Since I took the plunge and became a web developer full time, the knowledge I’ve learned has come from thousands of resources, nearly all of them online. Blog posts, instructional videos, demos, forums, and books, to name a few. These resources enabled me to develop the skills I needed.
Unlike many sources of higher education in the US, I was not denied access due to a lack of money, lack of experience, lack of skill, or any other factor. I’m indebted to the thousands of people who made deposits into that virtual knowledge bank, each contributing their part.
When information is free, it is empowering. It removes friction from the process of exploring a topic, or trying something for the first time. It removes “lack of access” from the list of barriers keeping people in ignorance and poverty.
I hear people in education talk about technology in the classroom, and don’t get me wrong, technology is great. But the technology is only as good as the information it provides access to. Technology for technology’s sake might make your superintendents feel good, but we have a higher goal called “actually learning.” We need access to a rich landscape of online resources, and the business models to support them long term.
There are hundreds of approaches to freeing information, from President Obama’s Open Government initiative to the legally murky activities of Hacktivist groups. Crowdsourcing projects like FreeBase or Wikipedia free information by tapping the wisdom of the crowd. Organizations like Creative Commons provide a licensing framework around the free release of creative works like art, writing, and music. It’s not hard to come up with ideas on how to contribute, and each effort chips away at the problem.
I don’t pretend to believe that free access to information will solve the worlds problems. It won’t. But put the right information in the right hands at the right time, and it can change lives. It’s certainly changed mine.