Using Learning Webs to Teach the Web

The Internet is transforming every aspect of our lives, including how we communicate, navigate, organize, work, play, and love. And it will also transform how we learn and teach. However, current online education platforms suffer design flaws that limit their effectiveness. Specifically, online courses ignore many of the lessons of the Internet’s spectacular success. In Fall 2016, blue will teach a new course on the internet designed to reflect some of the core features of today’s internet. We plan to realize a new approach to online learning called learning webs.

Learning webs incorporate the following design principles missing from many current online courses:

  • Avoid single points of failure. Most online courses are full of single points of failure. Small groups of instructors represent one single point of failure. If a student fails to connect with the instructor that is teaching the course, the whole course is ineffective. Individual lessons are another single point of failure. If a student fails to grasp a concept after one explanation, there are usually few if any alternatives available—​and usually those are provided by the same instructor. Learning webs engage large groups of instructors and experts that create a course together and avoid single points of failure.

  • Modularity creates collaboration. Today’s online courses are monolithic entities. Built from large chunks of content and frequently trapped within closed-source systems, existing online courses are hard to modify or extend. This prevents the formation of instructional communities and leads to a great deal of duplicated effort. Learning webs are designed to be modular—​both in content and in structure—​to encourage many different instructors to build similar courses using shared materials.

  • Leverage the crowd. Because today’s online courses are designed by small groups and difficult to extend, the miss opportunities to leverage the crowd: crowds of instructors, crowds of experts, or crowds of students. Learning webs democratize the process of creating courses and are specifically designed to leverage crowds of students, teachers, and experts.

  • Innovate at the edge. Existing online learning platforms spend a lot of time building complex website that are supposed to be easy for non-technologists to use. But the resulting products are frequently dumbed-down to the point that they frustrate expert users and miss opportunities to engage those with website development skills or new ideas that could improve online content delivery. Learning webs are intended to enable innovation at the edge through a simplified online content delivery platform that is only intended to be easy for technologists to use. But by appealing to instructors at the edge we hope to innovate much more rapidly, with the tradeoff of only providing a small number of technology-related courses.

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Created 7/8/2016
Updated 7/10/2016
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