Education Versus Information

June 11, 2013

The main theme that animates our practice here at Learn Capital is the focus on things that are distinctly educational. In doing this, we try to think about education from a vantage point that’s flexible and reflective of the rapid change now occurring in the sector. This naturally begs the question of how we conceptualize what fits our mandate.

A good distinction that I’ve been using lately is to contrast education from information. Interestingly, what distinguishes these two categories isn’t what’s inherent to the service or experience but rather what’s central to the user’s goals when engaging. Intent, not content, is the key criteria.

This invokes a related distinction–that of the two Ps. This rubric refers to knowledge that is performable or portable. When someone comes to an experience with an educational intent, they are seeking to acquire knowledge that is ultimately a) performable, such as a skill like doing linear algebra or programming in python; or b) portable, referring to a body of knowledge or semantic domain–e.g., Spengler’s theory on the decline of the Roman Empire.

On the other hand, when someone has an informational intent they are typically less interested in performability or portability. Informational intent involves questions like “what was the last year the Jets won the Super Bowl?”, “What is Apple’s stock price”, or “How do I file my taxes electronically.” It can even encompass questions like “what does Malcolm Gladwell mean by the Tipping Point?” where the person’s intent is less about being able to recount Gladwell’s logic at a dinner party, unaided, and more about satisfying their intellectual curiosity so they could refer or recommend the book.

Cognitive science has long articulated a variety of powerful models for understanding the systems that subsume human learning. For our work we like to use high level schematics that help explain macro features of user behavior, especially those which are predictive of important variables in our world such as engagement patterns on a mobile app or user perception of a service’s value.

Informational intent is well served by today’s Internet. As today’s Internet increasingly becomes ubiquitous thanks to mobility, informational access enables large swaths of everyday experience to possess augmentation to information necessary to successfully navigate a wide variety of situations.

Educational intent, however, is about ownership of knowledge and skills. It’s about unaided recall. To be Gibsonesque, it’s about “a neural write” process on the fabric of the brain rather than a “write” command (or read command) on a cloud-based server.

Building services that can fulfill educational intent, then, is the natural focus of the learning startup. It’s also how we define the core area for our work at Learn Capital.