I failed a subject when I was in the fourth grade because I was not a good listener, I could never get myself to concentrate on what the teachers said. It was gibberish that would fly right over my head. It didn’t help that in the Arab world, teachers think that learning is only done by listening. How often was I forced to put my pen and paper away by the teacher so that I wouldn’t doodle, but instead stare blankly at the chalkboard while my mind did somersaults? For the longest time, I hated school, I hated learning, and I believed I was stupid.
(Have you heard of Questler?)
Then in the sixth grade, while studying biology from my textbook, I came upon a publication that used to belong to my grandfather called “The New Medicine Show”. I paged through it and found that one of the subjects in my school textbook was covered in detail, and I started reading, amused at how the human body worked. That night, I learned more about the topic than I would have for years if I were to rely on school. The next day, and for the first time in my life, I got an A in biology. More recently I decided to learn what you can do with a biology degree here .
(Today, with the internet at such advanced stages, people passionate about knowledge and advancement are finding it easier to make and use tools that aid the process of acquiring knowledge in untraditional and more productive ways.)
My discovery of informal learning changed my life. I realized that I cannot work with my attention span when it comes to listening, but that I can always make up for it with books and the internet, reading about a topic beyond what is required in the syllabii and without the mindframes set by the educators. I realized that it wasn’t my problem that I was a bad student as a child, it was the problem of the Arab mentality that puts too much stress on the importance of “listening” and formal knowledge. With better grades and the knowledge that sitting quietly at school is absolutely futile, I became louder, more outgoing, and more confident. I finished middle school and highschool with straight A’s, and university with a GPA of 3.7, while never listening to anything anyone ever said at school. I was always doodling, taking pictures, reading a book tucked inside my textbook.
(I heart learning. I heart knowledge. I heart open source.)
The memory of how horrible it felt to go through summer school while I was barely 9 years old and my breakthrough informal knowledge discovery was triggered by a conversation I had with Razan AlKhatib about her website, Questler, which is a learning network that connects people with others who share their interests to learn, collaborate and share ideas.
Roba: Ok, so what exactly was the idea behind Questler and when did it all start?
Razan: A lot of the things I learned in my life, such as my English, were not learned through courses or in any formal organization, but rather, through informal circles, and a long with a few friends, we decide to start our journey in our humble try to make the world an active learning space. In November, 2007, Questler (Quest and Learn) saw the public light.
We’re really passionate about informal learning as most of what we learn after school is informal, whether through work, experience or conversations. It helps us do our jobs better. That is the whole point of Questler, providing tools to capture informal learning as it is very important to cultivate knowledge. It is a community with conversations, and we try to help people to find it easier to communicate, and to help organizations of all sort to cultivate informal learning and capture the informal learning that goes already.
Roba: Does anyone ever stir up trouble on the site?
Razan: Inti! Your religious string is gonna stir up some trouble I guess.
Roba: I know Questler is international, bas an Arab, do you think the Arab world in its current backwards mentality is ready for such an initiative?
Razan: Perhaps the Arab world in its majority isn’t yet, but most our current users are Arab, and they’re all self aware of their learning needs and need for social learning, which I guess says a lot.
Roba: Cool. So when the average acquaintance of yours about Questler, what are the reactions?
Razan: People who are internet-savvy get a bit contemplative then they go to check it out. Most reflect on their daily lives, their trials and challenges, trying to understand their life better, which is basically what we had in mind. Those who are not as online though usually want to keep there private lives away from the internet, even if it was learning about new things. The average person also associates learning with formal learning, so we need to make it more fun and interesting. We discovered that not everyone is a Questler as not everyone is conscious is about their daily learning. More importantly, internet penetration is not that big in the Arab world and the average Arab is more interested in using the internet to share music, videos, etc.
Throughout the conversation, I was thinking wow, that sounds so altruistic, in a grand “let’s make the world a better place” sort of way. It’s great that people are trying to cultivate this knowledge, and I’m so happy to see this initiative from young, passionate Arab people, as corny as that sounds.
Good luck Questler!