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The following text is adapted from a text in French that was written as part of preparation for the SATW workshop to be held in Münchenwiler about a proposed event during the World Summit of the Information Society at the end of 2003. My thanks to Raymond Morel for having invited me.

Two tracks for a learning society

Two of the most central activities in a knowledge society driven by massive uptake of ICTs are accelerating the creation of knowledge and promoting wide-scale sharing of that knowledge. Drawing a parallel between industrial growth and the growth of knowledge, it is amusing to imagine that one day intellectuals might club together to make an urgent case for zero growth of knowledge. Our institutional models of learning are based on the transmission of formal knowledge in a given place at a given time by an appointed person. They aren’t very well adapted to a society that puts such pressure on the creation and sharing of knowledge and in which knowledge grows and evolves in such a rapid pace in such a complex, almost organic way outside institutional logic. Our models of attributing value are not very appropriate either. They are based on creating an artificial scarcity of knowledge (copyright laws, for example) and individual monetary retribution, whereas the mechanisms of a knowledge society are based on abundance and widespread circulation of knowledge through sharing and collaboration.

I put forward two possible tracks to follow with a view of turning the so-called “knowledge society” into a learning society (i.e. one in which the creation of knowledge by all is the driving force of society) in the interests of all:

  1. Strategies for sharing knowledge in the local community;
  2. The elaboration of models, tools and common practice to help get one’s bearings in the process of creating knowledge.

I would also have like to draw in a joyous, playful approach to learning based on gift, freedom, caring and passion that makes no distinction between work and leisure or between living and learning. I’m referring to adopting and adapting a “hacker” approach to knowledge. Unfortunately I don’t have the time to develop that idea here. See “Open sourcing ideas. A hacker approach to working, learning and writing” for more information.

Local strategies for sharing experience

In a world in which networks and communication are omnipresent and where globalisation has irreverently swept over physical and cultural boundaries, having a strong local community is essential for a healthy, sustainable society. Great riches lie dormant in the local community, especially seen from the perspective of a knowledge society: the experience of each and every member of the community. This individual and collective experience is the backdrop against which today’s activities make sense. This experience, once shared, also brings value and strength to the local community and actively contributes to social integration and the coherence of society. There are privileged places in which experience is exchanged, but they are rarely aware of the potential value of that exchange. How can we bring people to consciously sort out their experience and formulate it so as to share it with others? See “Working voluntarily for an inclusive society”. An interesting strategy for recognising and sharing experience in the local community consists of using caring listening and writing coupled with interactive Web publishing. See “Knowledge and the local community”. It’s not a question of storing that entire experience thanks to the computer, but rather of giving credit to that experience and enabling individuals to know that it exists and have access to it.

The concept of lifelong learning seems promising. It goes beyond the framework of current educational institutions but unfortunately is still often tied to an institutional logic that is hardly appropriate. We need to encourage civil society structures such as associations, clubs, discussion groups, political parties, trade unions, churches,… to grant greater attention to developing and sharing knowledge without disempowering them. The integration of such activities in civil society requires public debate born of a political will to change. This needs to go hand in hand with an increased awareness of these issues on the part of the general public.

Models, tools and common practice to assist the creation of knowledge

Life is not like a school textbook. There is no notice at the beginning of an activity to tell you what you have to learn to accomplish it. No teacher stands at the corner of each road to point you in the right direction. Nor is there anyone to congratulate you with a good mark when you make it successfully to the end. In the complex, fast-changing situations of modern life, individuals need to be able to identify the knowledge and know-how they lack in a given activity and to develop strategies to acquire that knowledge.


Talk of an “Information Society” or a “Knowledge Society” has only existed since ICTs have become widely used. All the same, we need to set ICT use in perspective. ICTs are above all tools for sharing and (to a lesser degree up till know) building knowledge. In their role as tools of knowledge, ICTs participate in three major activities:

  1. Managing and publishing knowledge in the form of interactive resources (in the near future, such knowledge activities will become industrialised thanks to platforms handling modular “learning objects” that can be created, shared, used, recombined and reused);
  2. Exchange and collaboration (both at a distance and increasingly as an aid to face-to-face work);
  3. Assisting the understanding and management of individual and collective learning processes.

This last point requires particular attention because it is the least developed of the three but also, more importantly, because it is the most promising in the long term. How can we provide simple, practical modelling of knowledge building processes and relate them to the current stage of the activity they pertain to? How can we help individuals and groups develop strategies to acquire necessary knowledge and indicate, from whom or where the knowledge can be acquired or learnt.

As a starting point, imagine using a simplified project handling software such as “Inspiration” that uses modelling based on “mind-maps”. For more about tools to help developing ideas, see “iIDEAS 2.0 – for those who really want to think differently . Then we’d need to add a second level in which necessary knowledge is identified for the tasks that need to be accomplished. This could be linked to a database of “objects” linking task and knowledge. We’d need to be able to save such models so as to be able to compare them and have the software propose sequences of “objects” linking tasks and knowledge according to the circumstances. Such an interface would need to be tied into a database of people making their knowledge and experience available.

Knowledge develops and spreads naturally without such mediation. ICTs are used to accelerate the process. The urgency springs from the threat embedded in the idea that human evolution is based on competition and that those who can’t keep up with the ever-accelerating race are condemned. Witness the demise of the dinosaurs. Allow me to express my doubts here. What is the value and the meaning of knowledge so developed? Is it possible we are on the wrong track? Could not the frenetic generation of knowledge be a (possibly fatal) distraction from the real quest for knowledge that has always existed and which resides within each of us…?

Alan McCluskey, Saint-Blaise

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Created: 21st October, 2002 - Last up-dated: 21st October, 2002