This year, the Hyperlink team participated in Threadapalooza — an emergent internet challenge now in its second year, built around weaving 100-tweet threads on a specific topic. Our chosen topic:
How can internet learning be better?
We wrote about nontraditional learning and schools, people-first facilitation, what courses can be (and how we can go beyond notions of a "course"), the social side of online learning, and much more.
For your convenience (and for fun, and for the love of SEO) we've copied the full text of these tweets below, around 3,500 words in all.
This was a fun challenge, as well as a nice way to spark some conversations. Please reach out if you'd like to chat about these topics!
For so many things, teaching is the best way to learn.
Even for — especially for — amateurs, it's extremely generative; such a great way to spark new ideas, cultivate relationships, stir new creative directions, plant new seeds
More people should learn, in all kinds of environments, all kinds of ways.
Thus it follows: more people should teach!
Teaching can be an excellent complement to a creative practice. Not only worthwhile unto itself, but useful and generative for your work overall.
It's helpful to think of teaching not as a separate activity, but something that feeds into everything else you do.
Many tools that are effective tools for individual learners — like spaced repetition — can benefit from a social context, but shouldn't be shoved into one naively.
There are a lot of missed connections for learning!
Think: people reading the same book at the same time, exploring the same ideas…
Norms around signalling you're interested in something, and the extent of your interest, would go far.
This coupled with a system for social proofs (i.e, i've read this, or done this) would allow more stable emergent learning structures.
Lifelong learning should mean something more than "you're always gonna be required to do new things or we'll fire you".
Learning systems should prioritize learner agency over the demands of other stakeholders.
The internet has proportionally increased enthusiasts more so than it's increased experts.
People overestimate how much time and effort it would take to get to 95% in a field.
It's far more accessible to make meaningful contributions to a field than people think.
Atomic units are a good idea, executed poorly as videos and content. What you really want are atomic units of meaningful action
What could those look like? Writing, programming, playing a game…
Units of action in a learning environment should be the actual activity of the task at hand
For example, you should learn to write essays primarily by writing essays
Tools for learning are tools for doing are tools for thinking
TOOLS FOR LEARNING ARE TOOLS FOR DOING ARE TOOLS FOR THINKING
There is a significantly larger design space for learning structures than people think.
A single format isn't going to "win" — a system that lets people compose structure is.
Learning happens in way more informal contexts than formal ones. And the internet is great at informal contexts!
Online learning shouldn't try to formalize, but make informal contexts richer, and more connected to formal ones.
Consider: it's important to exit well
Online, it can be way easier to leave a community as well as join one, and that should be leveraged in the design of learning communities.
Online learning can be more learner controlled than legacy learning.
Learners can own their data, construct their own courses of study, and create their own learning structure, and still participate in a larger system.
End user programming is important in a learning environment, as it's a means for people to shape the environment that is shaping them.
Disciplines and departments are good, actually!
You want people to build specific knowledge and systems. You also want things to span across disciplines, and for them to emerge and die fluidly. The internet is pretty good at this.
Reducing transition shocks is a good goal. It shouldn't be nearly as dramatic to go from K-12 to university, or university to employment, or in and out of academia.
This runs somewhat counter to the fact that good learning contexts should be specific and weird to their niches. It's okay for them to have learning curves of their own!
Most assessments are terrible, and simply don't communicate much information about what a learner knows or can do (or doesn't / can't).
When they do work well, assessments are valuable feedback mechanisms that can help shape a learning experience.
Credentials perform an important role of communicating learning outside of the context in which it happened. Current credentials (college degrees, online certificates) are neither reliable nor precise.
We don't need ways for anyone to be able to create credentials.
We need ways for communities to form around them and steward them over time.
Completion rate is not a great metric. People can get a lot of value out of unexpected parts of a course, and maybe that's all they need.
Participation rates, on the other hand…!
"Online course" can mean too many damn things lolll
That can be both a good and a bad thing… Useful to the extent it gives common language to a wide landscape of experimentation; tough insofar as it leads to a lot of mixed expectations for both learners and teachers.
Key things a course requires:
-collaboration within a community of people: diverse perspectives, active engagement
-clear structure: experimental and iterative; a map, but one that can change to better serve its purpose
Beyond "sequence of things you learn", courses can have so many other goals & forms!
Course as bounded explorations; project propulsion; community onboarding; generative learning framework; method of transformation; community of practice…
Courses should prioritize flexibility and experimentation.
A course should be designed as a living structure, and be constantly tuned to the ongoing experience, adjusted based on what each participant brings and needs.
