For the most part, online education focuses on scale. The front-runner of online learning, the MOOC, is by definition a Massive Open Online Course. Universities develop these courses to reach thousands of people across the globe, and hope that a small percentage will finish the course and cough up the money for a certificate.
But online courses often fail to create community, or engagement with fellow classmates. Rather than reimagining education for an online medium, it takes the traditional model of university classes and scales it up.
By capitalizing on the scale of the internet, online courses overlook the possibility for the internet to connect people around the world with similar interests. I am imagining a new type of online learning platform which focuses on collaboratively learning a topic with a small group of fellow students. By making class sizes small, and removing the need for a teacher (students create their own curriculum), classes can focus on studying very niche topics. Perhaps even groups of PhD scientists could get together on such a platform to share ideas, research, and collectively push their field in new directions.
There is a quote which may be a bit cliche but that I like nonetheless.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
— Margaret Mead
I believe that a collaborative learning platform which focuses on bringing people together in small groups, has the potential to change the world. Not that the learning platform might be revolutionary, but the people and the connections formed within it could have a seriously positive impact on the world. In a world focused on the next big thing, sometimes we just need to do big on a small scale.
Consider this page to be a work-in-progress design document for my vision of a new type of online learning, creating new online mediums to bring people together.
Really, I am imagining a platform which connects people to study topics which interest them. This can be as simple as a class listing, with each class having a general outline of what may be studied (remember, the students ultimately create their own curriculum), and then people can register a vote of interest for the classes they would like to be part of. Once a class reaches a sufficient number of people, whose schedules and time zones somewhat line up, they will be prompted to join the class.
A class itself could be little more than a forum with scheduled zoom meetings every one or two weeks. This would be the bare basic setup for this idea to become a reality. Then testing can begin and validate whether or not the system would be useful in such a skeleton form.
At the other end of the spectrum, I imagine a platform which is much more cohesive. With features to promote collaboration and designed to guide the group of students through creating their own curriculum, finding resources and readings around their topic, and sharing with each other what they have learnt. In audio/video meetings, people could bring a list of points to share which could be compiled into a sort of "meeting minutes", and notes could be taken or drawn collaboratively to record important bits of conversation.
Each student goes off each week to learn and gather resources and then comes back to describe what they have learnt to their group. Collectively the group may compile what they have learnt into a sort of "course memex" which would not only serve as an overview for the students to come back to later but also a starting point and guide for the next group to take the course.
I also like the idea of having online "spaces", creating a sort of online campus to bring people together across different classes with online events, talks, conferences, etc. Perhaps there could be a lounge which you could join to have conversations with people. Or a collaborative work area where you share progress and track time with pomodoros. Perhaps even galleries that you can walk around in and look at notable projects people have made in various classes. And eventually, I hope that this model of education could extend beyond the online medium, connecting people at physical places within cities. All of these ideas however plan far into the future but they are some of the seeds that I will grow and build towards with this project.
- What are the pros and cons of traditional forum software from a design and interaction perspective?
- How can you lower the bar to contribute?
- Are metrics distracting to the user experience, can they be redesigned as visualizations?
- What are the different types of uses for the forum?
- Dynamic between students, assigned roles: leader and scribe
- Ways to meet in an online medium, are video chats the best option?
- What would be the optimal class size?
- How to guide students through designing their own curriculum?
- How to facilitate communication with experts in the field?
- Reframing the "university model" to focus on life-long learning