“Is the internet, not formal education, the great equalizer?” Join this TED Conversation

Posted by: Nafissa

It’s a big question:  “Is the internet, not formal education, the great equalizer?” — and it’s been generating lively discussions in our TED Conversations community. If you’ve been thinking about this too, sign in to and join the debate; it’s on for another 24 hours.

Responses range from :

“The internet is a powerful tool in self-education. I personally am only in university because I need an Honors/ PhD to do research, but when I actually study, I prefer searching the internet or reading books and journal articles as opposed to relying on lectures…” (Reply or comment >>)

“There are tons of good sources available — just look at and But how would someone know to look there? That is one part of the internet literacy puzzle.” (Reply or comment >>)


“The Internet is a phenomenal tool but I expect that, certainly at this point, it is the opposite to an equalizer, especially versus a formal education.”  (Reply or comment >>)

“Formal education and the Internet are not necessarily analogues. The Internet is a tool for dispersing and interacting with information, while a formal education can be a myriad of programs created by humans for any number of purposes.” (Reply or comment >>)

What do you think? Join the conversation >>

Comments (15)

  • Pingback: Do I Need A Formal Education? | The Art of Polemics

  • Allinone Game commented on May 26 2012

    I somebody plant that, primarily, it is what the internet AVOIDS or CHALLENGES, that is the most educational. I register broadcast reports and diary posts for keywords…sorta equivalent a big tag cloud.

    All in One Game

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  • Derry Birkett commented on Oct 13 2011

    Fully agree with above posts: To consider a simple communication technology a great equalizer grossly misunderstands the capitalist system.

  • James McBennett commented on Oct 13 2011

    On a separate note to above, the industrial revolution crashed the price of labour. Pre revolution, animal and human labour were expensive, post-revolution machine labour changed everything. In the case of the internet revolution, the price of content has crashed, to zero in the case of Napster and coming back up again in the case of some of the new music companies such as spotiy.

    Education as content has the opportunity to follow the price crash in content and is doing so in organisations like khanacademy where the cost of content used to thousands and now is free.

  • James McBennett commented on Oct 13 2011

    I have narcolepsy and have not stayed awake in lectures at college. I learn through the internet (TED for example, alongwith longer lectures offered by universities) and get accredited by university. Unlike above, I didn’t have a choice, but think it will all work out.

    • James McBennett commented on Oct 13 2011

      In any univerity or programme, there is content, network and badge value. I feel content can not only be found online, it is better online. The network and the badge value can be sought in other ways. While TED provides content, presenting at TED holds both network/badge for those that get there.

  • Mary Lou Kayser commented on Oct 11 2011

    Like fire or a hammer, the Internet is nothing more than a tool. Those who learn how to use it well for specific goals will thrive; those who don’t, won’t. To become the great equalizer, it needs to be taught how to use across all socio-economic groups. But it won’t. Because like all other great inventions, the Internet is mired in politics and class. Children of means will learn from their schools and parents how to use it, but unfortunately, our current educational system in America has its hands tied by testing and scores that teachers can’t even begin to teach students across the board all the magnificent ways the Internet can be used for progress. I imagine many schools don’t even have Internet access yet, particularly in poor areas.

    For those who love self-education, the Internet is a gift unlike any other. But honestly, the majority will never scratch the surface of its depth and power because they will never be shown how to make it work for them.

  • Michael Attwood commented on Oct 10 2011

    The trend I see is societies becoming less equal all the time. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Education has not changed this, so in what sense is education an equaliser. A person from a poor background, with no history of valuing education has a much harder time succeeding in education than someone from an affluent family that values it. I don’t think this has changed a great deal in my lifetime of 45 years.

    In what sense is the internet an equaliser? The information shows the same pattern as the money economy: the information rich are richer, but the information poor are poorer.

    It is so difficult to assess the value of information presented on the internet that those without the discernment skills that only education can provide, are overwhelmed with worthless information. Education at least provides standards, and filters out as much irrelevant information as possible. A student would have to be extra-ordinary to educate themselves well from the internet – much more so than if they were in the non-fiction section of their local library. The internet for most people is like junk food – a quick hit of sugar and fat that has little nutritional value, and leads to ill health if indulged in too much.

  • Bette Boomer commented on Oct 10 2011

    The Internet the great equalizer? Not yet, but could be. There are ground zero factor-issues like accessibility & basic education (ability to read & write) to use & understand the tool in the first place. Goes without saying the internet is a powerful adjunct in formal education. It can be for “self” education if one knows where to look. Information must be used for some purpose. Give someone who can’t read or write access to the internet & then what?

    • Eldon McMullen commented on Oct 10 2011

      When someone can’t read or write, its like not having one of your senses. It is similar to not seeing and not talking in part of your reality. Ive wondered how soon a baby can start accessing the Internet. It seems like as soon as they had the ability to control it in anyway, that they would be interested and would learn really fast what to do to make different sounds and sights appear. If you could attach a feel attachment to it they could feel warmth or vibration or hard and soft or any other thing that the machine could be programed to do. Eldon

      • Hinerangi Courtenay commented on Oct 14 2011

        I think the internet is fantastic in combination with traditional learning, but it’s not yet at the point of being the great equalizer. The internet has made more information more easily available to more people in more places, and it’s possible to learn almost anything thanks to the internet. But for now navigating the wealth of information requires a certain level of discernment.

        As for learning to read and write, there are some great resources out there such as, a free website that teaches children to read with systematic phonics. It has games and animations, and kids can navigate the site themselves and essentially take charge of their own learning. For adults there are sites like

        The internet is like a huge library, and Open-source and Creative Commons licenses are enabling creators and content makers to easily share their resources while retaining control of their copyright.,, and iTunes U are great examples of how organizing this library can help education.

  • Kim Bock commented on Oct 7 2011

    I have found that, primarily, it is what the internet AVOIDS or CHALLENGES, that is the most educational. I read news reports and blog posts for keywords…sorta like a big tag cloud.

    • Chris Simon commented on Oct 19 2011

      Absolutely. On the one hand the web offers accessibility. This has not changed. What has changed is what I would call the “flocking” behaviors. A recent experience taught me while a social network may be freely open to all, it is still composed of individuals. Control structures are so new they are overlooked by most participants. Groups are edited by greatest contributors, moderators, owners, and other members who increasingly have vote powers. Though this may sound like a conspiracy argument, what I am saying is social people need something to be social about. Much of the work of moderation is to quash over zealous “connections” between content areas. This is the focal point of social groups. While moderators struggle to order the chaos, they also introduce restricting and compressing forces as part of the editing process. Thus, while a web space may appear to gather the best ideas from the entire net, what it actually does is work silently to conform those who persist in participation with the group. And what other defensible standard is there than a moderate one? While higher education does pander at times to what students want for their classes, foremost higher education is the vanguard of the future of culture, business, and education. Its the difference between politics and law.