Cognitive surplus and participatory pedagogy

Clay Shirky’s notion of cognitive surplus holds a lot of appeal and I think it provides a solid theoretical rationale for educational models that embrace a participatory pedagogy.

We are told by the marketing gurus that in the connected, socially-mediated world, participation is the new consumption, and that consumers increasingly see themselves as stakeholders in, and co-creators and champions of brands. Shirky argues that this is so because people are allocating more of their time to creative acts (rather than consumptive ones) as a result of the increasing availability of online tools that facilitate new forms of collaboration. The most interesting aspect of this phenomenon is that those engaging in the creative acts are rarely motivated by any tangible or pecuniary gain, the incentive to participate appearing to be largely sociocultural in nature.

Applying this same logic to formal education, there is a very strong argument for maximising opportunities for learners to be co-contributors to the curriculum. Student engagement will be greater and — of course — so will the cognitive surplus for learners to tap into.