Making Mozilla big in learning

September 30, 2011 § 12 Comments

I’ve talked about Mozilla going big in learning quite a bit recently. Specifically, I’ve talked about making Mozilla the biggest, most innovative technology learning organization on the planet. I’ve also talked about the importance of doing this in a Mozilla-like way, with P2P pedagogy and strong focus on making. The question now is: how?

The first step is fairly easy, or at least obvious: roll the best bits of Drumbeat into a single, coherent program designed to teach web culture and web skills at a global scale. This includes the clearly educational bits like Hackasaurus and School of Webcraft. But it also includes media and innovation programs like Web Made Movies and MoJo that are already helping new kinds of people learn, tinker and make things on the web. And, of course, it includes Open Badges as a basis for offering recognition and credit for what people have learned.

My personal opinion is that it’s time for us to focus in this way. What we’re hearing from you  is that we need to relentlessly focus on the small number of things we can be best in the world at. This is what separates all great organizations from merely good ones.

The harder part is defining what a ‘Mozilla goes big in learning’ program would look not as a loose set of programs, but rather as a cohesive whole. Based on dozens of discussions and comments on my blog, I’ve put together a high level straw man outline. It looks like this:

Mozilla wants to spread web culture and skills at a massive scale
by being the biggest, most innovative tech learning org on the planet.

We’ll drive this through:

  • top quality Mozilla web literacy and web skills content for all ages
  • a community-run lab where learners and inventors make things together
  • a global community of webmakers who learn and mentor with each other
  • Mozilla Badges that recognize skills, achievement and contribution
  • P2P learning and making, building on Mozilla’s collaborative way of working

These last two bits point to something critical: if we want to create a vibrant community of learners and mentors, we need to build a recognition system that rewards the best and most generous people in this community. When I think of the social scaffolding for this community — and for the learning programs I describe above — I imagine something like this:

The idea: give people a clear way to advance through Mozilla learning programs and labs, and then recognize their achievements and contributions through badges. This not only provides a way to incent learning and mentoring, it will also help us build the next generation of Mozilla community leaders.

The good news: we already have a head start. The best bits of Drumbeat give us a set of learning programs, software and community from which to build. Once we strengthen and systematize these things, we can snap them into a bigger learning offering like the one I am describing. We can then build up more content, a mentor network and Mozilla web skills badges system on top of these foundations that we’ve built through Drumbeat.

Of course, we haven’t yet decided if this is what we want to do. There is huge opportunity in learning: Mozilla could help millions of people gain the literacy and skills they need to shape how the web works in their own lives and careers. However, dedicating ourselves to learning at this scale would be a big bet. It would take significant time, resources and patience.

I want to start a broader conversation over the next few weeks to help deliberate and iterate on these ideas. It starts with the simple questions: Should Mozilla go big in learning? and What would that look like? I’ll do a summary post early next week as a way to focus this conversation. However, I’d be happy to hear people’s thoughts a comments on this post in the meantime.

§ 12 Responses to Making Mozilla big in learning

  • Gary Lewis says:

    Umm … I think you got it backwards. Your goal statement is all about Mozilla and being big and spreading skills at a massive scale. You might want to think a bit more about what learners actually want.

    The way you describe it also seems a bit paternalistic, much like educational institutions are today. p2p learning has much to offer, but Mozilla is just another peer in such a relationship. I don’t sense that understanding in the post.

    Sorry to be negative. p2p learning is a good idea and Mozilla deserves gratitude for recognizing this and getting involved.

    Best regards,

  • msurman says:

    Hey Gary. This isn’t negative — I’m trying to figure out how to tell this story, so stuff like this helps a ton.

    Weaving Mozilla into a bigger p2p ecosystem is exactly the point. That’s why we’re doing open badges the way we are, creating a platform anyone can use. Also, we’re working more and more with New Youth City Learning Network, which is about creating an network of youth learning programs using the web and technology.

    Clearly I need to call this out explicitly. Knowing that is helpful — I can polish that in my next post. As a balance, I need to talk about what part Mozilla will do within the ecosystem, which is about becoming a (very large scale) leader in the web literacy and web skills space.

