston Caperton, president, The College Board
“Curt Bonk has captured the essence of the wondrous digital empowerment practices and philosophies in today’s highly networked world. From his book, you will learn that educational technology entrepreneurship is a splendid kind of virus to be infected with.”
—Paul Kim, chief technology officer, Stanford University School of Education
“We have an educational economy of information abundance confronting an educational delivery system that was built for a time of information scarcity. Bonk outlines a practical and comprehensive road map for navigating the explosion of open educational resources and how they can be used to prepare ourselves and our students for a lifetime of learning and discovery.”
—Lev Gonick, vice president, Information Technology Services; chief information officer, Case Western Reserve University
“In the age of ‘fingertip knowledge,’ curiosity is the key to learning. Curtis Bonk’s The World is Open book provides a powerful perspective of how we organizations and individuals can harness the power of global knowledge and content to drive performance and learning.”
—Elliott Masie, chair, The Learning Consortium at The Masie Center
“Curtis Bonk opens our eyes to the world of open education, where learning can take place anytime, anywhere we have access. This book is filled with powerful stories that paint a new picture of what learning can become if we understand the potentials of this new Web. It’s a must read for educators, and, more importantly, for learners.”
—Will Richardson, co-founder, Powerful Learning Practice, and author, Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts, and other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms as well as the highly popular edublog, Weblogged
“The World Is Open is such an inspiring story for the twenty-first century. The subject matter is especially important to me because I use online learning technology to learn and to teach. I love how the stories of people using technology to learn make the book so relevant. Not only is each story inspiring and motivational, but they are also practical, providing many ways for readers to open their own world of learning.”
—Adora Svitak, 11-year-old teacher, author, speaker
“Technology has historically been an appendage to education because it has not been integral to the mission of dispensing information. Dr. Bonk provides a glimpse into the future of learning, in which technology plays a central role by fostering an egalitarian knowledge frenzy where learning is open and unconstrained by classes and schedules. Bonk exploits Web 2.0 technology to make a quite compelling case.”
—David Jonassen, distinguished professor, Educational Psychology and Learning Technologies, University of Missouri
“Professor Bonk’s insightful book provides a panoptic and inspiring rendering of our new era of pervasive access to learning resources and social networks for open education. What a fun read!”
—Roy Pea, professor of Learning Sciences and Education, Stanford University and director, Stanford Center for Innovations in Learning
“Online learning is an important innovation that expands opportunities for students through improving access to new pathways. The World is Open brings new ideas, provides deep insight, and encourages a new way of thinking about education. The book also provides key strategies, resources, and tools for e-learning that will help administrators, teachers, parents, and students globally.”
—Susan Patrick, president and CEO, International Association for K-12 Online Learning (iNACOL)
“A very interesting read, that is equally applicable to educators, trainers, learners, managers, strategists as well as technology specialists. We are at the brink of educational evolution and the ten trends of WE-ALL-LEARN provide a framework of how we can embrace this evolution. Education is no longer a luxury but a human right—we are all learners and WE-ALL-LEARN. The world is open and it is now time to embrace that openness for the benefit of society. This book is a must have for all, that has real life examples with technologies that are available now.”
—Stefano Ghazzali, CMALT, FHEA, FRSA, program development manager, Manchester Business School, University of Manchester
“The World is Open gets to the heart of the way ten key technologies are changing the way the world learns and making a flatter world possible. Dr. Bonk offers a new and exciting way to look at the transformation of education from the classroom to an open world of learning technology. Because it is accessible and readable, The World is Open will appeal to a wide range of audiences from educators to business leaders. I’m glad to see that the power of social networking in education is recognized for the transformative power that it will bring.”
—Shirish Nadkarni, CEO and co-founder, Livemocha
“Curt offers an insightful and perceptive view of the technological trends that are converging to transform learning to become more global, collaborative, personalized, empowering, ubiquitous, and open. Filled with enlightening and inspiring real-life stories from those successfully using these emerging technologies, this book on open learning trends will be an eye opener and useful guide for many!”
