The Nerd’s Guide to Learning Everything Online

Some of us learn best in the classroom, and some of us … well, we don’t. But we still love to learn, to find out new things about the world and challenge our minds. We just need to find the right place to do it, and the right community to learn with. In this article, I’ll share author John Green’s TED talk about online learning communities, and offer some additional thoughts on where to find online community resources for your learners.

In his talk, “The Nerd’s Guide to Learning Everything Online” author John Green shares some of the struggles he encountered during his early school years. Below, he describes why he was  a “terrible student.”

I think the reason that I was such a terrible student is that I felt like education was just a series of hurdles that had been erected before me, and I had to jump over in order to achieve adulthood. And I didn’t really want to jump over these hurdles, because they seemed completely arbitrary…

The lights finally came on, he says, when he found a community of learners:

And then, when I was in tenth grade, I went to this school, Indian Springs School, a small boarding school, outside of Birmingham, Alabama. And all at once I became a learner. And I became a learner, because I found myself in a community of learners. I found myself surrounded by people who celebrated intellectualism and engagement…and so I started to learn, because learning was cool.

He goes on to describe how he later found online learning communities:

If you go online, you can find [learning] communities all over the place. Follow the calculus tag on Tumblr, and yes, you will see people complaining about calculus, but you’ll also see people re-blogging those complaints, making the argument that calculus is interesting and beautifulYou can go to places like Reddit, and find sub-Reddits, like “Ask a Historian” or “Ask Science,”But to me, the most interesting communities of learners that are growing up on the Internet right now are on YouTube [because] in a lot of ways, the YouTube page resembles a classroom.

And yes, in a way, video platforms like Youtube do resemble mini-classrooms. The instructor video is at the top of the page, and then beneath the instructor’s video are the student comments.  And you can see that when the students become engaged, discussions start to evolve, with people asking tough questions about the subject matter, and then other people answering those questions, participating in an active and very real learning community.

But Youtube is only one way to connect with online learners.  Below are a few other examples of thriving Online Learning Communities:

  • Duolingo: A free language-learning platform that includes a language-learning app along with a crowdsourced text translation platform and a language proficiency assessment center.  Offers instruction in more than 20 languages.
  • Crash Course: An educational YouTube channel started by the Green brothers, John Green and Hank Green. Learning resources and communities exist for world history, biology, ecology, history, literature, psychology, chemistry and more.
  • Coursera: A company that offers massive open online courses (MOOCs). Coursera works with universities to make some of their courses available online, and offers courses in physics, engineering, humanities, medicine, biology, math and more.
  • Khan Academy: An organization that produces micro lectures in the form of online videos. In addition to micro lectures, the organization’s website features practice exercises and tools for educators.
  • EdX: A massive open online course (MOOC) provider and online learning platform. It hosts free online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide audience.
  • TED Ed: A free educational website for teachers and learners that uses engaging videos to create customized lessons.

Will these types of  learning communities replace the “in-classroom experience”?  Probably not 100%.  But  teachers and trainers might want to think about incorporating a blended approach.  Learners don’t need to sit together in the same room in order to participate in a conversation.  Maybe we can look at these new spaces, these online learning communities, as its own type of classroom for a new generation of learners.


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