Friends, mentors and connected learning

September 27, 2011 § 7 Comments

Friendship is a powerful force for learning. Especially friendship built around a shared interest or passion. Space travel. Cooking. Technology. Gardening. Whatever. We tend to gather, explore, make, play — and learn — with friends who also share our passions. As people like Mimi Ito have shown with research: friendship and interests drive learning.

Mozilla’s learning programs should to be designed around this combination of friendship and passion. Our mantra might be: people learn at Mozilla by building exciting things on the web with their friends. Notionally, all of our learning programs need to be built around a P2P pedagogy with a big emphasis on making things and expressing your passion. Or, as our friends at MacArthur often say to me, we need to be doing ‘connected learning’.

Funnily enough, the importance of friendship came up in the debate about ‘Mozilla as teacher’ vs. ‘Mozilla as mentor’ in response to one of my recent posts. Ken Saunders said:

I suppose that mentor seems like (and may be) a friendlier, perhaps even more modest word. I’ve had many mentors who were also my friends, but few teachers that were.

Ken’s pointing to something critical here, even if indirectly: what makes the existing Mozilla community tick is a sense of common cause, collegiality, helping each other out, inventing and building things together. Friendship.

We need to keep this idea of friendship at the core of what Mozilla in learning. The good news is that a collegial P2P learning spirit is already built into what we’ve been doing with programs like School of Webcraft and Hackasaurus. What we need to do now is figure out how to be more systematic, how to do this with some scale.

Mentorship is likely one of the keys: encouraging senior community members to befriend and help others learn. The idea is to use friendship and shared interest to connect people with different experience levels. We’ve talked about building this kind of mentorship program like this with Hackasaurus and other youth-oriented programs. It’ll probably be one of the first new things we push on in 2012, alongside a badges program for web skills.

Interest and passion are the other side of this learning coin. Given our goal is to teach people web skills and web culture, we need to tap into their other interests: e.g., use their interest in gardening to teach them about the web. This may sound crazy or hard, this recent video about our  work with the Bay Area Video Coalition reminded me we’re already doing it:

We’re also working with the New Youth City Learning Network (more on this soon) to connect kids who are interested in science, art, poetry, hip hop, etc. with web technology that lets them express themselves. This is interest-based learning.

Through Drumbeat we’ve already  started to connected with interest-based communities: teachers; journalists; filmmakers; artists; etc. These people want Mozilla to help them learn how to apply the culture and skills of the web to their own domain. Many of them have also said they want to help Mozilla in return. These are the sort of new community leaders and mentors we’ll need if Mozilla wants to go big in learning.

One question still looms: what does Mozilla going big in learning look like? I’m going to take shot at that in my next post. In the mean time, I’m interested to hear from people whether what I’ve written hear addresses some of the concerns people raised around my ‘Mozilla as teacher’ post.

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