The Rise of The Self-Made Expert

We live in an incredible time right now. In the past, in order to be an expert, you had to go to school for X amount of years, or you had to have X amount of years experience, or access to X resources. However, with the rise of the internet, we are all free to become experts in whatever we wish. We have tools readily available to us that we can utilize to show off our expertise, and connect to expert communities around the world. If we truly are living in a time where anyone can be an expert, what does this mean for education?

I think the first question we have to ask is how does someone become an expert? As we’ve seen over the last week, we all have areas of expertise that fall outside of our professional careers. How did we get this way? A lot, it seems, has to do simply with interest. We were interested in something, and decided to pursue it. We learned more, took classes, had new experiences, practiced, created, failed, created some more; all because we enjoyed the process. Becoming an expert takes time (10,000 hours seems to be the number that people like), and if you are going to pursue something for 10,000 hours, you have to enjoy the process.

This is where I think our current education system fall short. How often do students get a say in what they are learning? How often do we make it a point to ensure students are enjoying themselves, and are genuinely interested in what we are doing in our classrooms? If we are going set our students down the path to expertise, then we have to start asking them what they want to be experts at.

It seems like a huge challenge, letting students pursue individual interests. However, I wonder how difficult it would actually be? As we’ve seen from our videos this past week, experts need to develop a deep and versatile knowledge. I would argue that this could only be done in authentic contexts; where knowledge can be chunked and conditionalized for future use. It seems unlikely to me that there is any area of expertise that exists outside of the realm of our core curriculum. In almost every area of expertise at some level, I believe you could bring in math, science, social studies, and language arts. If they are motivated to pursue expertise, students will seek out authentic contexts in which to learn. If they truly want to be an expert, they are essentially forced to participate in the community, and thus utilize areas of the core curriculum to develop their expertise.

The rules of the world are changing. Expertise is no longer an exclusive club, reserved only for those with the right access to a specific community or education. With the internet, we all have access to whatever area of expertise we wish to pursue, and it is the self-made experts that rise from this new system that will be the leaders and innovators of the future. My question is, how can we turn our education system into a producer of these experts? One thing I know for sure, we won’t get there from doing the same old thing.

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