Genius is as common as dirt

This is the lecture that inspired Open Learning Ireland. For this lecture a detailed review of the literature on open educational methodologies and the free school movement was carried out. An executive summary is available below.

‘Genius is as common as dirt’ – Conclusions

Agency is the enabler for learning
– continually expanding the range of domain specific self efficacy

Self direction (autonomy) builds agency
– coercion, testing, streaming & criticism diminish
=> results of our education system
=> common assumption of inability – e.g.: I hate math, I’m bad at Irish

Conventional educational institutions
– Emphasises competition
– Isolate learning / shut down communication
– Focus on static, disconnected curriculum
– Teach fear & anxiety through testing
– Teach how to pass exams – not understanding
– Teach conformity through top down organisation
– Teach diminished expectations through streaming
– Model disengagement via under-qualified, underpaid, stressed out, teachers

Education in Ireland

Entirely extrinsic motivation – Points race!

Media & Govt
– collude to create educational purpose as – serving the needs of business, entrepreneurship & modern research based ‘knowledge economy’
– one doesn’t need to disagree with the aims to see that they are not necessarily congruent with the developmental needs of learners

– Contemporary economy – sector variety hides job uniformity
=> small number of digital entrepreneurs / researchers
=> larger number of professionals / primarily financial services
=> much larger number of menial service industry roles
=> equally large number of unemployed / unemployable traditional manufacturing cleavage & underclass

Main educational debates in Ireland
– extent & degree of fees (now widely accepted as ‘necessary’)
– worry over points race / praise for attainment
– how well are courses meeting needs of industry (e.g.: springboard scheme)
General (misplaced) pride in ‘world class’ secondary & third level education
– some slight worry about church role in primary education

Trendy notion of ‘digital natives’
– obscures massive economic & outcome inequalities
– ignore essentially fictive nature of ‘multitasking’ and cognitive effects of divided attention

Unpaid Internships
– debate again is about – effectiveness / abuse
– not the exploitative – real job removing nature of their very existence

Certification & Points Race
– damages / erases intrinsic motivation

Webs of Education

Ivan Illich’s vision of a learning society is compelling & arguably attainable today

Free resources online
– MIT Open Courseware, Kahn Accademy
– Open Learning Initiative
– Harvard & Stanford Equivalents of Open Courseware

Hackspaces / Biolabs

Open Lectures – Knowledge Exchange

Low cost educational institutions
– Saoir Ollscoil Na Heirin
– FAS etc



Right now – the free services are online – and the physical services are not free

Resources are useless without a culture of use
– e.g.: Large inner city libraries lying empty

Open autonomous collective institutions like Exchange Dublin & Seomra
– demonstrate the need for free social spaces not centred around alcohol etc
– & their success in building autonomy and collective action
=> Potentially could be applied to education

Danger of – substituting schooling with technology (ipad) or free service (kahn academy) to off lay costs & responsibilities of teaching

Lack of – physical spaces where adults can non-commercially interact / socialise / learn / create

Lack of – learning environments that cater to alternative learning modalities / learning styles / individuated learning pace
– visual, kinesthetic, tactile etc


Create a new institution in Dublin
– That’s a free, open, educational playground for adults
– With instruments, tools, art supplies, a library of accademic books
– access to online journals
– places to read and discuss your learning

Learning Facilitation – rather than teaching
– not expert teachers – but ‘teach what you know’

‘Meatspace’ skill shares & workshops
– with greymatter infodumps of networks of learning in the city
– i.e: folk who know where and who to look for when learning

Free seminars & lectures – by space users & visiting experts / talented amateurs
e.g.: mechanics, writers, artists, geneticists

Lets make them play-spaces that are fun to be in!
Run by the folks that use them!
Modifiable to suit the needs & creativity of their users!

Distinct from libraries / adult education institutions
– anyone can attend, participate
– learning as a lifelong activity, not only towards certification
– demand & availability driven courses
– up to date vocational & academic library
– no division between ‘practical’ / ‘academic’, art / science
– high level learning & talks – ala Knowledge Exchange
– no certification or degree conferring status
– non-competitive, non commercial

Would promote
– social engagement
– personal development
– entrepreneurship
– communities of interest & activism
– creative collaboration
– peer teaching & empowerment

Would connect with
– existing art, education and hack groups
– e.g.: Electronic Rock Ireland Collective (ERIC)
– to facilitate workshops, skill share, equipment share

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  1. […] notes were originally part of research compiled for the lecture ‘Genius is as common as dirt‘, delivered at Ignite in the Electric Picnic, 2011. Download these notes as PDF. Share […]

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