07/09/2012 05:16 pm ET Updated Sep 08, 2012

From TEDGlobal 2012: 'Radical Openness': A Collective Responsibility to Drive the Next Learning Evolution

Attending this past June's TEDGlobal 2012 conference in Edinburgh, Scotland was a lifetime highlight -- a week that satiated my cultural and intellectual curiosity. It also transformed numerous personal perspectives on how we, as humans, are both mindfully and not-so-mindfully using the power of open information to benefit humanity on a larger global scale. This year's theme, 'Radical Openness,' covered topics including how open source development projects can improve the human experience, open global education for both children and adults, the rapidly changing global talent pool and how companies need to take advantage of both now or will be left behind, given the speed and scale of the Internet's evolution.

Never before have we been so connected, but this year's forum posed the question of "how do we elevate the power of our open connections to the next level, and use that connection to drive greater impact on a personal level?" While it's a significant question that's been discussed among many, TEDGlobal offered a forum where individuals from different countries, backgrounds and areas of expertise provided a new perspective, of looking more openly at possibilities that the global digital economy has provided and that can help us solve old problems in new ways.

A problem that's not entirely old, yet not often fully addressed, is the importance of adult learning, development and education, a topic that often remains reserved for corporate environments. Scottish born American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie was one of the most prominent supporters of self-directed learning; historical accounts often mention his personal perseverance around learning as one of the key contributors to his growth from humble means to tremendous success and global community impact. In today's world, adults have plentiful opportunities to study, yet often lack the means, time or direction to pursue their interests.

TEDGlobal featured two presentations that challenged the traditional offline and online adult education models, sharing useful insights and results that apply to both personal and organizational learning environments. Daphne Koller, founder of coursera, presented on the realistic concept of 'massive online education.' "Education for everyone" is its mission; coursera partners with top global universities to offer free courses online. What's different about coursera's approach? The impact, data and results help personalize an individual's learning program. Just as powerful was Eddie Obeng, founder of online business school Pentacle, which develops inventive yet realistic learning programs as businesses try to "keep up" with rapidly changing market cycles and company goals.

Emphasizing the importance of lifelong learning is not a new idea, yet the practice for adults requires commitment to possibilities, different ways of thinking and, in some cases, a radically open mindset. With a fresh approach, education's evolution becomes real -- and possible. Most important, it brings the responsibility to those of us who have the access and desire to promote possibilities and actively stimulate the next phase of the information age revolution.