Crowdsourced/Opensourced Education

“Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it on to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common.”

–Albert Einstein, given as part of a talk to a group of children.[1]


Background on Crowdsourcing:

Keith Sawyer, who wrote Group Genius, said, “All inventions emerge from a long sequence of small sparks…Collaboration brings small sparks together to generate breakthrough innovation.”[2]

This is true of every discovery that depended on a previous discovery, resulting in a novel innovation. But whereas historically, this process has traditionally been rather linear, with the advent of interconnected globalization—a world in which over two billion people have access to the Internet,[3] and therefore, to each other—this process of sparks setting off other sparks has grown from a line to an infinite web.

This has obviously had numerous implications for all human interactions—from interstate to interpersonal relations—but it has gone beyond mere communication. The globalization of communication has developed into a globalization of information, where by having access to you, I have access to what you know and what you have access to.

“First identified by journalist Jeff Howe in a June 2006 Wired article, ‘crowdsourcing’ describes the process by which the power of the many can be leveraged to accomplish feats that were once the province of the specialized few.”[4]

The crowd, in this case, is the opposite of the mob. Whereas a mob is chaotic, blunt, and unorganized, the crowd is organized, talented, creative, and productive.  With the Internet as communication tool, the crowd can then source from itself, crowdsourcing technology, talent, expertise, and potential.

“It’s a perfect meritocracy, where age, gender, race, education, and job history no longer matter; the quality of work is all that counts; and every field is open to people of every imaginable background. If you can perform the service, design the product, or solve the problem, you’ve got the job.”[5]

Pros and Cons:

Crowdsourcing has fundamentally changed the way in which people interact in areas such s as politics, business, advertising, science and engineering, design and manufacturing, and education. No longer being limited to the people and resources they have physical contact with, innovators literally have the world at their fingertips, and they can replace many of their physical, and often more expensive resources, with cheaper, virtual ones.

This, as with all innovations, has negative aspects along with positive ones. Replacing resources often means replacing people—now that either machines or cheaper remote labor can replace more expensive workers. Though cost-saving for the employer, this can have negative socioeconomic repercussions stemming from job reductions.

“Crowdsourcing has also triggered a dramatic shift in the way work is organized, talent is employed, research is conducted, and products are made and marketed. As the crowd comes to supplant traditional forms of labor, pain and disruption are inevitable.”[6]

However, whenever the proverbial door shuts, a window opens, and new developing sectors quickly replace the old ones, creating new jobs, projects and opportunities.

“Jeff Howe, author of Crowdsourcing: Why The Power Of The Crowd Is Driving The Future of Business, points out that there are two shared characteristics of a crowdsourced project. First, the participants are not motivated by money, and second, they are donating their free time. “That is, they’re contributing their excess capacity, or ‘spare cycles,’ to indulge in something they love to do.” Clay Shirky would say they are using their ‘Cognitive Surplus.’”[7]

TedTalk: Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus

Crowdsourcing and Education:

Although a monumental step forward for dozens of sectors, crowdsourcing and education go hand in hand particularly well. Crowdsourcing is essentially the sharing of knowledge, people using other people’s expertise to educate themselves or others. Although the ultimate end of that exchange may not concern itself with education—such as a product or brand tweeting out a question to its followers and getting thousands of responses that it will then use for marketing purposes—the basis of the process is an exchange of knowledge; in other words, education.

So using crowdsourcing for educational purposes simply makes sense.

Teacher Networks:[8]

The Old Teacher Network

The Old Teacher Network

The 21st Teacher Century Network

21st Century Teacher Network

According to Rob Jacobs, “The person is the portal to the network. The person is an autonomous communication and collaboration node. Each member can potentially leverage not only their network, but also the network of others who are in their network. This principle is known as Metcalfe’s Law. The number of potential connections between nodes grows more quickly than the number of nodes. The total value of the network where each node can reach every other node in the network grows with the square of the number of nodes. In other words, when members connect their networks, it creates more value than the sum of networks independently.”[9]

A few organizations have harnessed crowdsourcing for educational initiatives. Two of the most successful and well-known are Ted: Technology, Education Design and iTunesU, as well as Khan Academy, which is based more on the opensource model than the crowdsourced model. 

TED: Technology, Entertainment, Design

TED is a non-profit organization that believes in spreading ideas to help change the world. Through a series of conferences, initiatives, fellowships and talks, TED has created one of the most visited websites worldwide aimed to disseminate knowledge for free. By releasing their videos under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND license, their content can be viewed, shared and reposted by anyone.

With the recent launch of The TED Open Translation Project the accessibility of their content to people around the globe has significantly increased to approximately 2.2 billion viewers. Through an interactive dashboard, users can collaborate by adding subtitles in any language to the English-speaking videos. These transcripts can be made for any talk by anyone in the world who wishes to contribute their time and skills. The project was launched with more than 250 translations, 50 languages and 100 volunteer translators. Since the release in May 2009, 6,849 volunteers of the TED community have helped complete more than 24,000 talks in 83 different languages.