—Gary H. Marks, executive director and founder, Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education (AACE)
“Openness may be the previously missing ingredient that finally enables meaningful educational reform by increasing transparency, affordability, local control, and accountability. In this timely volume, Bonk provides a wonderfully readable look at where openness is taking education, what it means for learning, and what should excite or concern us about the future.”
—David Wiley, associate professor, Brigham Young University; chief openness officer, Flat World Knowledge; and founder and board chair, Open High School of Utah
“A riveting guide to the future of learning and education. This book should be compulsory reading for all who seek to understand the driving forces of this century.”
—Joon Mo Kwon, CEO, Nexon Corp
“Those who know Curt are used to insightful advice and predictions delivered in an innovative style. The World is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education does not disappoint! It is a chance to relive much of recent history of technology-enhanced learning but then discover innovative ideas to take forward within a practical framework. All this is enhanced with stories and examples presented in a way that cannot fail to enthuse all those who read them to find their place in the new world of open learning.”
—Nigel Banister, chief global officer and CEO, MBS Worldwide, Manchester Business School
“Virtual worlds, mobile learning, social networking . . . these are just three of the ten key trends that Curtis Bonk has identified in his informative book on the future of learning. Drawing on examples from around the world and through the use of illustrative stories, he brings to life how changing technologies and social trends are impacting learners of all ages.”
—Heidi Fisk, executive director and co-founder, The eLearning Guild
“The current economic crisis is punctuating the shift from an industrial to a global knowledge economy and society. Profound changes in learning are at the heart of this transformation as people and organizations can be plugged into a global, open platform of networked knowledge and intelligence. Read this extraordinary book to understand how.”
—Don Tapscott, chairman, nGenera Insight; adjunct professor, Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto; and author of thirteen books about the new technologies in business and society, most recently Wikinomics and Grown Up Digital
“In this thoughtful new book, Curt Bonk’s research and observations mirror what we in iEARN have seen since 1988. Teaching and learning are being impacted by connective technologies in ways that creative education practitioners discover daily. No longer is information, wisdom, and critical analysis the sole domain of libraries, ‘experts,’ or even teachers in the front of passive students who absorb what they are told. The Internet and other technologies reveal that students, with invaluable teacher facilitation, can learn through interaction with people anywhere in the world, coming to their own critical conclusions, posing new inquiries, and generating amazing intellectual and creative work. Just as importantly, students are comfortable with change, easily adapting to new technology tools and taking for granted that learning is not just something done during school days, but is a life-long endeavor. An early iEARN pioneer from Argentina noted that ‘No one knows so little that s/he cannot teach another and no one knows so much that s/he cannot learn from the other.’ Professor Bonk’s illustrative stories of how technology can enhance learning confirm that through technology students can go beyond learning about the world to learning with the world.”
—Ed Gragert, executive director, iEARN-USA


This book is dedicated to the memory of Chris Essex (February 19,
1965-April 17, 2007), student, teacher, instructional designer,
writer, rocket builder, music lover, podcast partner, colleague,
technology guru, and friend to all, who helped show me and
countless others the open learning world.

Introduction to the Open Learning World


Our first week in Hope, British Columbia—a small town on the banks of the Fraser River—has been exciting. This area of B.C. is extremely lush and vibrant, covered in vegetation and full of waterways. We have begun work at Welqámex—a once large settlement on a now uninhabited island—where we are currently hacking through dense forest undergrowth to re-establish paths across the site.
I now consider myself proficient with a machete and a hatchet (skills that I didn’t expect to acquire), and I am surprised at how much work precedes an archaeological excavation. We are building trails, clearing deadwood from archaeological features, setting up sieving stations, and even digging and building an outhouse. It’s tiring, but at the end of the day when we turn around and look upon all that has been accomplished, the hard work is immensely gratifying.
