Does watching TED talks make it easier to become… average?

We had a great guest blog yesterday about the benefits of continuous learning, with a few lifehacks thrown in for good measure. But all this new learning, all this knowledge that is just a mouseclick away – on YouTube, TED, Udacity, Khan Academy – is it somehow too easy?

That’s more or less the point that Hunter Walk makes on his blog. The insight struck him, he says, when he saw a tweet saying the “time to expert” is getting much shorter.

It’s never been easier to learn a new skill. Never been easier to find and follow someone else’s ‘best practices.’ To mimic the well-worn path of someone who came before you.

And that’s the potential trap – breakthroughs come not just from following instructions to minimize the time spent learning, but sometimes from the struggle, from pushing not down the riverbed where water has already flowed, but carving into hard earth.

Is it possible that it’s never been easier to be, well, average?

If everyone is learning the same information and studying the same approach, yes the floor rises – we’re all more educated – but what about the ceiling? Who will push outside of the boundaries? Who will remember that in addition to acquiring a skill, education is about learning how to learn. Does expedient, always-available instruction make it too easy?

The best counterargument I can construct is that most adult learning is purpose-driven. You are learning a skill as a component of trying to accomplish a task. Get a better job, build that mobile app, fix the screen door. Skills learned as a necessary stepping stone, not an end goal.

Perhaps the gamification of education actually creates false incentives, making badge acquisition the goal instead of solving a real problem?

There’s already a few TED haters out there (‘Disney for adults’, ‘pseudo-intellectual fluff’, etcetera). See this Quora thread:

“TED makes you think you’ve learned a lot in 18 minutes, when you really haven’t. It’s offers the illusion of an easier alternative to good old-fashioned hard work when it comes to learning or knowing something. And that’s why it’s dangerous.”

“There’s nothing special about these talks — in fact, they’re surprisingly devoid of substance. Even if the presenter talks in rapid spurts, there really isn’t a lot of information that can be covered in such a short amount of time.”

 If you want to learn about some topic, the TED talk is basically the Reader’s Digest version, while boring old universities (quick, someone needs to “disrupt” them) provide a full course on a topic. And those courses cover the boring but important bits, the meat and veg of the topic, as well as just the sexy bits you can show in a TED talk.”

(I’m sure you get the idea). Let us know in the comments: what TED talks are mind blowing?  How do you learn new things?

via Elapsed Time: Welcome to 2013, Where It’s Never Been Easier to be Average.

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About the author

Raf Weverbergh

Editor of whiteboard. Raf Weverbergh was a magazine journalist whose work appeared in magazines like Rolling Stone, Playboy, Mail on Sunday, Publico and South China Morning Post. He is the co-founder of FINN, a corporate communications agency where he advises startups and multinationals on their PR and Mustr, the easiest media database for PR professionals. You can contact him on Twitter, Linkedin or Skype (rafweverbergh).

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