#12 A certain type of online courses can fix our education
Dedicated to a format of live online courses pioneered by Seth Godin
Welcome to Hunter-Gatherer, a weekly newsletter where I give you one thing to try, to think about and a question to respond to nurture your relationship with the Internet. In an online-first world, we're all hunters & gatherers of information.
Today, I have a different plan for this letter. We will still be talking about the Internet but in the context of education and Live Online Courses.
The story starts with my friend who decided to drop out of his MBA Course as the online classes were not worth the usual (and high) fees they were demanding. The format of these classes was: offline lectures streamed online. For this, he decided not to pay the high fees as it lacked the "college experience." He deemed online medium as inherently limited compared to the offline experience of classrooms and a campus. However, my experiences with online learning differed incredibly.
This year I took two live online courses, one by productivity guru Tiago Forte and another by writer David Perell. As I was describing my experiences to my friend, astonishingly he was finding solutions not only to his current problems but all education he had ever experienced.
The Questions: How deeply you understand a course material is tested by questions. All courses have exercises and questions to practise the material with. But the instructor can only anticipate so many questions, limited by his perspective. And you can come up with only so many questions of your own. A valuable part of learning with others in a classroom is the ability to tap into diverse perspectives. The online course accomplished this in a vastly superior way.
In a classroom, you can't get to everyone's questions but what if you could. During the live sessions, as my instructor David Perell was teaching, the 200 students attending from across the globe were firing their questions in the group chat. Enter the Mediator, a guy called Will Mannon. Will was in charge of keeping track of all the questions and often combining them into bigger, better questions. Knowing the course himself, he then interjected these questions at meaningful points in the ongoing lecture for Perell to answer.
This was just the beginning of learning from a community of diverse people.
The Conversations: During the live sessions, in every 15 minutes or so, Perell would finish a topic, and send us into breakout rooms. Breakout rooms is basically a group discussion of 2-3 people. In about 70 breakout rooms spanning 200 students, we were discussing what we had just learned, describing in our own words and some ideas on how we can apply it. It reinforced and deepened our learning.
In over 100 breakout sessions during the span of the course, I met interesting people from all walks of life. It was a writing course and my work was reviewed by lawyers, academics, scriptwriters, YouTubers, etc. Learning from these diverse styles was invaluable.
Two-way Learning: The learning comes from the instructor and the learning comes from the community. When we were not on these Live Zoom Calls, we would be hanging out in the online forums. You can scroll through a "directory" of ideas shared by people and connect with whoever's interests you. We were having conversations, reviewing whoever's assignment interested us, how we're applying the course learning to our respective lives and what are we creating next. It is a lively, incredibly energetic community that you learn from, collaborate with on projects and so on.
But wait, there's more.
Most live online courses have the option of attending the cohorts everytime they happen. These 1-month courses are like music festivals that you attend regularly for updated material, participating in the experiences and meeting new people. It's essentially a lifetime membership to a club.
Economical of your time: The course material if taught in a university would've probably been spread out over a year, but Perell had no incentive to do that. He was instead incentivised to distil the course to its essentials and be delivered in minimum time as his priority was delivering the course to people who won't be, by default, full-time students. In general, you want to choose an instructor who saves you time by not wasting it.
Learning is fun when it's collaborative and interactive. And this must happen through various mediums. There are certain exchanges that can only happen through writing and online forums are great for that. Through the technology available, it's a boon and not a bane to have more students in a "classroom". Online courses are uniquely positioned to bring together people from all across the globe in all walks of life and not "exclusively students". Ideally, a course should be accessible to anyone who is curious to learn and the access shouldn't be limited by other factors like location and time.
And obviously, I will be meeting the people I met in this course and who live in my city. You know once this pandemic ends.
The two courses I took were closely related and I could imagine it being bundled into a degree if taught at a university. But in general, the Internet has unbundled all curriculums into parts for you to pick as and when you need. This is a part of a larger transition from just-in-case learning to just-in-time learning.
Sooner than later, we must all adapt to this new world. Hope you're doing fine in this pandemic. Thank you for indulging with me. All criticisms, thoughts and conversations are encouraged.
This format of live online courses was first pioneered by Seth Godin for his course "altMBA". There's a lot of experimentation going on ever since. If you've never tried one, do reply to this email. I would love to discuss the courses you can try (they usually have a money-back guarantee, unlike a university) and how you can evaluate an online course before taking one.