Despite being overgrown, the forest is beautiful, and I have observed many wild plants, some of which were used regularly for clothes and food by the Stó:lō people. On a daily basis, the thirteen of us are the only people on the island. The island is secluded and mostly cut off from the modern day hustle and bustle. With the sun shining through the canopy of the tall cottonwood and maple trees and the birds calling, I can sense an energy in the forest, perhaps from those who once lived there, and it is very spiritual. We work closely with members of the Stó:lō community, and their stories and guidance help to bring our work alive. In so many words, it is beautiful work in a beautiful place.1
You might be wondering just who this hatchet- and machete-wielding person is. You might also be scratching your head as to why I start this book about a technologically sophisticated and open learning world with a story about outhouses and clearing walking paths from dead and rotting trees. Perhaps this makes you equally curious as to when it was written. Well, the writer’s name is Lily Henry Roberts, and she authored that short reflection on Wednesday, July 2, 2008.2 As Lily indicated in her story, that July she was located on an island near Hope, British Columbia, a city of some six thousand people less than a hundred miles east of Vancouver. During the academic year, Lily is an undergraduate history major at UCLA and a member of the women’s rugby team. As such, she is perhaps just the sort of hardy person who is meant for a machete-wielding adventure in the thick forests of Canada. But UCLA remains in her hip pocket when she’s up in Canada. You see, Lily is part of the Archaeology Field Program sponsored by UCLA’s Cotsen Institute of Archaeology and run through its International Education Office.
These archaeological dig projects are open to anyone over the age of eighteen, not only UCLA students and alumni. You do not even have to be a college student to participate. While the vast majority of those who enroll are traditional college students, many are not. Even more intriguing, given sufficient time, interest, and money, you or I could sign up for this program. During the summer of 2008, some 138 people were enrolled in it. In recognition of their learning during the program, they each received twelve credits at the end of their digging efforts. These students were engaged in archaeological projects not only in western Canada, but also in Ecuador, Chile, Peru, Panama, Albania, Italy, England, and Catalina Island in the United States.
Lily and many other students and instructors at seven of the UCLA dig locations blogged about their summer adventures. These online diaries help connect them to anyone with Internet access. And through their blogs, those of us who cannot physically be there with them can be armchair Indiana Joneses!3 Here in Indiana, that sounds mighty appealing.
The Internet is an amazing learning resource. Through one simple online tool—blogging—we are quickly immersed in information related to what archaeologists around the world do for a living. With blogs and other Internet tools and resources, field school experiences can now be shared and discussed with thousands of people on a daily basis.
The site instructor from UCLA, Dr. Anthony P. Graesch, also posted to the Canadian group’s blog site.4 He explains that the way in which archaeological research is typically portrayed in television and the movies is often well beyond the actual, more mundane activities of archaeologists. At the same time, he notes that the rich and complex history of the Stó:lō people cannot be found in textbooks.5 History is embedded in the landscape itself. You must be there and experience it! Blog posts like his spread hope that all of us can learn from shared online experiences. Perhaps it is fitting that he is blogging from Hope!
For those who cannot commit six to ten weeks of their time, student and instructor blogs, program press releases, and embedded pictures serve as brief forays into the history of these First Nation people. Those who have the time and interest, but who wish to travel beyond North American settings, have plenty of options. While Lily and Colleen are in British Columbia, UCLA archaeology graduate student Jamie Aprile is in Albania. Her July 14, 2008 blog post is rich with detail about the excavation and recording activities her team is conducting.6
As in the blog about the Canadian summer dig project, the postings from Albania share firsthand experiences of students and instructors as they work the site. In addition to blogging and e-mailing coordinators back at UCLA about their progress, these young archaeologists use technologies such as global positioning systems (GPS) to help them find and record information. Just like Lily, Jamie is quite pleased to be out of the classroom and in the real world. However, that real world is no longer just hers. In the twenty-first century, Web technology has arisen to help learners like Jamie freely share their experiences with people they do not know and will likely never meet. As Jamie’s post divulges, archaeological work is not a holiday for those enrolled but requires much sweat and dedication.
Much of these efforts are the brainchild of UCLA archaeology professor Ran Boytner, codirector of the Chile dig in the Tarapaca Valley where pilot versions of the Archaeology Field Program have been evolving over the past several years. He is accompanied by seventeen students, making Chile the most popular of the summer dig destinations. When he first dreamed up the idea, Boytner expected UCLA students to be the primary beneficiaries. He was soon in for quite a surprise. Students have been pouring in from all over the world. And why not? They are digging in some of the driest, oldest, and most interesting sites in the history of human civilization. Such projects offer adventure, work, learning, personal reflection, collaboration, and greater cultural awareness.
