During the last year or two, I have seen more and more signs of a growing dislike for the TED talks. There are articles, blogposts, and comics that in different ways display one or another aspect of TED talks that people seem to see as problematic. Here is a typical example.
It is interesting how something that just a short time ago was by many considered to be the highest form of achievement, to give a TED talk, now by many is viewed as a form of knowledge diffusion that is almost detrimental to its very purpose, that is, to spreading real and serious knowledge in an efficient and entertaining way.
As in the example, the critique of TED talks seem to raise issues about the selection of speakers, quality of format, the slick presentation style, etc. But the most serious critique seems to be that TED actually do a disservice to the research and intellectual communities in that is makes every problem and solution, every grand idea or philosophy into a entertaining "wow" experience where the level of "wow" have no correspondance to the significance level of the content and message.
Anyway, the reason for this post is not to critique TED Talks per se. Instead my point is that the example of TED Talks is something to consider in this era of MOOC hype (massive open online courses). MOOCs are seen as the new form of delivery of knowledge, in particular academic knowledge. There is an intense search for the format of MOOCs that will be the silver bullet when it comes to higher education.
The lesson from TED Talks is that even if a format is found that works wonderfully as a delivery system for knowledge and millions of students are drawn to the new format and may also succeed, this does not mean that the format will survive the test of time. Traditional education, face to face, in "boring" classrooms with a boring "format" seems however to pass that test. The format has worked (of course far from perfect) for a long time.
So, if the wonder format of TED Talks is starting to fade and experiencing a growing critique and fatigue among its supporters, that is a pretty strong warning to anyone claiming that they have found the next format for knowledge delivery.
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