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Growing up as an aspiring javelin thrower in Kenya, the young Julius Yego was unable to find a coach: in a country where runners command the most prestige, mentorship was practically nonexistent. Determined to succeed, he instead watched YouTube recordings of Norwegian Olympic javelin thrower Andreas Thorkildsen, taking detailed notes and attempting to imitate the fine details of his movements. Yego went on to win gold in the World Championships in Beijing, silver in the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, and holds the 3rd-longest javelin throw on world record.

He acquired a coach only six months before he competed in the London Olympics — over a decade after he started practicing. Yet since its founding, popular consensus has been that the video service is making people dumber.

Indeed, modern video media may shorten attention spans and distract from longer-form means of communication, such as written articles or books. But critically overlooked is its unlocking a form of mass-scale tacit knowledge transmission which is historically unprecedented, facilitating the preservation and spread of knowledge that might otherwise have been lost.

This tacit knowledge is a form of intellectual dark matter , pervading society in a million ways, some of them trivial, some of them vital. Examples include woodworking, metalworking, housekeeping, cooking, dancing, amateur public speaking, assembly line oversight, rapid problem-solving, and heart surgery.

Before video became available at scale, tacit knowledge had to be transmitted in person, so that the learner could closely observe the knowledge in action and learn in real time — skilled metalworking, for example, is impossible to teach from a textbook. The center cannot appropriate what it cannot access: there will never be a state monopoly on plumbing or dentistry, for example. Some will object that tacit knowledge acquisition must be possible without close observation of a skilled practitioner; otherwise we would never see skilled autodidacts.

True autodidacts who can invent their own techniques are rare, but many can learn by watching and imitating. Learners who wish to acquire tacit knowledge, but who are unable to figure things out on their own, are therefore limited by their access to personal observation of skilled people.

Massively available video recordings of practitioners in action change this entirely. Through these videos, learners can now partially replicate the master-apprentice relationship, opening up skill domains and economic niches that were previously cordoned off by personal access.


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These new points of access range from the specialized trades, where electricians illustrate how to use multimeters and how to assess breaker boxes , to less specialized domestic activities, where a novice can learn basic knife-handling techniques from an expert. Jensen Comment Two days ago a replacement gasket for an Amana lower freezer door arrived from Amazon. When I commenced to take the old gasket off I discovered that replacing the old gasket was going to be a bit trickier than I realized for a very old refrigerator that came with our house when we purchased the house 15 years ago.

I had no original refrigerator manual and most likely would have to spend hours locating the manual if I had one in the first place. So I went to YouTube and in seconds found dozens of helper videos for replacing Amana freezer door gaskets. I watched one of these videos and discovered how to take out 32 panel screws to remove the inner door panel and how to heat my new gasket in a clothes dryer to get it to shape properly for replacement.

The training needed to do the job took me less than ten minutes on YouTube. Millions of similar training videos are available for fixing almost anything imaginable and addressing a myriad of health issues should the need ever arise. My point here is that YouTube makes it easy to find just-in-time training modules in a matter of seconds. For education modules my first approach is usually to look in Wikipedia. However, some educational modules are better in video. Over the years I've occasionally written tidbits about the Monte Hall problem. But it helps to renew my old memory on this and other technical education issues that come up every day.

My point here is that YouTube is truly amazing for training and education needs. It's better than Wikipedia in terms of coverage of topics like freezer door gasket replacements or replacing the starter cord on Toro lawn mower which was also a problem for me this summer. My point here is that YouTube is evolving to a point where it's easy to lose sight of the many wonderful ways you can learn from YouTube.

It's not the YouTube you forgot to follow closely over the last 10 years even though you used it for specific needs quite often. Some of the most wonderful things in life really are free. Activists seeking to break up giant tech companies like Amazon and Google should keep one thing in mind. Those tech companies can bring us a lot of wonderful things for free or with ease because of the ability to cover losses in one area with profits in another area.

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What would happen to the many wonderful free videos we get on YouTube or the free or very cheap books that can be downloaded from Amazon if we tear those companies apart? Sure we can take all the videos about repairing freezer gaskets so I would have to phone for a maintenance technician and videos of the Monte Hall problem away from the public.