Boytner stated that in a good number of field schools, students fail to learn proper techniques and are treated as “inexpensive labor.”7 Many are turned off by that educational approach. He argued, “We are sending students into these immersion programs where we put students front and center. It is our job to prepare the next generation of scholars, and more importantly, philo-archaeologists—people who like archaeology.”8
What is unique is that the UCLA project transports students from the classroom and into genuine research environments. As such, it apprentices them for possible professional lives as archaeologists and other occupations where categorization, analysis, attention to detail, and teamwork skills are critical. In effect, these intensive weeks in the field prepare them for life. With the blog-posting activity, however, this is more than an apprenticeship of 138 people. The Summer Digs project is also a virtual apprenticeship for thousands or perhaps even millions of online Web surfers. With these online posts and summaries, Boytner and his colleagues are helping to train the next generation of archaeologists, anthropologists, and historians. It is quite plausible that many people stumbling on their blog posts from Chile or Peru a few years, decades, or even centuries from now might become quite energized by them and decide to take a class in archaeology or even enter the field.
What do those enrolled find in these adventures? Discoveries range from ancient pots to pieces of gold to Chilean mummies to llama feces.9 Throw in a few skulls and bones, a bit of ancient petroglyphs or collections of rock art, and intriguing native rituals, stories, and customs, and there is much to write home about in one’s blog postings. Students can also update their friends and family in e-mail reports as well as text messages from their mobile phones. Admittedly, however, with limited Internet access in such locations, at least at this time, these students must often travel quite a distance to find a way to submit their posts. Given connection speeds, their blog updates are often done through e-mail back to UCLA main offices.
What is interesting today is that with the emergence of the Web, we can go from a live experience during the day, and a few hours later record it for near-eternity in a blog posting or Web site entry. Real-world archaeology becomes recorded and amplified through the Web. Our life experiences are immediately shared and, at the same time, permanently stored. As this happens, our identity in this world is altered and our status is temporarily elevated, if only for a few weeks. The Web becomes a way to communicate findings and build social networks for one’s research as well as notable personal pursuits. The use of blogs and other Web-based recordings of our daily events extends our existence and identities into cyberworlds.
Of course, the Archaeology Field Program is just one example of a host of real-world projects that anyone can sign up for. Nonprofit organizations such as Earthwatch and Greenpeace have been operating for decades with volunteers. What is unique is that the Web offers such organizations the opportunities to spread their messages with a variety of online resources, including pictures, fact sheets, videos, news, events, and blog postings. Earthwatch even boasts a YouTube channel and a Facebook group. Not to be outdone, Greenpeace has an online discussion forum anyone can join as well as blogs from activists with embedded videos and pictures that are quite captivating. They also have Greenpeace TV, which offers online documentaries, Greenpeace podcasts, and many interesting environment-related games you can play for free online.
These types of organizations can now more directly promote science, global citizenship, and opportunities for human learning through online means. The Web has become prime real estate for educational programming about the environment, climate change, history, politics, and nearly any topic you can think of. What few people realize is that as the Web becomes our preferred learning platform, nontraditional learning is suddenly the norm. Lifelong learning dreams discussed decade after decade in the twentieth century are quickly being realized in the twenty-first.
Just as these various UCLA summer digs were going on, Discovery News featured the remarkable findings of David Thomas, a doctoral student in the archaeological program at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Unlike the UCLA students, Mr. Thomas could not make personal appearances at the dig sites he had in mind. The reason was simple—they were located in far-too-dangerous regions of war-torn southern Afghanistan. Because he could not travel there, the options he had to conduct his research were rather thin. Fortunately, Google Earth came to Thomas’s rescue. Using this Web resource, high-resolution images enabled him to find and chart up to 450 sites that appear to be significant from an archaeological standpoint.10
With one online resource to support his research, Thomas does not have to raise funds for his airfare, food, and lodging. He does not have to leave his family and friends and travel thousands of miles to conduct his research. And he does not have to worry about being shot or decapitated once there. All he needs now is a computer, a reliable Internet connection, and the patience to make careful observations. With those things in place, Thomas has located numerous camps, mosques, reservoirs, dams, and military installations that the archaeological world did not know existed. When I spoke with him in August 2008, David told me he preferred actual “digging” and “doing” to remote forms of archaeology. As he put it: “Although my family is probably glad that I sat in front of the computer screen, Google Earth isn’t and shouldn’t become a substitute for getting down and dirty. . . . [B]y actually visiting the area, we would find many more sites which don’t show up on Google Earth.” Nevertheless, with such tools, David has become a discoverer of culture without leaving a physical trace of his being there. His footprints are electronic ones. And although he told me he never feels in danger even when he is in quite “dodgy destinations,” such as Libya, Sudan, Syria, and Afghanistan, I reminded him that perhaps thanks to Web technology his head is still attached. In contrast to the UCLA Archaeology Field Program, this is an example of how learning can begin with the virtual in the hopes that one day it will move to back to the physical. How many other exciting discoveries are simply awaiting such innovative Googling efforts?
