Creator of Wikipedia
"Learning how to learn is now more important than ever."
The man who had the vision to create the most collaborative online encyclopedia wants access to human knowledge to be universal.
The vision of Wikipedia is for all of us to imagine a world in which every single person on the planet has free and unrestricted access to the sum of all human knowledge. My family placed a very high value on education, so it's always been part of my life.
The traditional education system is still very important, but it doesn't change quickly enough. You go to school and graduate from high school, then you go to university and get a degree and continue to study a subject in more depth and get a Master's or a Doctorate. The process is all very organized and delivered in a very traditional way, although some modernization is happening. I remember some classes at university where a very boring professor would stand in front of everyone and read a lecture while we took notes. It's an unbelievably ridiculous way of teaching people things when you compare it to finding the most interesting and dynamic teachers who teach via a video. Even that's old-fashioned now. Then, the boring professor would give tutorials where you could go to discuss something you hadn't understood. This one-on-one education is very important, so we shouldn't get rid of it, but we do need to examine some other practices, such as the idea that you have to learn certain facts and processes before you get a job that you'll have for 40 years. That doesn't exist anymore. Instead, you must learn how to learn. Now it's more important that ever that part of your formal education should help prepare you to continue as a lifelong learner.
Formal education is the traditional way of doing things. Informal learning is basically everything else. And, you can access it in lots of different ways. Maybe you hear on the radio that something awful has happened in Azerbaijan and you think: "Azerbaijan, I know where it is more or less, but I don't know much about the place, I'll have to look it up." That's informal learning. You may have no specific goal in mind as regards qualifications, professional growth, or anything like that. But, people who do it become better citizens. They understand the world much better and they've taken the time to understand something, so the next time they hear something about Azerbaijan, they'll understand the issue because they've looked into it.
There's an abundance of information on the Internet, but sometimes it's not very organized or accurate, and oftentimes it's very biased. One of the functions of Wikipedia is to help people make sense of information, especially in developed countries where there's an abundance of information. It's very important to have tools to filter the information you find on the Internet so that it makes sense, because information is not the same thing as knowledge. You need to be skilled at judging the quality of the information you receive and being able to integrate it into your wider knowledge.
You must be able to read and understand what you're reading. You must also have a wide vocabulary, as you're going to have to deal with a lot of different subjects. However, you also have to be skilled at recognizing fallacies and be able to think logically. You must be able to evaluate and judge the information you find, because there's a lot of inaccurate information on the Internet. Another thing I should mention is that sometimes there may be quality information out there that's not compatible with your level of knowledge, so it doesn't do you any good. One of the mistakes people make is that now you can find very high quality academic articles on subjects like medicine, where you can read about a study that's been performed and the results of it. However, it's difficult to put it into context. If you don't understand the subject, you'll say: “Well, it's in Harvard Journal of Medicine, so it must be right."
I think collaboration is very important in education for several reasons. The first is that as we move forward in the world, work is based on knowledge and information, and collaboration is a very useful skill. If you don't have the ability to work with other people in a productive way, the process is going to be counterproductive. Collaboration is also a highly effective way to really learn something. If you're trying to learn something and you're working with other people who also want to learn about the same subject, you ask each other things, you challenge each other and get to know more about the subject. You also work together and try to resolve issues together in order to gain a much deeper understanding. A lot people who work in Wikipedia learn as much about the subject they're passionate about thanks to their interaction with other people as they did from their sources. They also digest information in new ways. It's a very powerful tool to help us understand things and bounce ideas off other people. If you lock yourself in an attic for five years and hypothesize, write and do other similar things, when you join the real world again to present your genius work, you'll probably discover that you've missed something really important and fundamental that you'd have noticed if you'd worked in collaboration with others. This doesn't mean that an individual person isn't important in terms of concentration, focus and understanding, as they are. However, you need to test your knowledge in as many different ways as possible by communicating with other smart people who are also trying to understand the world. It's a great technique.
Find out more about Jimmy Wales
- Jimmy Wales is the creator of Wikipedia, which is the largest ever collaborative online project. He won the Princesa de Asturias award for international cooperation in 2015. He is also considered the sixth most influential person in the world.
- How does Wikipedia work?
At Wikipedia, there's a large community of people who work together collaboratively to edit and expand the encyclopedia. So, there are articles themselves, and then there are the pages where we discuss what doesn't work and how we can improve it. It's an ongoing process, an ongoing dialogue, which, when it works well, is based on neutrality, facts and presenting information in a calm way. For the most part, it works well.