The vibrant ecosystem of community-produced learning content
Today Martin Weller wrote that, while the open source movement is a wildly successful model for producing software, we “haven’t really cracked a community based production model for learning content”. David Wiley followed up to say that, given our lack of progress in this area since the 90’s, he believes there’s “a good argument to be made that a community based production model for learning content isn’t actually possible.”
Not only is this possible, it’s already taken over.
Martin and David are right that we haven’t seen a successful translation of open source software practices to producing courses and textbooks. But they’re dead wrong about community produced learning content. A google search proves it.
In fact, let’s open a new tab and google “python list comprehension”. Google may give you different results, but I get:
- A free tutorial on Programiz
- The open source Python Documentation
- A free tutorial on Real Python
- A free tutorial & course on Python for Beginners
- A medium post from some internet person explaining list comprehensions.
- A chapter from Python 3 Patterns, Recipes and Idioms, a collaboratively written book published on a free platform (readthedocs.org)
- A tutorial on Data Camp, a for-profit company paying a large community of data scientists to produce content, much of which is freely available.
- A tutorial on Python Course, a multi-language, donation-supported website.
- An article on Geeks for Geeks a “computer science portal for geeks” that allows users to draft and publish articles.
- A medium post from Towards Data Science.
Ten out of ten results for this search are community-produced learning resources.
Not only can communities produce learning content, but they have produced it. Google searches drop us into a vibrant ecosystem of learning content designed, produced, and consumed by the community.
Yet somehow, as educators, it’s easy for us to miss this ecosystem. We don’t realize it’s there at all or, when we do see it, we don’t consider it “learning content”. But internet users do see it and treat it that way every day.
I suspect it’s because we’re trapped by the concepts of pre-internet learning. Learning used to be what happened in classrooms. Today literally no one is in a classroom. Classroom experiences used to be collected into a “course”. Today’s learners bounce around the internet whenever they need to learn something to solve a concrete problem, not to achieve a grade or certification. Learning resources used to be books and slides. Today’s learning resources are blog posts, documentation, content marketing, playful interactive explanations, and emphatically not textbooks or slide decks. Why would they be?
Hal Plotkin and David followed up on Twitter to clarify that the problem is to expect people to work for free in the first place. That textbooks and courses and so on are public goods and, as such, should be publicly funded rather than produced by free for the community. I agree. There is a role, unfortunately unfilled right now, for publicly funding learning resources that are public goods. I want to be clear about that.
But it’s wrong to say that there is no community-produced learning content, much less that there can be no community-produced learning content. Doing that is to overlook a revolution in learning that has already happened, which affects millions of people every day, and which is chipping away at the old order. People are working for free and we see their work everywhere.