Thanks to the Web, we can all be adventurers, explorers, writers, dreamers, and learners. At times we move from physical to virtual and other times in the reverse. And, as Thomas has shown us, sometimes virtual journeys are much more preferred and viable than physical experiences. As these stories reveal, the learning world is now open. It is open in the forests of Canada. It is also open in the deserts of Chile and Egypt. It is open in Albania as much as it is open in Afghanistan. You can now explore it too. Physically, virtually, or both.


If this book could be shortened to its narrowest point, it would exist as a one-line proclamation that states, “Anyone can now learn anything from anyone at anytime.” As the stories in this book reveal, it does not matter if you are a scientist on a ship in Antarctic waters or a young girl in a Philippine village—you can learn when and where you want and from whomever you are interested in learning. What’s more, these two individuals—the scientist at sea and the girl at home—can now communicate and learn from each other in a matter of seconds, or, alternatively, when the other is sleeping, or even weeks, months, or years after the initial contact. Granted, such learning usually requires access to the Internet, or at least to a computing center.
But therein lies the premise of this book—as a member of this species known as human, you learn. You learn every day. In fact, we all learn—all 6.7 billion of us. And, as the stories above reveal, multiple technologies have arisen almost in unison to open up such learning to each of us at every waking moment. To simplify a highly complex situation and set of events, ten key technology trends that directly and indirectly impact our learning in the twenty-first century are incrementally revealed in this book using a model called “WE-ALL-LEARN.”
A few years back, Thomas Friedman argued that our world had been flattened by many technologies, most significant of which is the Internet, with its ability to find nearly any piece of information we might seek in the exact moment of need.11 As he showed, the commerce-related implications of this premise are enormous. However, Friedman was focused on social and economic flatteners brought about by technology and the associated changes in organizational structures and business practices. In contrast, this book explores territory that Friedman only touched upon briefly in his excursions, while also forging ahead into some lands he left uncharted.
At its hub, this book and its corresponding framework address how Web technology offers new hope for educating the citizens of this planet. It is the opening up of education that ultimately makes a flatter or more robust economic world possible. In the twenty-first century, education trumps economy as the key card to participation in the world. It is education, after all, from which robust economies are built. So when there are momentous shifts or megatrends occurring in education, they must be explored, documented, grasped, and exploited ethically as well as thoughtfully. Instead of Friedman’s “flatteners” or the highly touted “megatrends” of John Naisbitt, however, I shall call the ten learning technology trends that are transforming education and life in the twenty-first century “openers,” as in the door opening to untold learning opportunities for billions of people.12


1. Web Searching in the World of E-Books
2. E-Learning and Blended Learning
3. Availability of Open Source and Free Software
4. Leveraged Resources and OpenCourseWare
5. Learning Object Repositories and Portals
6. Learner Participation in Open Information Communities
7. Electronic Collaboration
8. Alternate Reality Learning
9. Real-Time Mobility and Portability
10. Networks of Personalized Learning
As will become evident, while Friedman was documenting his three “p” words—new economic players from China, India, and Eastern Bloc countries, a flattened playing field resulting from collaborative technologies, and more horizontal and less hierarchical management processes—three different ones were simultaneously emerging in education. In education, the “p” words relate to pages of content, piping for that content to run through (that is, a technological infrastructure), and a participatory learning culture. Instead of economic might fostered through online technology, the converging learning trends offer untold intellectual might. The triple convergence in education, then, underpins and hastens the vast economic opportunities that Friedman and others have discussed during the past few years. And that is the premise of this book.


