In this post, I’d like to talk about what’s different between this project and other similar things I’ve seen. I haven’t seen everything (by a long shot), and I certainly would love to see more prior art posts — I’ve now at least glanced at all the ones mentioned in the comments to the last post, though it’s been a while since I looked at the Kahn Academy, and that’s probably the closest to what I’ve got in mind.
Mo’ money, mo problems
A lot of the replies to the previous post asked if this is a commercial project or a hobby/personal one. This is very much a noncommercial project. I wouldn’t mind if it brought me money, fame, and the adoration of the masses, but that’s not a major motivation. I don’t want to teach sales-people for some great faceless company how to sell more protection plans for small electronics. I want to teach everybody whatever they want to know, and it’s the people who have the least money (but the most free time) who can use something like this the best. Ideally, the same system will have a wide variety of knowledges in all sorts of different fields — you shouldn’t have to have 27 accounts at 27 different online academic institutes to get a rounded education.
Content & Uncontent
Of course, any system needs content, which is one of the reasons I’m not focusing on content directly. I don’t want to put lessons in this system, and certainly not courses (more on that later). I want to put links to content in. There are plenty of resources for learning things in the world already, the hard bit is finding ones that are right for you — that don’t assume knowledge that you do not have, and don’t teach you things that you already know. Linking to tutorials & lessons means that we don’t have to reinvent those wheels.
It’s not hard to find quizzes on the internet. In fact, it’s hard to use the internet without coming across 10 million quizzes, most of which tell you what disney princess you are, or something similarly useless. A large part of the remainder are useful only for bragging rights. While I’m sure you could use your scores in this system to brag with, that’s not what I want to focus on. Rather, the questions we ask are a way of pinning down what we think you know and don’t know, in order to help direct your experince. The scores we give aren’t there for bragging about, but informing you and letting us guide you.
Courses vs Lessons
Most e-learning platforms seem to take the classroom experience and either replicate it online, or help it go smoother in real life. That is, you are a student, you enroll in a course, you watch lectures, do tests, and at the end, you (hopefully) get a thing that says “congratulations, you passed”. That system was developed in order to make administration easier and teaching parallelizable. Those aren’t really concerns of ours. When you take a course, especially when it’s not an intermediate one of a linked series of courses (IE, inside a university), you often end up sitting through many lessons which are designed to get everybody on the same page before the meat of the course starts. In some cases, you will discover at the end that you really knew almost all the material, and you just wasted your time, and in the case of a real university, quite a lot of your money. If we administer on much smaller scale — every lesson — then we waste less of your time. Of course, if you are a single teacher in a one-room school-house, you can’t do that — you’d spend all your time keeping the log-books up to date, and trying to teach 30 different kids 30 different lessons all at the same time. Our educational system grew out of that, and hasn’t caught up yet.
Ideally, I’d like a large portion of this thing to be self-curating (that’s something that will hopefully get added shortly after the very basics are in, and improve slowly over time). To do that requires much smarter scoring then the majority of online quizzes, which count all questions as equal. There will need to be a complex network of interactions between questions, knowledges, tutorials, and students, in order to improve upon our initial guesses as to what is harder, what is required for a tutorial to work well, and what it teaches. I’m currently thinking that Item Response Theory (thanks for the link!) is an excellent place to start from — probably the two-parameter form, since it seems a happy medium. That should allow us to be smart, at the least, about knowing what question to ask next.