What do you NOT need to make a great learning experience? Tons of expertise, enormous amounts of content, super-polished videos…
What DO you need? Curiosity, openness, leadership, positivity, warmth, beginner's mindset…
Niche, weird courses can be the best kind of course!
Hyperspecific learning can generalize nicely (often even when serving as an introduction); this specificity allows for greater depth, more concreteness, richer projects…
Small groups = key. Intimate cohorts make for better learning.
At the same time, cohorts that connect to broader communities also make for better learning. They shouldn't be silos. Learners will want to follow different paths after leaving.
Exploration > edutainment
If it's not active, it might be fun, but it's probably not great learning.
Great learning is collaborative and exploratory, more about experience and process than absorbing content well.
There are lots of things learning environments can learn from games, but how they manipulate reward systems is not one of them. Instead we should look to how they introduce ideas and rules, give rich immediate feedback, and leverage interdependent systems.
Learning should be first and foremost about personal connection — aligning people on the same wavelength.
Courses should convene people actively make / do things together. Good conversation is part of it, but projects that blend solo and collaborative work: even better!
This feeling of active engagement, learning flow — the structure of a strong, tight-knit cohort, with clear facilitation and ambitious goals — can be the whole game, even more important (sometimes by far) than the course content.
For the type of learning that matters most
It's better to have a group improvising with their whole selves, determined to create and grow together, than the best syllabus in the world with no animating force to drive it.
Communities should generate their own learning — bottom up, not top down.
The learning that emerges will be peer-driven; participatory. All learners, not only teachers / facilitators, should be able to schedule meetings, create assignments, retrospect on learning, and so on.
In any group learning context there's a ton of latent knowledge distributed amongst peers.
A facilitator's job is as much to unlock that knowledge and experience as it is to leverage their own.
Lots of learning online simply isn't ambitious enough.
Why NOT try to achieve as much or more in an online course than you'd expect to see in a semester at the best liberal arts colleges?
The scale and scope of learning, too, can be expanded. Sometimes courses aren't long enough!
Digital tools have a tendency towards the now, but they can be powerful for extending practices through time. Wanted: ways to learn online that can span years, decades, generations…
It's important to think about not just the process of creating a course, but its whole long-term lifecycle.
From baby seedling course, to work-in-progress beta course, to proven (yet still evolving) mature course, to its ultimate end and legacy…
Courses should think of ways to die gracefully too. So much knowledge is lost in old syllabi and reading lists of now-defunct courses.
How can courses decompose and disperse their material as fertilizer for future learning?
Not every course on the internet should be an ~online course business~
We need more ways to teach, ways to learn, ways to bring teachers and learners together, learning ecosystems, beyond traditional frameworks of "school" and "business"
Mega-courses often do certain things well, but $ / scale can be a constraining lens.
It's important for teaching to be a sustainable practice, but the dominant framing feels off. Something's lost when we teach to capture market share more so than for its intrinsic rewards.
That said, learning experiences create a huge amount of value, for learners, teachers, businesses, and entire industries.
More of that value should flow back into them, to keep them anchored to reality and sustainable.
There are a lot of examples of awesome learning experiences, on- and offline — great inspiration we can learn from and build on.
Not only courses but casual peer groups, events and conferences, communities… Here are a few of the sorts of things we'd love to see more of:
More things like The Antidisciplinarathon — super collaborative, exploratory, interdisciplinary "un conference" style peer-driven learning environments.
This is a short one; how to apply to a longer course / sequence?
More "generative events" a la Robin Sloan's proposal here—events that are live, generative, publishable, performative, serial…
"I like the idea of the event as a fundamental unit of media, specifically because at its best, it can be generative…"
More learning communities a la what Elizabeth describes in "Design is a Party"
Ways of designing learning groups to be engaged, prioritize the feeling of community over expertise, include intros, ice breakers, check-ins—get to know each other.
More interactive & open syllabi that can scaffold self-directed peer learning groups or independent study
So many examples, like Metacademy, Shannon Mattern & Nick Sousanis' courses, Speculating Futures, Supply Studies Syllabus, Modernity + Coloniality… (too many to link!)
More independent micro-schools or domain specific learning communities, creating exciting microcosms of learning on all kinds of fascinating and vital topics — e.g. the School for Poetic Computation; the School for Making Thinking; The Black School
The most interesting learning happens at the margins.
Radical education & self-organized groups & small scale orgs >>> MOOCs & big marketing-driven online course businesses
There's lots we can learn from innovative, alternative schools, on- and offline, particularly re: mission, identity, community.
Older ones like Summerhill & Black Mountain College; newer ones like Minerva, SFPC, SMT, The Black School, Brooklyn Institute for Social Research…
A valuable thing that should exist is an "indie internet center for teaching and learning".