We are living in a time period of the most monumental changes and challenges to arise in education since Plato held his first classes at his famed academy, Hekademeia, later known as Akademeia. Even in those days, learning in different locations and times was facilitated by technology as teachers and learners were shifting from exclusive reliance on oral traditions to instruction that included the written word. This, of course, was a historic transformation for the people of this planet because learning could now take place beyond a singular geographic location and moment in time. Learners could read Plato’s thoughts and ideas, instead of having to be there for the live event. Plato, in effect, was the first known distance educator.13 Still, the prime delivery of education in the fourth century BC was via speech from the expert instructor or mentor to awaiting learners.
Fast-forward a couple of millennia and those same oral traditions—as well as the associated teacher- or text-centeredness that they promote—still pervade all levels and forms of education. What a time traveler would quickly discover is that in most cases teaching has not really changed much since the days of Plato, even though the technologies for learning have progressed dramatically, especially during the past century. This book is an opportunity to take these time travelers to different rooms and learning situations, including boats, trains, subway stations, and even alternative worlds and dimensions, where the status quo for teaching and learning is definitely not the one you and I experienced growing up.
Most people remain unaware of the enormous number of these nontraditional learning venues and opportunities or are hesitant to use them when they are. Not surprisingly, the field of education is replete with highly thoughtful yet cynical articles about how little technology has improved the state of education. Some of these articles ask how comfortable Plato and his student, Aristotle, might be in visiting a typical school or teacher education classroom today compared to, say, Hippocrates making a similar visit to a medical school building.14 Such articles will invariably note that while the medical field has decided to make use of advances in technology to train its students and thereby benefit society, the techniques that surround the field of education have not really changed much. For instance, large-screen televisions, projection units, marker boards, prerecorded videostreamed or podcasted lectures, and PowerPoint slides are simply more of the same teacher-centered past. Since the 1960s, the “distance” in distance education has too often meant how large could the lecture halls and classrooms be and still allow learners to view the screen.15 It remains eyeball-to-eyeball learning. Today’s teachers, much like those in preceding generations or even millennia ago, remain the masters of some content area that must somehow be imparted to students and then rigorously assessed.
What is perhaps different today is that technologies are actually leading to major changes in teaching and learning, especially in the opportunities to learn. As this occurs, students are taking on the roles of teachers, and those formerly known as teachers are better positioned as guides, tutors, and mentors. Millennia of highly intractable instructional approaches and limited educational opportunities have begun to give way to something different. In the span of just a decade or two, with the escalating use of the Web and its associated technologies for learning, educational practices have greatly expanded beyond the time-and-place rigidity of fourth-century BC teaching and learning environments. Today, as we are seated in just the first few years of a new millennium, educational institutions and training organizations are being forced to modify or significantly change the instructional practices that they have used and often found highly effective (at least from internal and external accreditation criteria) since they were established. Of course, changes of any type rarely come easily or without much heated questioning, controversy, and debate.
It is only now that far-reaching changes in the education of young and old are possible with learning technology. Decades ago, Charles Wedemeyer from the University of Wisconsin pointed out that over the centuries, technologies—including books, the telegraph, the postal service, the telephone, the radio, the television, and computer-assisted learning—have extended the time-space dimensions of learning.16 With each of these inventions, learners could learn when and where it was feasible for them. The reliance on eyeball-to-eyeball learning, which had been pervasive since Plato’s Academy two dozen centuries ago, is no longer as prevalent in schools, universities, and corporate training institutes, and may not even be preferred by the learners or their instructors. But the technologies of the twenty-first century are more numerous and qualitatively much different from those of preceding centuries. Online bulletin boards, e-mail, chat rooms, iPods, mobile phones, wikis, blogs, and interactive headgear all provide for enhancements of the traditional teacher-centered past, as well as providing opportunities in which learners have a voice and can engage in more personally meaningful projects. Such technologies provide ways for all of us to learn.
