Designing Knowledge I: Circles

I will work extensively with the idea of a design pattern: a reusable, modifiable design element. Knowledge has an element of design, like every other human practice. Unfortunately, the design patterns of knowledge are so old and so universal that we don’t even realize that they are designed elements. It’s not as if the textbook — lecture — course — degree pattern is a god given element of learning. As technology transforms higher education, we should see new design patterns emerge.

Higher education is currently built around the inverse-tree design pattern.This is a linear pattern. A better pattern for knowledge networks, especially local knowledge networks is the circle. A circle is a group of people who’re interested in the same “core.” For local knowledge there are four types of cores that are of interest:

  • People: i.e., a circle around a teacher or a person of interest. An example of the former might be a local car mechanics who teaches a course on automotive repair. An example of the latter is a group of people who read and discuss Plato.
  • Passion: a circle around a common passion, say, a group of people who are all interested in the same topic. Passions can be of several kinds — say, the world series game that took place yesterday, a course that you are all taking on Coursera or a continued engagement with data science.
  • Place: a circle of people who live or work close to each other. If you live close to each other in Bangalore, you can imagine starting a circle on community gardens in Bangalore. If you work in the same law firm in Boston, you can imagine starting a group around a senior partner (that will combine people and place) or a group around a new law that affects you all (combining passion and place).
  • Practice: A circle of people who do one thing together. It could be jogging, it could be a meditation practice whatever, but the group comes together for that reason.

The advantage of the circle is it’s adaptivity; a circle can expand or contract as my interests and passions change. It can also vanish. In other words, the circle design allows us to create communities of varying sizes and duration around a single core. Most importantly, I can aggregate and disaggregate circles around myself as I learn. It’s a modular architecture for continuous life-long learning.

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