Blog Post

P2PU - A lab for open social learning

Cathy asked me to repost some thoughts on how P2PU could become a social learning lab - for massive experimentation. I would really love some feedback and input from the HASTAC folks on these ideas. How could we make this a lab that you would want to use? 

We have been working very hard on making P2PU more like a "product" over the last 6 months, and while I think that's the right strategy to make sure more people can have great learning experiences, I also feel we need to find a balance between polishing the UX and retaining space for experimentation. P2PU started as a place that encouraged serendipitous experiences. And we don't want to lose the spirit of tinkering and playing that was part of that. I'm hoping that a learning lab could be the connector. And we offer a more robust (release version) of the platform for those who care less about experimentation and just want an easy to use platform for social learning.


Original post ->


This announcement about Harvard receiving a US$ 40M gift to support teaching and learning innovation made me think more about the platform conversation we’ve been having (here and on the mailing list). Besides giving an elite university a lot of cash, how can we foster more innovation in learning and teaching in ways that will affect more people?

It struck me that there isn’t really an open lab for learning innovation – and that P2PU could be it. During Monday night’s board meeting we discussed sustainability, and Neeru riffed on the platform idea a bit. She wondered if we could model ourselves as a research institute. There would be heaps of experimentation and research, some of it driven by us and some driven by partners who want to work with us, and each year we would publish a string of short reports about what we are learning. Cathy added that we could connect it to an annual conference with great speakers from the P2PU community who share the results of their work, and suggested that corporations would be willing to pay substantive amounts of money for this knowledge.

Which brings me to the term “lab”. Speaking to more people about the idea of a “platform” made me realize that it’s a term that means different things to different people. And when I explained that it was a mechanism to support experimentation and research, they would ask if it was “kind of like a lab.” And that’s exactly what it would it be like.

The idea of an open lab for social learning sounds exciting and it feels in line with our original spirit of experimentation. What would it look like?

Supported by a platform that is extendable, hackable, malleable and customizable – We need a sandbox, so that we have a place to experiment, and track the results of these experiments. But the sandbox is not the important piece here, it’s a means to an end (or a journey rather).

Run by a community that is passionate about peer learning and openness, and thrives on experimentation – In her comment earlier, Karen pointed out that talking about “platform” wasn’t enough and asked “how do content, community, and methods tie into this?” She is absolutely right. What happens on the platform is directly connected to the values and principles we hold as a community. I think we need to spend more time talking about what they mean to us – but our three original values of open, community, and peer-learning have stood the test of time quite well so far.

Turning experiments into great learning experiences for lots of people - This third bullet is new and still a bit wonky (and needs word-smithing). But it’s an important stake to put in the ground if we want to make sure our work has a broader benefit. Many research labs have to rely on industry to turn their work into products and services that affect “normal” people. As a result success is often measured through proxies for innovation (like scientific articles, or patents, etc.) because the research work is at least one layer removed from the “end-user”. Luckily that’s not the case for us, because the end-user is part of the P2PU community. Why not be bold and try to measure impact through our ability to turn experimentation into great social learning experiences that work for many people?

While Harvard can focus on innovating teaching and learning within the institution – we could be the open learning lab for everyone. Thoughts?


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