What was accomplished previously with textbooks and classroom lectures has shifted to other resources and learning technologies. This shift effectively frees up face-to-face classroom time for addressing personal needs. With such personalization, it is truly the age of learner-centered and empowered learning. It is time to push forward new learning proposals and goals, not just for a particular classroom, program, or institution—as important as it is to do so—but to reflect on this impact on a more global scale. Today, we should be striving to take advantage of unique and low-cost learning opportunities and formats available for students of any educational need, monetary status, background, or age level.
Of course, for the learning faucet to be truly opened, the learner needs access to the Internet, or, at least, access to the resources available from it in print or a digital format. For most members of this planet, such access will begin with their mobile phones. As those with Internet access realize, we have all just lived through a decade of rapidly expanding and extremely intoxicating use of the Internet for instruction. In less than ten years, we have shifted from e-mail and relatively simple online services and activities to opportunities for downloading massive amounts of high- and low-quality videos, producing and sharing music online, connecting multiple sites in full-motion videoconferencing, and engaging in online chats with dozens of friends or experts simultaneously. However, the coming ten or twenty years will assuredly be even more fascinating and tumultuous. Each decade, distance-learning historians seem to document the extensive lineage of distance-learning technologies and resources that have helped shift when, where, and how learning occurs. However, it was not until recently that enough factors converged to offer the possibility of learning about nearly any topic in any discipline to any connected learner or classroom. It can happen today. And it is now often there for free!
Imagine for a moment that you are that time traveler mentioned earlier. If you walked out of ancient Greece or Egypt into a modernized classroom today or into an online course that did not require a physical space, it might cause your heart to pause—not due to the physical journey, but due to the intellectual ones that are now possible. You might interact with Plato not simply by reading his famed Republic under the shade of an oak tree, but within a virtual world or simulation. Or perhaps you might meet him in an online role-playing exercise with another student who has taken on his persona. And Plato’s various dialogues or Aristotle’s works on rhetoric, physics, or politics might be entered into a wiki that you might index, cross-reference, and perhaps even enhance or meaningfully alter through audio recordings or hyperlinks to still other Web resources. In effect, the learning technologies of today not only extend the places and times in which learning can occur, but they also offer changes in the types of learning that are now possible, as well as the range and location of learners who can take advantage of them.


The world is very different today. Anyone reading this book has witnessed and likely participated in at least some of the educational transformations mentioned above. And these were not incremental changes that could be gradually sipped over the past two-and-a-half millennia. Instead, for the most part, they have been available in a one-gulp-only variety. Add to this challenge the fact that there are massive technological innovations and shifts to suddenly chug down, and you have serious problems. Such changes are on the scale of a child’s Happy Meal soda that has been supersized by a McDonald’s in Texas. Suffice it to say, the educational drinks now available in the early stages of the twenty-first century are definitely not the same ones that our parents or grandparents consumed. We have a vastly different educational world in which to quench our thirsts for knowledge. Therefore, it makes sense to step back for a moment and reflect on the key changes in education that have opened the education world since your parents and grandparents entered their first school buildings and classrooms.
I began this writing quest in June 2007 exactly one hundred years and two months after my grandfather, George Goronja, second generation from Yugoslavia, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. My Grandpa George entered his first primary classroom around the fall of 1912. Contrary to what the many educational critics contend, this classroom was much different from those he would have entered today had he lived to see his hundredth birthday like his older brother Steve. Grandpa George would often tell me that when he got to West Allis Central High School, he walked in the front door and walked out the back door. He did not go home; instead, he kept walking to the Allis Chalmers plant near his parent’s house to help in the manufacturing of farm tractors where, despite being laid off during the Depression, he spent more than forty years working, mostly as an inspector or foreman. He was, at times, joined at Allis Chalmers by my grandmother, mother, father, and uncle, all of whom, in contrast, managed to complete their high school educations.