Interesting space between large traditional institutions & invent-learning-from-scratch-online; important to not only build & experiment, but draw on great examples & documentation.
On a similar note — there's a LOT that schools and learning institutions can learn from libraries!
Strong community-facing mission, diverse and holistic services, multiple ways to engage, mix of access to resources and events and people and materials…
Again, more people should teach; teaching is valuable. Many great potential teachers, but can feel like high barrier to entry.
We need more space for online learning that exists because people love to teach and learn together — and infrastructure to make this easier.
Disillusioned academics: there is a better path ahead :)
We should carve out more space for teaching outside the academy that's both rigorous and experimental.
Flexible and relatively lightweight space / infrastructure, supporting serious and meaningful learning.
What if you do lots of kinds of work? And want to teach once a quarter with a couple dozen students? And not constantly think about logistics?
This x 1,000 = more learning for curiosity, intellectual stimulation, the joy of understanding and making, social experience…
Definitely something to be said for institutional support.
Not in a rigid traditional way but loose, organic, flexible, shared community, mutual support, collective infrastructure…
The task ahead: combine the best of a university + the best of independent online teaching.
Lots of important dynamics to consider in learning design, online as elsewhere!
Cohort size, cadence, sync vs. async interaction, artifacts and assignments, exercises and facilitation methods, prerequisites, cost, creating trust, course meta-narrative, feedback mechanisms…
There are so many ways of structuring a course:
Large project (group or individual) Series of small projects Guided sequence of ideas Mix of theoretical and applied Introduction to a practice
And more. And combinations! All useful framing mechanisms.
Also — countless types of experiences to explore:
Demonstrative exercises Diagramming Breaking a large project into parts Daily micro-assignments Collaborative notes Journaling Portfolio-making Playtesting Show and tell Silent work time Office hours Ice breakers
EVEN MORE modes of facilitation / learning activities:
1:1 with peers Guided discussions Group readings Pair programming Retrospectives…
It's hard to leverage all of these, and different courses will demand different ones. But overall: worth experimenting more!
Expanding on some of these structural dynamics. One maybe interesting / non-intuitive thing:
Cohorts can probably scale to larger sizes than we might think.
Natural to prefer a small group; intimate is nice! But bigger can be better, or at least worth supporting.
What feels perfect for a dinner party (5-10 people) can be a bit small for a course cohort.
More people = more energy; mitigates variance in attendance / participation.
BUT need structure to support e.g. use breakout groups, peer feedback, 1:1s. And don't go too big.
Time and space present opportunities and challenges!
On the internet, you can reach everyone; a super-niche course can more easily find its audience.
On the flip side, people still live in the physical world; coordination remains a challenge with time zones, schedules, etc.
One big challenge: balancing sync + asyn interactions.
It can help to focus on synchronous work — people are busy; it's easy to skip homework; showing up is the hardest part…
But flexibility is also valuable! Constant tradeoffs; we need more ways to balance these tensions.
It's worth considering how we can more powerfully leverage artifacts & assignments.
Too easy to finish a course without much tangible to show, or with internal artifacts only. Better = leaving with a completed project, a portfolio, seeds that may grow into something more…
Course pricing = strange alchemy. It gets weird.
Higher prices: more sustainable for creators; can signal quality Lower prices: more accessible learning; expanded market
Some courses cost too much. Some cost too little. It can be very hard to put a price on learning.
The price we want is a sweet spot aligning goals of: accessible courses, students invested / serious, and facilitators fairly compensated.
Likely a different # for each course. We should also explore pricing for non-course learning structures (e.g. clubs; solo adventures!)
Many expensive courses, both online and physical, are costly at least in some part because people will commit to the coursework in proportion to the amount of money they've paid to be part of it.
This can be a not-insignificant part of a course's value.
Ideally, though, the stakes of any learning journey are primarily social, not financial.
People should join and contribute because they respect and value the opinions of a group of smart, like-minded, curious, creative people.
Another reason expensive courses are expensive is because they offer access to a rich social space & learning community. And that is worth paying for!
See the following subthread for more on the value & design of social spaces for learning…
SUBTHREAD ON SOCIAL SPACES FOR LEARNING
We often hear that putting yourself a quarter million dollars in debt for university is worth it, not for the readings and lectures, but for the friendships and networks you build along the way.
It makes sense, then, that you can already find amazing lectures by smart, insightful, prominent people all over the internet that are either cheap or free.
After all, they're all missing the strong community and support that learning in a physical space can provide.
If online learning spaces can replicate and improve the social spaces and community interactions that universities and other IRL learning institutions provide, they can be just as effective, if not better, at facilitating meaningful learning.
