Amazon Has a Chance to Do Something So Much More Than to Become Its Own University

Candace Thille, a leader in open education, is taking leave from Stanford University to work on an undisclosed project at Amazon. The blogosphere and higher education new outlets are ripe with speculations about what this means. This source suggests that it is primarily an inward facing role, focusing upon the education/training of Amazon’s employees around the world. That works, but if I were an executive at Amazon and hired someone with Thille’s knowledge and research agenda, I wouldn’t stop there. I might start there, but that would just be the beginning, and I sort of hope that this is Amazon’s plan as well.

When I heard the news and didn’t hear the part about it being inward focused, I was not surprised.

On December 22, 2016, I wrote this article, “A Likely Storefront Future for Continuing Education.” In the article I started to explain how the signs of the times indicate an emerging marketplace or platform for the education space. It would be the Uber/AirBnB/Facebook/Amazon of education opportunities and resources. Eight days later, in answer to questions and comments from readers, I published How Preferred and Trusted Platforms will Reshape Education. In it, I explained how some companies manage to establish themselves online as trusted and preferred platforms for finding what people want in one or more areas, and Amazon is a prime example.

Then, more recently, in a January 11 interview published at UncompromisingEDU, I explained how a company like Amazon was one of the best positioned platforms to help address important issues in education, even helping learners connect with colleges and learning experiences that best meet their needs. They already have an extensive community. They have a platform that could easily be expanded, adjusted, or augmented to connect learners and learning opportunities, and it would be a natural extension of what they already do in many ways.

So, maybe this is just a move to increase the competence and confidence of Amazon’s own 500,000+ employees, but it is fascinating for me to imagine the possibilities if Thille’s role was not just inward facing, it it were one that allowed Amazon to join the larger education ecosystem.

I don’t have any insider information about what Thille’s project entails, but as ,my past writing indicates, leveraging its role as a trusted platform to connect learners with what they need is a wise and obvious move. Perhaps they have something entirely different in mind, but I am excited to see where this goes. I’m working on a couple of projects to accelerate the development of new education matchmaking platforms (think of match.com for learners and learning experiences), but Amazon’s entry into this space could be a powerful thrust in that direction.

My only hope is that Amazon steps into the learning space responsibly. When you get involved in education (even if it is just internal training), I contend that you are held to a new standard, what I call the educational entrepreneur’s code. This is a chance to approach this as an opportunity to do something good for people, to join in the mission to create a better, more hopeful, humane, and empowering educational ecosystem.

How would Amazon do this?

  • Doing so means algorithmic transparency in the platform.
  • It means honoring individuals and not just maximizing employer outcomes.
  • It means inviting and building a system that amplifies learner voice, ownership, and agency.
  • It means helping people to find what best meets their needs and goals (and honoring the learner’s viewpoint on this).
  • It means recognizing that education is always values-laden, and never really just about producing learning outcomes with the greatest efficiency.
  • It means recognizing and contributing to what I consider one of the greatest strengths of the current ecosystem, namely its growing diversity of formats, models, frameworks, methods, and underlying philosophies.
  • It means resisting the temptation to let reductionist measures of success sidetrack from a deeply human and humane mission and set of values that are at the heart of the educational endeavor.

If Amazon embraces such a challenge, then I will welcome its joining us in the modern education ecosystem. I will probably even be a champion for the work, but one who is also not afraid to critically examine the affordances and limitations of the efforts.

You Matter: A Community Garden Vision of Education

You matter. You matter in education. Notice that I did not state that teachers matter, students matter, parents matter, school leaders matter, or policymakers matter. I stated that you matter, regardless of your role. Only, it is imperative that all of us recognize the important fact that each person has a role in education. As with government and healthcare, education is too important to be left to a select group of people who make all the decisions. This is not some neutral endeavor. As I’ve written many times before, education is deeply values-laden; it transmits, muzzles, and amplifies core beliefs and values. As such, if you think that your beliefs and values are important, then your voice matters in education. If you choose not to speak, then that is a decision to let the beliefs and values of others dominate your education, the education of your family members, and the education of others in your community and beyond.

We are nearing an important crossroads in education. There is the persistent battle of ideas between whether education is primarily and art or a science. The advocates of making it exclusively or primarily a science are, whether they realize it or not, advocating for us to place education decisions into the hands of a new, scientific priesthood. To question these priests is to question science, and that is not to be tolerated. On the other hand, to give into the advocates who would make it entirely or primarily an art, may unknowingly be driving us away from incredibly powerful educational breakthroughs that can produce incredible results.

