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What the worlds biggest learning site can teach us about social learning

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What the worlds biggest learning site can teach us about social learning

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Computer coding has seldom been more trendy.  Governments throughout the western world are flocking to re-introduce coding into school curricula.  Computer science will become an official part of the primary school curriculum in the UK this September.  Israel was an early adopter, with a modern syllabus introduced a decade ago.  Other countries are rapidly following suit, with the likes of New Zealand, Germany, Australia and Denmark all having either beefed up their curriculum, or about to do so.

Such enthusiasm is not, of course, limited to official channels.  Hello Ruby is a new book aimed for 4-7 year old girls that aims to help them understand the Ruby on Rails programming language.  The book follows the story of Ruby, who meets penguin, snow leopards and green robots as she creates her own adventures.

Without doubt the biggest success story however has been Code Academy.  Code Academy is an online school offering classes and tuition in any programming language you care to mention.  Whether you want to learn Java or Python, C++ or PHP, there will be something there for you.  With an estimated 24 million users, the site offers lessons in much more than just programming however.

With so many users undertaking tuition via the site, it is akin to a giant petri dish in online education, and it is on this topic that a recent blog post by Code Academy’s Leng Lee recently focused.  In it, Lee outlines three lessons that Code Academy have learnt from the huge numbers of students studying programming via the site.

  1. Relevance is key – The most common form of feedback given by users that they wanted to be working on real world problems.  Abstract assignments or gimmicky projects weren’t what was wanted.  They wanted learning they could instantly apply to real world challenges.
  2. Students want a clear journey – Alongside this desire for relevance was a need to understand the learning journey they are on.  Students want to know where they’re going, what stage they’re currently at, and how all of the pieces fit together.
  3. Repetition is good – Because of the differing pace that everyone learns at, students expressed a desire for tuition to be both highly interactive, and in a format that suits repetition.

Suffice to say, Code Academy are incorporating many of these findings into new project based learning that includes clear pathways that contain a larger number of shorter modules.  The aim is to allow students to practice as much as they need to, without doing the same tasks over and over again.

All of these are lessons that are as applicable to MOOCs as they are to Code Academy.  It’s hard to shift the sense that thus far, most MOOC courses have simply taken the same format as a traditional university course, and placed it online.  The lessons from Code Academy suggest that an altogether better approach is required, although this will involve a degree of tailoring courses accordingly.

Whilst there are initial signs that the MOOC sector are beginning to shift away from the chalk and talk model, the Code Academy show just how much further they still have to go.

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