Recently TED announced the creation of an application-programming interface (API) that will help developers access open data from all the talks. The idea of this API is to allow developers interested in using this information to build different ways of visualizing the ideas exposed. June Cohen, Executive Producer of Media for TED believes this tool might uncover unpredictable uses of data.

TED does not grant institutionalized diplomas but does allow the use of their name and video content to anyone for free under the TEDx  model. As of November 1st, 2011, 2609 independent conferences had taken place, in diverse locations around the world. Chris Anderson, Ted’s curator, believes that they are “exploring TED as a global classroom”. As published in Fast Company, TED might be an example of “the first new top-prestige education brand in more than 100 years”.

KHAN Academy: A free world-class education for anyone anywhere

"It is our mission to accelerate learning for students of all ages."

The Khan Academy is not-for-profit organization created in 2006 that wants to change education by providing for free education contents to anyone anywhere through videos and practice exercises available online. The idea is that whoever can learn whatever he wants, wherever and at his own pace, free of charge. The targeted audience is large, including not only regular students, but also teachers, home-schoolers, principals, adults returning to classrooms or anybody willing to learn on a particular subject.

The Khan Academy has a library of over 2,700 videos covering everything from arithmetic to physics, finance, and history and 247 practice exercises. Up to now, 89,234,568 lessons were already delivered! Each video is approximately 10 minutes long and specifically created to be viewed on a computer. With up to 3.5 million viewers per month, it is the most-used educational video repository on the Internet.

The project relies on donations for funding, with more than $16.5 million from technology donors including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, the Silicon Valley Community Foundation and the O’Sullivan Foundation.

The Khan Academy was founded by Salman Khan. He started providing math tutorials to his cousins through Yahoo Doodle Images and then Youtube video tutorials. It is only when he saw the large interest of people around him to take advantage of this interactive remote tutoring that he came up with the idea of the Academy.

Offline versions of the videos have been distributed by not-for-profit groups to rural areas in developing countries in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. Currently the content is mainly addressed at pre-college students and on scientific classes. However, the long term goal of the Academy is to provide “tens of thousands of videos in pretty much every subject” and to create “the world’s first free, world-class virtual school where anyone can learn anything”, according to Khan. 

The idea is not to replace the teachers but to offer personalized online training as a new engaging way to learn the basics.

The Academy wants to expand its outreach directly in the classrooms, in the school curriculum. It is an ambitious project consisting in splitting up the work of teaching “between man and machine”, with inclass teachers using Khan Academy computer based lectures and exercises. The experiment is currently being tried in 36 schools in the United States.

OpenU on iTunesU

Apple launched “iTunes U” to delivers university lectures to users of the iTunes store.  Universities used ITunes “to manage, distribute, and control access to educational audio and video content for students in a college or university.”  They do this by creating their own iTunes U site.  Institutions are not charged for uploading podcasts and videos.  At the end of 2009, only the original Universities that had used iTunes U were allowed to upload lectures themselves to

This represents an opportunity, however limited, for educational content to be shared online.  As internet penetration increases, the value of this content increases because it can be accessed by any computer connected to the internet.  It is hoped that content will increase and Universities will see their participation in these types of programs as opportunities for them to leverage their instructors and University reputations. 

Currently, there are over 75,000 files available for download. Begun in June of 2008, Open University on iTunes U has had over 40 million downloads, as of October 2011.   This is over 10% of the over 300 million downloads from over 800 institutions that are in the iTunes U library.


“In September of 2009 it became possible to access the iTunes U site directly from iOS devices.  In the following year the percentage of visitors (unique IP**) downloading at least one track direct to an iOS device (from OU on iTunes U) was around 30%, but since that time the behavior has changed notably, raising to over 70% in July 2011, see chart above.”(Open U)

These statistics relate to the 1,260 days (180 weeks) since OU’s launch on iTunes U. Since then they have had:


•          over 4,868,700 visitors downloaded files

•          currently averaging* 287,000 downloads a week

•          89.9% of visitors from outside the United Kingdom

•          1 in 28.8 downloaders go on to visit the OU website (to 31 Jul 2011)

•          currently delivering an average* of 0.4 TB of data a week, with a further estimate of 3 – 4 TB delivered via Akamai, based on historical data before the use of Akamai



“Chart B (above) shows the device breakdown for both visitors (unique IP) who downloaded at least one track and by downloads for the month of July 2011.  It is notable that the desktop iTunes client tends to generate more downloads per visitor (unique IP) than on iOS devices.” (ITunes U) [10]

* average is based on last 4 weeks traffic

[1] Mein Weltbild, Amsterdam: Querido Verlag, 1934.

[2] Rob Jacobs, Educators Innovation,

[3] Internet World Stats,

[4] Rob Howe, Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd is Driving the Future of Business, Crown Business, First Edition (August 26, 2008)

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Rob Jacobs, Educators Innovation,

[8] Bluyonder,

[9] Rob Jacobs, Educators Innovation,

[10] Wikipedia and Open University