And sure we can restore some shopping in malls think bookstores by banning online shopping from Amazon. And we make it a lot more expensive to file tax returns by removing all the tax helper videos from YouTube.

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Jensen Comment I am a cheerleader for Wikipedia. However, one of my criticisms is that coverage across academic disciplines is highly variable. For example, coverage of economics and finance is fantastic. Coverage of accountancy can best be described as lousy. It's a Pogo thing. When I look for the enemy I discover that " He is us. Disciplines covered extensively are generally strong in both theory and academic debate, particularly philosophy and science. Accountancy is weak in theory and the top academic research journals in accounting will not publish replications or even commentaries.

Academic leaders in philosophy and science are nearly all covered extensively in Wikipedia. Academic leaders in accountancy are rarely mentioned, and when they are mentioned their Wikipedia modules are puny and boring.

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What academic accounting leader has an extensive Wikipedia module? I've never found a single one. When I look up academic economists I not only find frequent Wikipedia modules, virtually all of those modules contain summaries of their research and summaries of controversies surrounding their research.

I've never found a Wikipedia article about an academic accounting researcher that contains summaries of the controversies surrounding that professor's research. Accounting research won't have much respect in the world until its leading researchers are in Wikipedia, including summaries of controversies of their research findings.

The enemy is us. We all know the dangers of relying too faithfully on Wikipedia, which can sometimes lead us astray. But the platform remains a productive resource for initial forays into obscure topics. Wikipanion streamlines users' Wiki browsing and search activities with history grouped by visitor date, advanced bookmarking, and multiple search methods.

Think of it as a quick and easy way to explore Wikipedia. Users can upgrade to Wikipanion Plus for a small fee, but there is plenty to enjoy here, including a fun link to Wiktionary, which will provide a dictionary type entry for each term entered.


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Experts vs. Amateurs Searching the Web The credibility war rages on in the world of Web 2. Those who say information provided by Internet research tools needs to be vetted have made their case in several ways. Knol, for example, appears to be Google's answer to Wikipedia. And for now, while the project is under development, authors can contribute content by invitation only. The plan is to let users rank the wheat among the chaff; the highest-ranking articles would pop up first in a Google search. A clear example is Mahalo. It's essentially a search engine run by staff members, who hand-pick links for popular search terms.

That's a familiar concept for academic libraries. There is resistance to the idea that experts have lost their place in the indiscriminate, user-generated Web 2. John Connell, an education-business manager at Cisco Systems, writes in his blog that experts and laymen can coexist on the Web: "We are not dealing with a zero-sum game of any kind -- the rise of one source of information does not necessarily cause the dissipation of another. We know from past reports that the "Google Generation" has a hard time sorting the relevant from the trivial. But isn't it better to teach them how?

Some professors ban their students from citing Wikipedia in papers. A columnist for the paper responded in a piece that accuses Ms. Brabazon of snobbery. Very interesting. I think students need to know how to use these kinds of web sites wisely. If I can make a plug here, our teaching center just started a new podcast series featuring interviews with faculty about issues of teaching and learning.

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The first episode, available here , features an interview with a Vanderbilt history professor who uses Wikipedia to teach the undergraduate history majors in his class how to think like historians. Jensen Comment So how might a student find refereed journal or scholarly book references using Wikipedia? Most scholarly Wikipedia modules have footnotes and references that can be traced back such that there is no evidence of having ever gone to Wikipedia. Here's where some information is turned into knowledge by scholars.

But never mention to Professor Brabazon that you got the idea for spiritual guidance as a treatment of alcoholism from Wikipedia. Also there's a question of how Professor Brabazon will deal with the new Google Knol. Google recently announced Knol, a new experimental website that puts information online in a way that encourages authorial attribution. Unlike articles for the popular online encyclopedia Wikipedia, which anyone is free to revise, Knol articles will have individual authors, whose pictures and credentials will be prominently displayed alongside their work.

Currently, participation in the project is by invitation only, but Google will eventually open up Knol to the public.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

At that point, a given topic may end up with multiple articles by different authors. Readers will be able to rate the articles, and the better an article's rating, the higher it will rank in Google's search results. Google coined the term "knol" to denote a unit of knowledge but also uses it to refer to an authoritative Web-based article on a particular subject.