ULearn keynote: Mark Pesce

The Sharing Nexus: Connecting, Learning and the 21st Century Educational Environment

Mark Pesce’s opening line was “at this moment, education is at its biggest crisis that it’s been in for centuries!” Now there’s a comment bound to polarize people – and it seemed to work. Not that that’s a bad thing, because whatever side of the debate you might find yourself, it helps to sharpen the receptors for what’s coming next!

Mark went on to explain that this crisis presents the greatest challenge and the greatest opportunity in education.

So what is the crisis he was referring to? It’s the challenge of connectedness – the fact that everything is now challenged because all of us are now connected all of the time – to all forms of information and recorded knowledge, to each other and to events.

It’s a crises arising from the patterns of an old education system where knowledge is regarded as rare and valuable being confronted by a new system characterized by connectivity and sharing, involving knowledge sharing, and shared knowledge construction, with no tops or bottoms, no respect for “falsity”

Mark cited the example of Wikipedia which has matured into a definitive, online factual resource. “We didn’t know what was coming with Wikipedia until we got it – couldn’t see that this heralded a new form of knowledge creation and sharing until it happened” he says.

In this connected world we absorb the learning of others. Where imitation was previously bounded by proximity, it now has global scale. We’re learning from everyone all of the time – this is natural behavior, in our genes, but is now being amplified beyond the scale that any formal system can contain.

The challenge then is how does the classroom cope with that? How does the educator face this challenge?

And this haring isn’t going to be restricted to the rich, Western countries with high infrastructure and GDP etc. – it will be available to everyone. Where once the cost of the technology created a so-called ‘digital divide’ separating those with from those without, now these digital necessities are coming within reach of everyone everywhere, as illustrated in the case of India providing the $29 Aakash tablet to all students. It is powerful enough to provide a rich, online learning experience to everyone

So what will be left for teachers to do – if students are going to have such unfettered access to the vast knowledge store of the world? Pesce argues that educators are going to be left with the ‘hard problems’ – the problems that can’t be solved through peer mentoring. Professional educators will step in to bridge the gap where existing knowledge sharing and peer mentoring fail.

Every day will present unique problems to solve – not following a pre-set curriculum. 21st century educators are successful to the degree that they are innovative, collaborative. Everyday brings a unique challenge

There will be a tremendous cultural and institutional pressure to connect children before they’re ready or prepared for this. Connectivity doesn’t immediately imply wisdom.

Pesce argues that if we resist the tide of change we will be swept away by it. So we need to assess what needs to change if we’re to enter the era of hyper connected education.

Situated within a networked community, connected learners can begin sharing across timezones, languages, cultures, – a classroom on a global scale. In such an environment, how can anything be centralized?

Scaffolding for this must begin in the first years of formal education. Without these skills meaningful participation in a culture of shared knowledge building is impossible.

This raises the issue of assessment – most often performed today by separating students from the resources they need to complete the assessment. In a pervasive sharing culture, assessment is intrinsic to the act of sharing – you cannot share unless you have some level of expertise. Every moment of peer mentoring will be a moment of assessment.

Mark expertly made the case for a radically different approach to assessment in our schools – moving the focus entirely from a measurement made at the end of a period of study, to something that occurs throughout the learning process. He argues that this fits perfectly within the culture of a competency-based curriculum. Students learn to assess and be assessed by their peers to power their way through a curriculum.

Mark’s keynote had me following every word – it was one of the most well articulated explanations of and case made for connectedness that I’ve heard, and supports the premise that I’ve argued for some time now that this is one of the three ‘game-changers’ for 21st century learning as illustrated in the diagram below.


It was my pleasure to interview Mark immediately after his keynote for a video that will soon appear on EdTalks. Meantime, there’s a shared Google doc containing the thoughts and comments of delegates who heard him speak. 

One thought on “ULearn keynote: Mark Pesce

  1. Yes, I totally agree we are now more than ever living a global world and that means education is at the finger tips for more people than ever before and growing. Assessment for the student has to be balanced with activities that the students are undertaking and the amount of assessment work they are doing. In essence there are types of tasks learner can do:

    Assimilative-reading, listening, viewing
    Information handling-manipulating data


    Learning outcomes may be viewed in terms of mapping, as well as assessments and content, activities. Learning Outcomes should be mapped to the assessment in the lesson.

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