How To Support Self-Directed Learners: Lessons from P2PU, Khan, NYU &

This morning Nathan Maton from the Khan AcademyAlex Ruthmann from NYU and Andrew Sliwinski, co-founder at and yours truly came together to discuss scale in online learning and how to support self-directed learners. Our focus for these chats is to learn from each other, so we ended up sharing pointers, tips and experiences from our respective communities. Watch the video (we get started in earnest about 5:00 or so) to see how we tackled:

  • Whether to grow in quality or quantity
  • What happens when you start to make the experience social?
  • Does learning have endpoints?
  • Self-organizing, are we trying to teach ourselves out of a job?

As moderators, our takeaways from the experience were as follows:


There’s clearly a need for these type of discussions amongst practitioners in the space. The question of scale didn’t take off in this particular group of people. We focused on quality connections over quantity. Does scale have a role in social learning or since social interactions are limited by humans, is scale a bad thing? One interesting question that arose was what scale unlocks, which could be a future topic.
Beyond that, a few other interesting points stood out to me from our initial foray into this topic area:
  • The importance of the first moments of the learning experience in instilling a feeling of it being social
  • The question about goals and milestones along the learning journey. I was surprised to hear that everyone was focused on endless learning, when to instill the love of learning it seems important to have milestones and progress markers along the way.
  • The role of the teacher in an online learning experience also seemed to arise. Is it to put yourself out of a job, or is there something to a coaching idea? Athletic coaches are never out of a job, they help people always unlock more potential in themselves.
  • Another open question, is do we want these to be recorded?


Andrew mentioned how happy it made him to be be part of a conversation alongside fellow practitioners, and this struck a chord – conversations, where people who are “doing the doing” take time out to talk to each other, are always going to be exciting. It showed today, and significantly, this took place in a group who come from communities where  open sharing of experiences and knowledge is both encouraged and supported. If only we’d had more time to carry on talking, because an hour in, we were just beginning to get into the flow of the discussion. But perhaps this is the power of the format – knowing we have to get a lot into a short amount of time can keep people focussed and is a great driver of the conversation.  From a facilitation perspective, it was a joy to moderate a group where people were genuinely interested in each other’s perspectives and ideas, as opposed to just waiting for their turn to speak. Also, I just like being able to poke my nose into other people’s workspaces – the over-the-shoulder-glimpse of where people set up their laptops is always fun…


This roundtable was definitely a proof of concept that we should be sharing ideas with each other.  My big takeaways are:
  • We’re going to come up with our own definition of scale. Scale and impact tend to be “capitalist” scary profitty-terms and we are interested in nurturing quality relationships and spreading curiosity. 
  • Learning in community is messy, but there are some best practices: designing cohorts, humanizing interactions, prompting folks to interact quickly.
  • Learners have a need to see their progress visually, but we should find out why–is it about momentum? Orientation? There is clearly a need, but I’m not sure the best answer is a progress bar or a checklist. 
  • Trust in your community means enabling folks to self-organize and design their own pathways through the content. P2PU recommends seeding your community with a core crew and watching folks sort through the content themselves. 

Join us for our next roundtable where we’ll discuss connecting online and offline communities on Tuesday, July 15 at 12pm EST / 9am EST. Grab your spot here. 

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