Creating Quick Access to Sequenced Knowledge
This is really interesting post by Sam Gerstenzang. My main take away here is that when are creating an interactive learning experience, all of the knowledge is hidden within the learning experience. Consequently, it is only accessible to someone who is going through the sequence. Someone who is trying to search for the information online, on the other hand, cannot easily find these solutions.
The answer here is that any interactive learning experience should also be paired with a single page that contains the same information, or some crystallized version of the information. This way a user searching for the concept can find the concept and quickly access the knowledge he or she needs. If that person wants practice, he or she can then jump right into the sequence to develop the skills. The sequence needs to be captured in an overview page, so that the knowledge is accessible.
There are two models of online education:
Preparatory knowledge, in the form of course-based video-delivered teachings: Coursera, Udacity, Thinkful, etc.
On demand knowledge: Wikipedia, StackOverflow, Genius, etc.
Of the two, the latter has been much more widely spread and far more influential.
What works about on demand knowledge is that it is pull based (the knowledge you need, when you need it) and comes in digestible chunks. Unlike MOOCs, which are consumed far in advance of the knowledge being applied, Wikipedia and StackOverflow are the knowledge you need, now. Humans are lazy and working ahead requires discipline and foresight, which makes on demand knowledge far more appealing to most.
Khan Academy fits somewhere in between. Khan’s original courses were decomposed in a way in which each video solved the problem at hand, which led to their initial success on YouTube. Overtime, they began to string these together to teach courses, and then webs of courses.
By and large, the platforms that lean towards smaller on demand units of knowledge are the ones that are created collaboratively (Wikipedia, Stackoverflow, etc.): larger units are simply more difficult for people to build together and so they must be made small.
There is, of course, something fundamentally missing when we only have on demand knowledge. It is related to an anti-technology argument I call the “calculator argument.” There are two components:
You shouldn’t rely on calculators to do math because one day you might not have a calculator.
A strong grasp of mental arithmetic allows intuitions that wouldn’t otherwise occur. Or in other words, the use of calculators limits our solution space.
The first argument is rather silly, but the second is quite relevant.
We do not want engineers whose only mode problem solving is searching StackOverflow instead of working from their own understanding of the data structures. This is the difference between an education (which teaches us to think) and seeing the solution (which solves only our problem in the moment.)
A really great model would be one that combined small on-demand knowledge units with a laddered system. Khan Academy is the closest to this that I’ve seen, but I think they have gone too far down the class model. It would have been interesting to see where they would have gone if they had forced the units and laddering to remain really small.