If we could travel back in time with him, we would see that the educational opportunities of a century ago were phenomenally different from what we have today. To begin with, Grandpa George did not have podcasts made of his school lessons in case he missed class. He did not have instructors who waxed eloquently in their blogs about how a particular class or module was going or who inserted supplemental course links in that blog. He never received an e-mail message that linked him to wondrous electronic course resources made available through the Web. There were no virtual worlds to explore for hours on end where new forms of communication and interaction could transpire. Grandpa George and his classmates could not move about to computer labs and media rooms in accordance with their interests and learning pursuits or think about entering and exiting a course at any time of the day. Instead, their learning was pinned down to a particular time, teacher, and place.
I am also certain that my grandfather could not create his own learning materials with some of his classmates that could be edited by still other peers, experts, instructors, or complete strangers in a wiki. Of course, my grandpa never Googled anything, or sent messages with his phones to classmates with reminders of an assignment that was due, or accomplished important course-related activities with his mobile phone or handheld computing device. Nor did George and his classmates ever engage in virtual discussions and interactions with team members from within their own classes. Equally impossible was the ability to send a question to or seek advice from an ever-present tutor or mentor at any moment and conceivably receive an immediate response. Yes, someone from a local community might enter a class for thirty minutes or an hour, but after that, such an individual was typically long gone. Not today! Online tutoring and mentoring is not just possible, it is a key aspect of education among all age groups from primary schools to corporate training environments to those in senior-citizen activity centers.
The educational world in which our parents and grandparents grew up has significantly and permanently been altered; and so has the learning world experienced by most people reading this book. Books, crayons, pencils, overhead projectors, tape recorders, and blackboards have not disappeared entirely, but learners are increasingly relying on online resources, electronic ink, virtual presence, and digital displays. Some may participate in this educational world using what might now be deemed more traditional technologies for educational delivery, such as laptop and desktop computers. For others, it will occur with MP3 players and iPods strapped around their arms or waist when jogging or connected to a car radio system when driving. For still others, especially those in Asia, this learning transformation will take place with their mobile phones and other handheld technology—at first in small bits or minilearning programs, but soon, with advances in content engagement and screen display units, in larger doses and longer formats.
Education in the coming decade will be as pervasive as the watch or the mobile phone was in the last. What happens when watch knock-offs you see in Malaysia, Thailand, or Singapore are no longer fake Rolexes, but instead devices equipped with hundreds, if not thousands, of free course-related programming hours from MIT, Stanford, Cambridge, or Harvard, as well as with options for more informal learning pursuits? How might such products be promoted and exchanged? Just how cool will it be to have a phone or watch loaded with educational content to view on the train, plane, or bus? Will such items be disposable or resalable? Will fake or real MIT instructors be delivering such content? And will content need to be delivered at all or just be there when needed? In a couple of decades, we may have every single lecture ever recorded in any language as well as all encyclopedia and fact-book content embedded in our watches or mobile phones and be able to subscribe for free to have them continually updated. Do you now see that this is a learning revolution? If so, are you ready to enlist your services?


We humans keep adding to the mix of technologies and resources for enhancing, extending, and transforming learning. A course or learning experience might be enhanced with test questions, simulations, online cases, or other resources available in some type of digital format. It might be extended through collaborative technologies, social networking software, and virtual worlds wherein learners meet and interact with experts, peers, and other instructors they might never have encountered otherwise. And this course might be transformed through participatory learning avenues, such as when learners add to a wiki, participate in an online discussion, or produce problems or cases for each other to solve online and later evaluate or modify the solutions.
But today our metaphors reach beyond enhancing, extending, or transforming learning with technology to notions of sharing that learning. Unlike the use of technology that might only touch the learners in one’s class, training program, or organization, today a thought or idea can truly make an impact on anyone anywhere on the planet. It might not be today or tomorrow when that thought or idea is needed. However, once posted to the Web, it will likely be reflected upon or employed by someone sometime in the future. It is that sudden trend toward sharing educational resources, beyond any other development outlined in this book, that is fueling change in education and opening new doors to optimism and human potential. And perhaps it is human nature—we humans love to connect, exchange, share, remix, and reinvent. We also like to share our expertise and see that the areas in which we are expert are placed in good light. So it is with that mind-set that many of us give our time for free to resources like Wikipedia. Perhaps this sharing culture has not suddenly emerged, but was in hibernation, waiting for the right moment to appear. With the wealth of learning technologies today, the time has certainly come.