Economies are complex but sharing is simple. If we can access the Internet, then our particular geography or our immediate social networks do not limit what we buy or share or with whom we share. Online companies such as Air BnB, Lyft, and DogVacay have become matchmakers for people (often complete strangers) looking to lend, rent, or borrow goods and services. Air BnB is changing the face of travel in urban centres, allowing people to stay in the neighbourhoods they want to hang out in, at rates they can afford. On a recent episode of the Colbert Report, Brian Chesky CEO Air BnB said that “you can literally have a castle in Ireland, a boat of the coast of Cape Town or one of 34 000 homes in Paris” sounds appealing, right?Lyft is using smartphone technology to connect people who need rides with people who will give rides, offering a more affordable alternative to traditional taxi services. And, similarly, DogVacay does as you might expect: it connects dog owners to dog sitters – creating happiness for dog lovers of all kinds.
Often referred to as a form of collaborative consumption, the sharing economy is rearranging the way we buy and use products and the way we conceptualize services. People are excited, people are curious, and people are participating. A Guardian article reports that Air BnB takes a booking every two seconds: “an awful lot of people have realized they have a potential revenue stream in the spare room.” Revenue streams are expanding and diversifying and, simultaneously, so are our social networks. While the sharing economy enables us access to less expensive goods and services, it is also creating an environment where other, less commercial, forms of sharing are becoming popular.
Learning in a collaborative ethos
Within the sharing economy, a collaborative ethos has become increasingly visible. Some people are calling this an emergence of trust, others are baffled that these kind of social practices have even taken flight, let alone become successful. And this success is remarkable. Last year, Forbes marked the sharing economy as a 26 billion dollar market. It is enabling access to more affordable goods and services and it is also creating an environment where other, less commercial, forms of sharing are becoming popular. In 2013, the Harvard Business Review Press, wrote “in the same way that ridesharing platforms connect drivers to passengers who need a ride, two-sided markets could connect those who can teach a skill to those who need it.”
Peer-to-peer learning and skill exchanges exemplify the kind of non-monetary exchanges that the sharing economy ethos facilitates. Quite simply: I know something or can do something you cannot and I am willing to share my knowledge and/or skill set with you. What can you give me in return?
The concept of skill sharing is one of the simplest forms of exchange imaginable and its growing popularity allows us to imagine new ways of learning and, inevitably, a disruption of old ways of learning. We can picture an infinitely expanding and non-hierarchical way of attaining knowledge and skills. The increasing popularity of the sharing economy is transformative and it means we are living in an era that is ideal for anyone curious and motivated to put herself out there and say: I want to learn something and I’ve got something to teach.
Out with the old?
With so much excitement about the opportunity to meet and exchange skills and knowledge with strangers, there’s inevitable emphasis on the novelty of all of these opportunities. But is this really a new social phenomenon or is it something we’ve seen before? Is peer-to-peer knowledge exchange pioneering a new way of teaching and learning or is it simply a reincarnation of old, less institutional forms of knowledge exchange? Arguably, it’s a little bit of both.
As humans, we learn from one another. We always have. We do this both formally and informally. Relationships between mentors and mentees and masters and apprentices are common in our cultural narratives. Knowledge, skills, ideas, and methods have been passed on, through people, and across generations for centuries. Before universities became institutionalized producers of knowledge and granters of degrees, they were places of conversation and mentorship. Apprenticeship programs have existed for centuries – well before they became facets of trade schools, belonging to university degree programs. Today, we see a range of internship, mentorship, and apprenticeship programs. In fact, most people graduating from university seek out internships, recognizing that they have a lot to learn from the work force – skills they didn’t learn at university.
Yet, something feels different about the potential for exchange made possible by the Internet. It may be that we can now facilitate these exchanges on our own – that we don’t have to rely on a governing body to place us into a relationship with teachers and/or learners. It may be that we now have the capacity to gain social mobility through the expansion of our knowledge and skill repertoire, without having to go several thousand dollars into debt. Perhaps it is that we are, actually, experiencing something new: the possibility of learning from anyone, regardless of time or space. As we redefine what it means to learn and as we rethink who we can learn from, we can begin to reconceptualize who we are as learners and teachers.
We all know something, we just may not have had the opportunity (or the interface) to share that knowledge with someone who is willing to learn.