As a kid I never imagined, when watching Star Trek, that I really would have a little device on which I could ask any question, and it would almost certainly give me a meaningful answer. Science fiction came true and I have one next to me now and its main tool is Google search. Google search is probably the most profound pedagogic shift in the history of learning, not a game changer but a previously unimaginable shift towards universal access to anything, anytime from anywhere.
Brin was born in Russia and educated in the US, Page is from Michigan. Like Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Mahatma Gandhi, Sigmund Freud, Buckminster Fuller, Leo Tolstoy, Bertrand Russell, Jean Piaget and Hilary and Bill Clinton before them, they both attended Montessori schools. Indeed, they both credit their Montessori education for much of their success. It was the Montessori experience, they claim, that made them self-directed, allowing them to think for themselves and pursue their real interests.
They only met in 1995, at Stanford, yet their business, Google, famously based on a spelling error (Google should have been Googol), has become one of the most significant global businesses of our times. The company floated in 2004 and is run as a triumvirate of Eric Schmidt, Larry Page and Sergei Brin.
Most potent, pedagogic, productivity tool ever
As the world’s most successful search engine it has become an indispensable tool for learning and research. It’s a way of learning that has touched almost everyone in the developed and increasingly developing world. Search has transformed the way we search for information and has changed our very relationship with knowledge, making a significant contribution to the very idea of what needs to be learnt and newer. It is, arguably, the single most powerful, pedagogic, productivity tool we have ever seen.
Google – game changer in learning
Google's mission is to ‘organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful’. Specialist searching of text, images, video, books, blogs, academic papers, news, and maps, has given the ordinary user unparalleled access to knowledge stored across different media.
Their mathematical approach to search problems at Stanford led to a search engine that ranked sites by popularity. In addition, the more we search, the greater the data Google has and the better their search engine becomes. As their scalable model looked at links, so the larger the web became the better their engine became.
It is the speed and efficiency of such search that has accelerated our ability as learners to identify relevant knowledge. Learners of all ages and abilities see the web as a useful source of knowledge. Of course, Google also relies on knowledge bases such as Wikipedia, Journals and many other sources to deliver content.
Researchers, from schoolchildren with projects to advanced researchers in educational institutions, now find Google an indispensable tool. As online access to research Journals and scholarly knowledge bases increases, so search has become an indispensable tool.
Google tools and learning
Google Education provides a rack of useful tools for education. Thie rapprocah is to provide productivity tools, not content. Gmail has given users a free email service with substantial amounts of storage. Google Calendar provides individual and shared calendars. Google docs, shared documents. Google+ collaboration and hangouts. Google translate for languages. Google Scholar is even more precise in its intention.
Google Earth and Google Maps are astonishing tools for learning and research. Blogger, owned by Google, provides free blogging software to tens of millions of bloggers. YouTube is the world’s greatest, searchable repository for videos, now a mainstream source of content for learning. These promise to put even more power in the hands of learners, freeing us from the traditional limitations of paper-based libraries and physical ‘places’ of learning.
When most knowledge is easily searchable the need to learn and memorise knowledge starts to recede. Indeed, in the corporate world, it is clear that modern managers rely less on knowledge and more on skills. Memory is, in a sense, outsourced, placing less of an emphasis on rote learning and memorisation.
Many argue that this is also true of schooling, where the traditional model has been rote learning and memorisation, as opposed to critical thinking and other skills. Teaching students how to search may be as powerful a skill, as teaching them to read and write. Indeed, Google have a free course that does just that.
Google may also have altered our general idea of what constitutes knowledge. You have to learn to see knowledge as varying in quality and certainty, distinguish different sources in terms of their reliability. On the other hand, some suggest Google search has made us fickle, lazy and fragmented in our learning.
Google has its detractors. Jared Lanier warns against ‘digital Maoism’ aided and abetted by Google, that may take the wisdom of the crown and turn us all into slavish followers or tribal groups. The subterfuge is that Google monetises your search data and is “selling people [their advertiser-targetable personal identities, buying habits, etc.] back to themselves“. He goes further in his latest book The Fate of Power and the Future of Dignity claiming that the financial crash and future economy may be undermined by techno-utopianism, where we unwittingly submit to becoming become advertising fodder. These are interesting arguments and well worth noting but they tend to ignore the simple pay-off, that I gain more personally than I risk. Most people seem happy to give up their search data to get such a fee, powerful and useful product in return.
Googling the future
Google are so ambitious and have so many projects on the go that it is difficult to predict where they are heading. Now that they have tentacles into every online and offline person, organisation and place on the planet, including the planet itself, it seems likely that they will move beyond search through an expanding suite of tools to become your personal assistant for almost everything you want in life – knowledge, shopping, jobs…. However, it’s hard to see where Google X’s projects, supervised by Brin, such as the driverless car and Google Glass fit in.
Let’s not forget that Google gave us the Android mobile operating system, a welcome alternative to the closed world of Apple and a strategy one that seems to be paying off. Apple’s walled world is at odds with Google’s open world and in the long term my money’s on Google. Look out for Android games consoles, such as the Ouya. Android’s important as it eats into the OS market with phones, tablets and laptops like the Chromebook.
Page and Brin have created a toolset that has already revolutionised access to knowledge. Their organisation continues to revolutionise learning and to ‘organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful’. The scale of this task is enormous and on-going. It is truly an example of technology making a huge impact on the nature, future and efficacy of learning, a truly momentus pedagogic force. Search as a Massive Open Online Pedagogy (MOOP) is something that is was around before MOOCs and will be around long after MOOCs are gone. It’s long-term effect on learning is irreversible and profound.