Friday, January 27, 2012

Learning to make by making…

Mozilla is doing a bunch of thinking and work around creating learning offerings for webmaking and web literacy. We are working on defining what we think the core set of web literacy skills are - including both harder skills and the ‘softer’ or more social skills. And we are developing curriculum, assessments and pathways for people to learn those skills. All of this is new and evolving daily, but there are some things/principles/assumptions that I feel are important to guide our work:

Learning making by making (or Less yak, more hack).

Learning experiences should be be hands-on, immersive activities that are focused on the making part, where the learning happens almost as a by-product. Let people get their hands dirty and learn through the process of trial and error, tinkering, exploring and building. This one is pretty core to everything we do, and many of the other principles/assumptions discussed below feed from this one. We won’t have lectures or long textbooks to read - instead expect to see more lightweight, modularized, immersive activities or experiences which can stand on their own but are also rich with opportunities for learning. A note: with this approach, its important to explicitly tell the learners what they’ve learned after (and in some cases, during) the experience to make them aware and foster self-reflection and metacognition. This is where the Mozilla badges will play an important role. Keep reading for more on that.

Hacking on things that they care about as the core.

Where possible, the thing in the middle that people are building or hacking on should be something that they care about and is relevant to them. For example, for a journalist, that thing might be a story that she has written. It’s probably safe to assume that she cares about the story, has some emotional attachment to it and its success, feels a sense of ownership, can envision how to make it better, etc. So taking that story and having her build it out in HTML and CSS is going to help her learn HTML/CSS much more quickly and deeply than if she just did random one-off tasks. This model isn’t always going to work in all cases, but its important to focus on activities that are meaningful to the learner. 

Have fun.

It’s hard to downplay the power of fun for motivation and deeper learning. Therefore, we are approaching our curriculum and design with a sense of playfulness and fun. I don’t necessary think that explicit fun has to be a part of everything - there are a lot of learning experiences, like the journalist one mentioned above, that can be implicitly and intrinsically fun and motivating and where possible, we want to foster that. But there are many other cases where explicit/extrinsic fun can really draw people in and lead to a lot of learning. Therefore, things like missions, role-based challenges and mini-games will definitely have a place in our overall learning content offering.

Learn together.

One of the key affordances of the Web is that it connects us to other people - allows us to share things and riff on them together. Webmaking is inherently a social activity as well. The success of the early web and HTML was that it was so easy to view source, copy other people’s code and build on it/from it. So these learning experiences should allow for, and maybe even strongly encourage, social interaction, peer learning and mentorship. 

Embed assessments in the learning and embed learning in the assessments.

We want to ensure that people are learning and we want them to be aware of what they’ve learned too. So assessment is important. But this doesn’t mean we need to force people through artificial multiple choice exams. If we are doing the stuff from above right, namely trying to make the learning experience meaningful and/or fun, then the assessments should follow the same model. Assessments should be embedded into the learning experience where possible. They should allow for people to leverage work they’ve already done (i.e. linking to your github account to demonstrate that you know how to code). We want to avoid authority-required assessments, but instead focus on peer assessment and self-assessments as much as possible. Here’s the kicker - people should LEARN during the assessment process. Whether its from the experience of doing the work required for the assessment, or being the assessor, there is an opportunity to encourage more learning here.

Get/Give recognition.

OF COURSE we are building badges into our learning offerings. While there is an element of eating our own dog food, our webmaking content is a perfect use case for badges. It’s informal, interest-driven learning that will include many job-relevant skills. And then there’s the whole self-awareness/metacognition thing I previously mentioned. Oh and some motivation thrown in to the mix as well. Thus, learners will earn badges as they interact with our content, take assessments, build things, etc. We haven’t decided the specifics yet, but its possible the smaller incremental badges will level up or aggregate into a Webmaker master type of badge.

Allow for extensibility

There are two levels here: extensibility on the individual learner level and on our entire learning offering level. On the learner level: webmaking is creative and personal - therefore these learning experiences cannot be overly scaffolded or constrained. We need to leave room for individual (or group!) experimentation. We need to be flexible to let the learner adapt things as they go, or choose their own adventure, if you will. On the higher level: We know a lot about webmaking but 1) we don’t know everything, 2) we don’t know how to speak to everyone and 3) it changes all the time. Therefore, we should design our learning offerings in a way that people can both pick it up and use it in their own contexts, but also BUILD ON IT. This should support everything from localization to something much bigger, like a more traditional open source model.

Reveal the universe.

This ties into some of the points made above, but it is important to give the learner a sense of everything there is to learn, and where they fit into it. We may handle this through a set of badges and/or a learning map that can illustrate what a particular learner has achieved/mastered and what’s next or what’s left for them. We have to provide the pathways to mastery for those that want them, while also allowing people to jump around as well. The key is that they have a picture of the learning universe and can make choices about how to explore it.

It may be helpful to reiterate that while I think many of these principles are important for all kinds of learning, we are working with a very specific set of content - webmaking - that potentially lends itself better to some of these approaches than other content. We are also very clearly rooted in the informal learning space, which ultimately gives us more flexibility (but it is important to me to still build in some rigor around effectiveness and accountability as well).

Just some of the things I’m thinking about right now. Would love to hear other suggestions/ideas.



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