To commemorate the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web, Graham Taylor joined me for an exclusive interview. I talked to Dr. Taylor about the way the internet has changed how we view education, advertising and life in general.
Robin Phillips: Thank you for joining us on this special day. Perhaps you could explain to us the significance of this day.
Graham Taylor: It’s a pleasure to talk with you today Robin. The reason this day is important is because it is the 25th anniversary of the World Wide Web. It was 25 years ago today that Sir Tim Berners-Lee was credited for inventing the internet through a proposal on how to improve the flow between links.
So many changes have happened since that day 25 years ago. This has prompted a lot of self-reflection in the papers about how the internet has changed our lives. What I’m particularly interested in is how the internet has permanently altered education.
RP: Tell us about that.
GT: Online education, or ‘distance learning’ as it was originally termed, used to be simply an adjunct to the traditional classroom model. Then what we found was that online education became a competitor to traditional education that had to be taken seriously. Now, after twenty-five years of the internet being around, a lot of people are discussing whether traditional education even has a future at all.
RP: In your writings you have compared the advent of online education to other monumental shifts in the history of education, such as the translation of Aristotle’s works into Latin in the twelfth century or the invention of the printing press in the fifteenth-century. Isn’t this a bit of an exaggeration?
GT: I don’t think so, Robin. The article you refer to was written because of observations in my own experience helping psychology students to pass their licensure exam.
I originally developed the Taylor Study Method as a way to ease the burden on would-be psychologists as they study to pass the EPPP. I created a Method of Learning, and then gathered together a team of leading practitioners in the industry to help to constantly modify out materials to keep pace with changes in the exam. The program is all online and uses a number of different techniques that incorporate recent discoveries in the science of learning and memory.
As thousands of individuals went through the program to successfully pass their EPPP and become licensed psychologists, our team began to find that colleges were asking about our product. Ideally colleges should prepare their psychology students to pass the EPPP, but what often happens is just the opposite: professors teach their students all manner of interesting things, but the students don’t actually learn what they need to know to become licensed. So we began supplying colleges with our product. These colleges use our program as a powerful supplement to traditional lectures.
I see this as part of a larger trend for colleges to use online content to make education more effective. In 2012, Ed Tech aggregated some stunning statistics about the growth of online education, and since then these trends have only increased. We are in the midst of an education revolution that is permanently altering how we view learning.
RP: So fast-forward ten years from now. What do you see higher education looking like?
GT: If the growth of technology in the past ten years has taught us anything, it is that it is impossible to predict where things will go in even in the next two years. We are living at a time of incredibly rabid changes where literally anything is possible.
So that’s my disclaimer. I really don’t know what higher education will look like in ten years. But my guess is that we will see an exponential increase in programs similar to what we’re doing at the Taylor Study Method to help with EPPP preparation. People trying to become licensed in law, medicine, veterinary science, and other fields may look for programs similar to TSM to see them through. It’s so much more efficient because it can work around your schedule, you can do it anywhere, and you can personalize it to your own learning style. As this happens, the traditional classroom model will have to drastically remake itself in order to compete. Already we are seeing this happen at incredibly speed.
RP: How so?
GT: What I found in developing our EPPP test prep program is that online education is not just affecting internet learning programs. It is also forcing traditional colleges to back up and re-evaluate whether the content they are offering is truly efficient, cost-effective, and competitive. Time and again that colleges often promise to train their students for a career in their field, yet end up leaving them woefully unprepared. As the internet continues to make more options available, we should expect to see only the best educational programs survive.
RP: These changes are unwelcome to a lot of people, who believe that the gains from the internet are correlative to certain losses.
GT: Certainly all technological change brings both advantage and disadvantages. Plato warned against the expansion of writing in Athenian society because he worried people would become lazy and stop availing themselves of the richness of dialogue. Although his concerns are usually patronizingly dismissed as antiquated, Plato did understand an important principle: any new technology brings both gains and potential disadvantages. The key word here is ‘potential’, because if we are aware of the challenges of a technology, if we remember that in some sense the medium is the message, we can be pro-active in avoiding the pitfalls and maximizing the gains.
This is something I emphasized this in my recent series about online study skills. As the most powerful information conduit in the history of human civilization, the web’s potential to make us smarter is almost staggering. But the internet also has the potential to change our brains in less positive ways. The difference comes entirely down to how you use it. That is why we devoted a lot of attention last year to writing blog posts about study skills so people can learn how to use the internet without it using them.
RP: As you look over the last 25 years since the internet was invented, what are the most significant changes in how we interact with each other, how we view relationships and how we think of community?
GT: Well, the greatest change this century has not been the internet, believe it or not. When the internet became widespread about fifteen years ago, everyone thought it would be impossible to imagine any greater change occurring. They were wrong. About five years ago a change occurred which was even more significant than the internet. I’m referring, of course, to the staggering proliferation in digital social media. Social media, even more than the internet itself, has been responsible for changing how we view the world.
RP: How has social media has changed your own discipline of psychotherapy.
GT: That’s a great question. Anyone who has just passed the EPPP has one thing on their mind: where am I going to get a job? Perhaps the newly licensed psychologist will want to open their own practice, but how do they go about getting clients? Many people haven’t yet caught on, but the answer to this question is two words: social media. Social media is transforming how we do business and how we market the services we have to offer.
We live in a world that is so noisy with advertisements that we’ve reached a saturation point where traditional advertising – even advertising on the internet – just isn’t working like it used to. For advertizing to be effective it increasingly has to happen organically through social media. But that is something that can’t be manipulated artificially in the same way as people could before. We need to provide products and services that people will genuinely want to talk about and to create the conditions that make this possible through effective use of social media. Things have changed so quickly that psychologists are still catching up instead of being leaders in these changes.
RP: It’s been great to speak together on this anniversary, and I look forward to our future conversations on how online learning continues to expand opportunities for learning.
GT: Thanks, Robin. It’s always nice to speak with you.