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Creating an Open Future©

In recent years we've learnt much from the Open Source Software network.  The term "open source" means that there are no secrets, the source is made available to everyone.  Now most people not being programmers don't know how to read the source and how to manipulate and change it, that's a skill you have to learn.  You are free to do that if you choose.  When you access open source software you have the option to participate in the open source community, a community of practice. 

The world is in a rapid process of change.  The University of California predicts that 14 million service jobs in the USA are in danger of being out-sourced to countries overseas.  Commenting on the inevitable trend towards free trade industrial consultant Tom Peters said that "the entry of 2.5 billion people in China and India into the global market ... will create exceptional challenges and amazing opportunities."  There is no doubt in his mind that job churn is necessary, and that new jobs will arise from creativity and innovation.  "The opportunity exists to take the personal responsibility for your own self reliance.  We must re-imagine ourselves - take the initiative to create useful global skills.  We should not imagine that a large employer, or a powerful nation can protect us from current and future labour market upheavals." Peters said. 

If we are to have an Open Future© rather than an enforced and undesirable future, we need to have the best skill set we can achieve, and we need to be as adaptable as we can reasonably be.  That's our future challenge. 

I can easily think of three examples where practical success points the way forward for us all.  Toastmasters, open source software and new open learning systems. 

Toastmasters: Toastmasters is the largest organisation in the world teaching the art of public speaking.  There are clubs in some 80 countries.  Each club is a community of practice.  All Toastmasters training materials are available for minimal cost to all members.  Each club offers friendship, mentors and practical examples of poor, good and excellent public speaking.  At the same time each club is an open learning environment, each member choosing to speak on topics of personal interest.  In clubs of 20 and 30 members the diversity of interest and the level of expertise in various fields that people bring to the club is surprising. 

Open Source Software: The open source software community supply computer programmes that are free or very close to free.  In addition to getting the compiled programme you also get the full source code.  Nothing is secret, the most junior member of the community can access all the resources everyone uses, often for no charge at all.  You enter this community of practice with the opportunity not only to use the software, but also the invitation to help fellow members to understand and to improve the code, and to adapt it for specialised purposes. 

Open Learning: The cost of printing specialised documents, scientific papers and research studies is now seen as excessive when for a fraction of that cost the documents can be published on the internet.  Increasingly documents will be published on the internet first, and may never be printed except in sections at the point of use.  University courses are being published online and made freely accessible.  In future whatever your interest or specialty you will find online the best available documents.  Access will normally be free.  However this does not create a learning system.  To learn effectively we need to engage with other people, to join a community of practice.  Such communities may be found in universities, but they need not be confined to such places. 

There is concern in some places that such openness will threaten standards and professional careers.  I think not.  Experts in any field learn to recognise patterns of behaviour of data structures and to read sense into them.  Documents about public speaking, software design or nuclear physics can never contain in themselves the expertise, they can only talk about it.  Each expert has his or her own thought engine which has the unique ability to shine fresh light on each new situation.  That is our challenge too, to develop our own thought engines, to develop our ability to recognise patterns and opportunities and to bring creative energy to the situations in which we find ourselves.  

You learn that sort of expertise by what you do - reading a text, listening to a lecture is a very low level of doing - the degree of learning involved is small.  To learn we need to engage with the ideas and with other people in a meaningful situation. 

So essentially having an open future© is about having choices and preserving choices.  It's about making decisions for yourself, sometimes deciding to do for yourself, and sometimes deciding to work within a community of practice, and sometimes using another persons expertise. 

This site takes the view that learning is an intrinsic and constructive activity of the people who are learning and is not primarily driven by propaganda or teaching or law.  People as adults, construct their own knowledge and over time become responsible for both what they know and for what they have failed to understand.  Young children and teenagers absorb their environment almost like osmosis, they become part of it by learning and adapting.  As adults, people are less able to do that.  The assembly of the things we already "know" provides a selector for the things we find interesting, for the things we choose to learn and a barrier or filter to appreciating or understanding some other things.

Creating an open future© is about choosing what to do and what to learn, and having the wisdom to choose well. 


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