Democratizing learning, knowledge and economy
Three decades after a successful pro-democracy movement, Korea is witnessing new types of democratization — this time not of the government, but of learning, knowledge, journalism, organizations and the economy.
The democratization of learning is progressing rapidly, jeopardizing the once-thriving private learning institutions in posh southern Seoul. The proliferation of mobile devices such as mobile phones, tablets and e-readers as learning tools is revolutionizing how we learn; these days, e-learning, e-libraries, e-coaching, reverse mentoring (where younger staff teach senior executives about the latest in technology, social media and other workplace trends), on-demand mentoring, mobile learning, mass mentoring and micro-feedback have become common avenues for learning.
Under this new democratized learning (i.e., Learning 3.0), social-media are valuable tools that enable students to get real-time advice, practice through online simulations, and gather information using application software, or as is more commonly known, “apps.”
This social media-driven learning marginalizes the previous computer-based learning (i.e., Learning 2.0) and the traditional classroom learning (i.e., Learning 1.0), according to Jeanne C. Meister and Karie Willyerd, authors of The 2020 Work Place: How Innovative Companies Attract, Develop, and Keep Tomorrow’s Employees Today.
A consequence of the democratization of learning is the democratization of knowledge. In Korea, collaborative web-based encyclopedias such as Wikipedia, and search portals such as Naver, Google and Daum, play a crucial role in democratizing knowledge. For example, Wikipedia attracts several million users worldwide by publishing free content in multiple languages.
In this era of democratized knowledge, learning is no longer limited to the privileged but rather is open to everyone interested in personal enrichment. Through social media networks and applications, people from all walks of life can participate in life-long learning classes and programs.
Those who are not only technology savvy but also proficient in several languages have an added advantage, as they have access to a wider array of information resources.
Social media are also gradually democratizing journalism. Readers are no longer passive recipients of information but rather also creators of information. Using social media networks and devices, they now create and distribute information in the form of photos, videos, blog posts and vlog (video blog) posts. In this sense, journalism has become a two-way conversation in an increasingly interactive and global community.
This “bottom-up” journalism sharply contrasts the traditional “top-down” journalism; it is interactive, transparent, open-minded and collaborative. This new type of journalism originates from the concept of the wisdom of the crowd, which advocates that a group can more efficiently and effectively create and distribute information than any one individual. In this regard, journalism becomes “networked journalism” and is no longer monopolized by traditional media.
According to Mark Briggs, author of JournalismNext: A Practical Guide to Digital Reporting and Publishing, this is the time for pro-am journalism (also participatory journalism), which is the most unfiltered form of collaborative journalism that allows the audience to publish news directly on the same online platform or website as news writers and reporters. In such platforms, newspaper editors are no longer gatekeepers but rather are curators of news coming from both news reporters and citizens.
This participatory journalism, however, also poses some problems. The unfiltered flow of information and opinion can sensationalize events and spread untruthful, inappropriate and offensive information that may hurt individuals and groups alike. To address this issue, collaborative information resources such as Wikipedia alert their readers to verify the information posted on their pages.
Recent years have also seen the democratization of organizations. In this fast-changing global society, many organizations have dismantled hierarchies in favor of horizontal, more democratic structures for efficiency.
As a result of the hyper-connectivity brought about by flatter structures, working styles have also changed — workers now perform job-related tasks well into the night, on weekends and sometimes during their vacation (hence the term “weisure” or the blurring of work and leisure time). While this may be beneficial to employers owing to the increased productivity of their employees, this may be detrimental for the workers themselves as the increased responsibility encroaches upon their much-needed personal and family time.
The democratization of energy is a concept that is still relatively unfamiliar to Koreans but is taking hold of other parts of the world. It involves placing the control and distribution of renewable energy sources in the hands of the people rather than in the hands of multinational corporations or government agencies. This trend is expected to change political systems, standards of living, and environmental protection.
In an interview with the Huffington Post, Jeremy Rifkin, an American economist and president of the Foundation on Economic Trends, said that the widespread unemployment, rising food prices, collapsed housing market and increasing debt that currently plague the United States are not simply symptoms of a temporary economic malaise but rather are signs of the impending collapse of the current world order, which has long been dependent on and defined by fossil fuels.
Ahead of the presidential election on Dec. 19, contenders of the ruling and the opposition parties are campaigning for a “democratization of the economy.” According to proponents, such a democratization is necessary to address the increasing social polarization — namely the widening gap between the rich and the poor, the employed and the unemployed, Seoul residents and rural residents, and large and small companies.
Although this political slogan looks attractive, Jeong Kap-young, a noted economist and president of Yonsei University, warned that politicizing the economy will derail rather than improve it.
Until recently, people have thought of the concept of democracy as referring to freedom of speech, expression and demonstration, freedom to choose one’s government, and equality under the law. Today, however, the concept of democracy has spread beyond the realm of politics.
Before advocating the democratization of the economy, the presidential aspirants need to define the concept clearly. They need to understand whether a democratized economy is universally acceptable and in line with the tenets of capitalism. They must persuade the people whether it would improve the quality of life and strengthen corporate vitality.
Democratization in the areas of learning, knowledge and journalism is occurring voluntarily and organically following a bottom-up process. The democratization of the economy, however, is another issue — politicians and their parties will have to combat with CEOs in order to implement their agenda.
Lee Chang-sup is the executive managing director of The Korea Times. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org