A good headline attracts attention. And I do have some, lame, excuse, since my headliners were both in the top 10 mentions on Facebook. As a commentator on these matters I am only deficient in two small details: I am not on Facebook and, ahem, I did have to look up Ms Cyrus. But in other respects I come by the subject matter honestly. Both parties here had their 2013 fame boosted by a “new publishing” combo of Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Neither was reliant on “old publishing” in the form of TV, radio or even newspapers or books, and indeed old media spent the year covering what these individuals did in new media terms. And while old media compete for the attention scraps (and I am sure Mike Schatzkin is right when he says that once TV becomes a world of self-scheduled downloads it competes more effectively with the time slots currently held by reading) our thoughts should turn naturally to the complete disintermediation of access in the network.

Which mine did when I saw Cambridge Assessment announce a conference on “The School in the Cloud” for next February (http://www.cambridgeassessment.org.uk/insights/schools-in-the-cloud/). In some ways we have already removed “teaching”: what school, teacher or publisher would not subscribe to the idea of the “learner-centric” world today? And quite right too. Yet we have scarcely begun to cope with the real social ramifications of everyone learning at their point of learning readiness. Teachers have not been repositioned as mentors and moderators, the mobile/multi-site nature of education using technology is not yet clear, we still expect everyone to reach the same levels of achievement at the same time, and we blame the teachers when results fail expectations. Arguably, we should put the resources online, create the programming that links resources into learning journeys, watch the outcomes and abandon formal assessment. But the world that moves lightning fast in some places grinds very slow in others. This week I at last saw an advertisement for a course which cheerfully announced its BYOD status (Bring Your Own Device). And while I was delighted the same day to see the announcement that McGraw Hill Education would produce all their content to IMS Interoperability standards, allowing users the ability to use it with true digital flexibility, I still wonder why we did not do this years ago: recalling a discussion at an ELIG meeting in Sestre Levante in the early years of this century when we all agreed on the necessity – but did nothing.

And in all these discussions we keep ignoring the powerful things that happen when someone educates themselves. Yesterday the death of Colin Wilson was announced, whose books “The Outsider” and “Religion and the Rebel” lit up my teenage years and sent me to university as an existentialist. My first visit to Paris was dominated by the need to haunt the Boul’ Mich for a sight of Sartre, Camus or de Beauvoir. Wilson was an entire autodidact, son of a shoe industry worker who left school at 14. There is something wonderful about knowledge gathered the way he gained his, and small wonder he expounded it with such enthusiasm, given that he had quarried it himself. And how sad it is that, now that both of my younger children are at university themselves, I can confess to my entire dissatisfaction with the way they were educated at both public and private schools. What do you recommend in terms of reading around the subject at A level? I asked the head of Classics. Not on my course he replied. All the pupil needs to know is the mark scheme. This is about Results. Reading around the subject? he repeated. Takes far too much time and any additional knowledge gained only confuses them. Well, Mr Gradgrind is now over 150 years old. Dickens’ brilliant creation should be left where he belongs and removed from current teaching/anti-learning practice. Do we want education as workflow (which, paradoxically, is what assessment has given us) – or as Discovery?

So the disintermediation of the teacher may bring some unexpected rewards. Along with the same process in most other professions. The shattering of the legal profession in the last downturn is typical. As we turn the Cloud into everyone’s back office, so we grow in realization that most back offices are all similar And once you get into workflow, you are moving away from reference and research – and reading around the subject. Legal services which began as support activities like PLC, acquired this year by Thomson Reuters, end up as a wholly new way of out-sourcing areas like corporate law. With operations like Axiom Law (http://www.axiomlaw.co.uk/) growing rapidly – and globally from the start – this type of disintermediation may be quicker. And, incidentally, they will need the same skill sets as current publishing/legal services. It is no accident that Axiom have appointed, it is said, a leading Lexis executive to run one of their regional businesses.

Current publishers will react in two ways. One will be to develop the software which enables learners to learn by creating journeys and relearning experiences, and link relevant content, their own and other people’s, to it. And the other will be to ensure that base level primary content is available in the system at all points. In this regard the science publisher’s who worked with CERN on SCOAP3, the largest physics archive ever assembled, which goes live on 1 January 2014, are to be congratulated. And so, incidentally, is Pope Francis, who beat Miley Cyrus by seven places to head up the Facebook league table (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/online/pope-francis-miley-cyrus-and-a-royal-baby-what-facebook-talked-about-in-2013-8994023.html). Now that’s a rare victory for the archaic tongue – pity I never managed to teach myself Latin successfully!

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