Education is neither art nor science. It is a field that encompasses both, not to mention ideas and practices that do not necessarily fit neatly into the category of art or science. The word “field” might be a useful metaphor. We talk about fields of study. What do we mean by this? The word “field” derives from the Old English “feld”, or cultivated land (in contrast to woodlands). There is a thoughtful, even systematic cultivation of select crops in a field, compared to the randomness of the woodlands. What you plant, how you grow it, and how you cultivate it depends upon the context. There are affordances and limitations to those decisions, informed by sometimes competing and conflicting values. This is why I’ve long argued for the value of a diverse education ecosystem. Or, if it helps, picture a massive community-based garden, with different people and individuals planting and cultivating alongside one another. Some opt for a beautiful selection of flowers. Others go for a wide array of vegetables. Some choose raised beds while others stick with old-school rows. There will we some shared rules for those who play and plant in this field, but there is room for variety.

I love driving by these community-based gardens, seeing the creativity and values of different groups expressed in what they grow. People help one another. Others stay pretty much to themselves. Individually, they have their chance at growing something meaningful to them. Collectively, they are contributing to a wonderfully diverse ecosystem.

That is my dream for modern education, and this vision benefits from each person, you included, seeing your role in one or more of those gardens.

Some will argue that it is more efficient to plow over these diverse gardens. For the sake of efficiency, let a centralized and authorized group of farmers (government, corporate, etc.) take over the entire field, replacing these distinct plots with a single plan for everyone. Others argue for ignoring any need for the managers of each plot to play within any shared set of rules. Both extremes steal something from what is truly special about a community garden. Yet, for this vision and value in education, it depends upon you being a champion for it, resisting the voice of the extremes, and recognizing the importance that you and everyone else can bring to it.

5 Critical Statistics About Infographics

If you love to read and learn from infographics, then this is one that you don’t want to miss. It includes five critical statistics about infographics in the digital age, offering an important lesson about information and digital literacy in the contemporary world.

15 Terms That Can Deepen Your Understanding of Literacy & Communication in an Image-Rich World

Online discourse is increasingly expressed through visuals. More than that, much of today’s ideas and concepts are communicated and shared through visuals. Yet, this remains an area that garners limited attention in schools. We use visuals, to be sure, but exploring the nature of communication and life in an image-rich world remains something that is underdeveloped in most learning organizations.

Tweets are increasingly accompanied with images. Pinterest and Instagram are increasingly “go to” sources of browsing for “information.” The presence of a featured image on an online article can make the difference between a couple dozen readers and it going viral. Political and ideological banter online is often an visual sword fight. Visual memes sometimes have far more influence than carefully considered and discussed ideas. As such, some contend that are living in a digitized version of the pre-modern world. Others prefer to describe it as sometimes entirely new.

This is not new to scholars and media experts. If you take time to explore the scholarly literature, you will discover valuable insights about this reality going back decades, and all of this has important implications for how we educate and equip people for life, learning, and literacy in a connected and image-rich age.

You can find many popular articles and “tips for teachers” about the role of visuals today, but many of them fail to represent the fascinating, deep, challenging, and incredibly useful insights that exist in the more scholarly literature. With a little curiosity and time, exploring some of the key phrases and discourses on this topic can offer both students and educators access to a treasure room of cognitive and communication tools for our modern age.

To test your knowledge (and hopefully to piqué your interest), consider the following 15 phrases, each of which represent an increasingly deep collection of research findings, theories, debates, ways of thinking about our image-rich world, and insights that can help inform how we equip people for discourse and communication in the digital age. Review the list below. How many of these terms can you define? What have you read and learned about each? If one of captures your interest, consider taking a few moments to explore and share what you discover with a friend or colleague. Let’s join in collectively deepening our understanding of what it means to be literate in a connected age and how to better equip ourselves and others for such a world.

  1. visual literacy
  2. media literacy
  3. digital literacy
  4. multimodal literacy
  5. new media
  6. new literacies
  7. new literacy studies (yes, a different discourse from new literacies in the literature)
  8. transmedia storytelling, migration, and navigation (and check out the concept of convergence culture while you are at it)
  9. media ecology
  10. multiliteracies
  11. visual semiotics
  12. visual rhetoric
  13. visual anthropology
  14. visual sociology
  15. media psychology