When I was in college, I sometimes went to the library just to browse and learn. I might pick a book or journal off the shelf, read something, see a reference to something else, go read that, and so on.
From that sort of self-education perspective, the Internet is like that college library, only bigger and closer. I don’t have to go to the library–I just turn on my laptop or tablet. The contents are not confined by shelf space or budget. As an aside, there is multimedia (YouTube). Also, much more frequent updating.
One downside of the bigger, closer library is that it has many distractions. In college, the only competition for my attention was the sports section of the newspaper and the occasional girl I wanted to chat up. To play a game or get entertainment I had to go somewhere else. Now, the distractions are right in the library.
The bigger, closer library has to be an enormous boon to what Tyler Cowen calls infovores, particularly those for whom a traditional library was out of reach.
The question I have is how school as we know it relates to the bigger, closer library. Possibilities:
1. They are complements. You use the bigger, closer library more efficiently because of what takes place in school.
2. They are substitutes. Time you spend in school courses is wasted–you would be better off spending time in the bigger, closer library. But when you are distracted in the bigger, closer library, you would have been better off in school.
3. Schooling is not about learning. It is about socialization. Schools are in the process of shifting their focus to socialization, with the responsibility for learning shifting to the student and to the bigger, closer library.
On point (1), think of learning as requiring motivation, feedback, and content. The library has the content, but you have to be motivated to use it and you need feedback to know whether you are using it well. Perhaps right now the classroom provides better motivation and feedback.
However, I expect within a few years to see feedback systems on phones and tablets that are at least competitive with the feedback process that occurs in a classroom. At that point, the only contribution that classroom time can make is to help with motivation–teachers motivating students and students motivating one another.