Benefits of IRL spaces for learning & community & making friends, 1️⃣
Shared, persistent, and dedicated physical context. A shared understanding of the space you occupy is more universal and immediately understood than social or political values, interests and hobbies.
Benefits of IRL spaces for learning & community & making friends, 2️⃣
The social pressure to interact and meet new people; the FOMO that comes with seeing others talking, not always knowing what they're talking about, wanting to learn more.
Benefits of IRL spaces for learning & community & making friends, 3️⃣
You are, by default, working in the open. Any slightly curious person can see or ask about your work. Maybe even join in and contribute!
Benefits of IRL spaces for learning & community & making friends, 4️⃣
The learning community is first a series of relationships with specific people, before it is a relationship to everyone as a whole. These individual relationships matter.
Benefits of IRL spaces for learning & community & making friends, 5️⃣
Affordances for play. Humans have spent millennia learning to manipulate our environment. We can turn any space into a playground. We feel comfortable paving our own way and making spontaneous discoveries.
The current social platforms we use for learning communities (Slack, Discord, forums, Zoom calls) can't accommodate all these things.
They're useful, but we should stop trying to make them do everything. Somehow that makes them simultaneously boring and overwhelming.
A better place to start: investigating existing social platforms where people get together to achieve common goals, forge lasting relationships, and embark on collaborative adventures to do things unachievable by a single person.
Yes, that's right…the world of MMORPGs :D
Diverse learning = stronger learning.
Diverse contexts, diverse participants, diverse methods.
Most learning environments don't fully embrace this. Enormous $$$ barrier to entry, monoculture leadership, and exclusionary hiring are major failings of universities.
Lack of diversity also limits grant / institution funded research.
Only trendy research is published → if you don't publish you aren't a real academic → only trendy topics are researched.
This prevents lots of fascinating research and silences marginalized perspectives.
Online education can help remedy these issues.
Lowering barriers to teaching + expanding the scope of what's viable to teach = more opportunities to teach = more ways for underserved communities to teach and learn together.
Learning, teaching, and research should be directed by communities of peers around topics of shared interest.
Not by the judgements of elite panels, or the whims of whoever hires the best marketing hucksters, or the inscrutable machinations of bureaucracy.
It's impossible to overstate the importance of collaboration and co-creation in learning.
Detailed curriculums are great, but we can design more and better ways to collaborate.
We can also build in some slack; create space to explore together and adjust course as we go…
Zoom fatigue is real. Not everyone jibes with reading / writing long replies. Let's mix things up and expand the scope of meaningful participation.
Mailed workbooks? Slow discussion spaces? Casual audio chats? Guided readings? Group work sessions? [INSERT EXPERIMENTS HERE]
Back to "courses"…"online courses"…
It should be clear by now: not everything should be a course! It's a simple default, but language is limiting.
We also need more:
~Casual learning ~One-time events ~Solo adventures
Woven into the fabric of interconnected communities…
But again, what should courses — learning groups — adventures — clubs — events — experiences — be?
We have a few ideas:
Learners should be able to assemble their own long-term curriculum based on their individual goals, desired skills, values, and communities.
What should learning be?
Contexts are constantly shifting: learning aligned with hobbies, career skills, personal projects, and more.
No one format works best; we want flexible structures and communities that support all the ways we learn.
What should learning be?
Learning environments should be intimate spaces where participants gather for a transformative experience.
Learners should have agency; feel engaged, empowered.
Learning groups should start as peers; become friends, collaborators.
What should learning be?
Much of the value of structured learning comes from commitment and accountability.
It's often less about the content, and more about giving yourself time to do the work, rise to a challenge. This time is a gift you give others, too.
What should learning be?
Connections of different kinds, at different scales — ad hoc projects, research groups, courses, book clubs, collaborative projects…
Blurring lines between teachers, learners, schools. Complex ecosystems; emergent behaviors.
What should learning be?
POSITIVE AND INCLUSIVE
Kindness matters. Openness matters. Empathy matters.
Teachers and learners should be diverse, curious, open-minded, encouraging, helpful, generous, anti-exclusionary, understanding, welcoming, warm.
Neither governments nor corporations are the solution to education woes.
We need individuals empowered to create educational contexts specific to their local communities, and networked into a global system.
People are the individual atoms of learning.
It's nonsensical to design for learning without putting people first. Does not compute!
We can spend endless time making courses, but if we don't equip people with the tools and tenets to make use of them, it doesn't matter.
Education, led by everyone — BIPOC, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, of all ages, women and gender nonconforming, across incomes, marginalized, of every stripe — is one of the most important things we can prioritize to build a society of understanding and open-minded equals.
Thanks for reading! If you'd like to share, here's the link again :)