  • Jess Klein says:

    Hi Mark-

    I think that this is a great start. I would also push for getting to more of the specifics. To me, your bullet points, start to blend because of the similarity in the language … and also the vagueness. I would be interested to hear what the value is in having Mozilla deep dive into these areas- because clearly there are other people in the world who are doing all of these things.

    What I think is the unique opportunity is (and I am probably just rewriting your thoughts): Mozilla has the ability to connect learners on a global level through programming, innovation channels and browser based tools.

    A part of me wants you to play up the tech part here. Mozilla is already a leader in the technology field- and it did it through a browser. How are you transforming the browser into a new lens for educators and learners?

    1. top quality Mozilla web literacy and web skills content for all ages

    – when you say content- do you mean tools? resources? and how does Mozilla specifically define web literacy and skills? also, i find your phrasing here intriguing- are you implying that Mozilla has a brand of web literacy and web skills that is different from something else out there in the world? would really love to hear more.

    2. a community-run lab where learners and inventors make things together

    – are you actually talking about physical labs or just trying to encourage a lab like mindset? I assume you mean real lab, considering the learning labs and Hive NYC (New Youth City) etc.

    3. a global community of webmakers who learn and mentor with each other

    – how? is it just through being involved in the movement? is it through platforms like betafarm?

    4. Mozilla Badges that recognize skills, achievement and contribution
    P2P learning and making, building on Mozilla’s collaborative way of working

    – i think that this is the most concrete of your points… and to that, I would love to see you link the idea of ” Mozilla’s collaborative way of working” with your goals for a web literacy/skills/learning program.

    great start.

  • Philipp says:

    Great post and related to a lot of thinking we’ve been doing in the School of Webcraft team recently, and the Webmaking 101 challenges we are launching in a few weeks.

    As a direct repines to the bullet on “P2P learning and making, building on Mozilla’s collaborative way of working” I’m excited about the potential of re-framing social learning in cohorts that are working on challenges, with social support built in, rather than as traditional courses. More detail here:

    Would also love to hear more of your thinking on how the ecosystem can evolve. There are so many people, initiatives, organizations doing great work in training and learning around web skills that there would be huge value in connecting and supporting them. Mozilla is one of the few organizations that has the reach and reputation to convene and bring together.

  • Hi Mark! Great start and super exciting.

    Two questions to help refine:

    – Are you interested in “learning” in general or specifically “tech learning” as you mention in your draft outline? I see you using both terms, but those are two very different spheres in terms of size. Maybe best to start with what you know – tech, open web, p2p learning style – and then branch out into other areas of learning.

    – Jumping off the earlier points on being part of a learning ecosystem: What is Mozilla’s specific role in this ecosystem? Are you creating the content? Aggregating content? Organizing content? Creating open systems for sharing and assessing content? Mozilla can’t do it all and shouldn’t – so how can you best help people engage in p2p learning?

  • I have really been enjoying these blogs and appreciate the choice to publicly process MoFo’s/your personal thinking here. Maybe because I deal mostly with youth, but also with slower to change institutions/organizations, I think a key piece of Mozilla’s “go big in learning approach” is in building user/learner/Orgs self-efficacy in the understanding, use and building of/with the web. Mozilla can be and build intervention systems that grow an understanding for learners that an increasingly webby world we will need citizens with a spectrum of understanding and skills.

    I also think it is key that some of the models of participatory p2p learning that have proven to work in the tech/web development world be prototyped in education spaces where the content/work isn’t inherently tech. While I know this treads on the “relentlessly focus on the small number of things we can be best in the world at” I do think it is an interesting frame to think about going big. The museum thinker Nina Simon in her book The Participatory Museum ( & maps out how social software and web services have re-calibrated what visitors expect from cultural experiences. She goes on to map out participatory museum experiences, many with out a kilobyte of tech, that are deeply informed by how the web has changed user patterns in most social interactions. I think Mozilla can help with learning in a similar way.

  • Jay says:

    My quick question: Is Mozilla’s open badges initiative only going to be geared towards tech skills or can the same concept by applied to non-tech skills/achievements?

    I understand wanting to keep a focus, but I also think Mozilla doesn’t need to box itself in as doing “web learning” – Mozilla can also be a pioneer in “learning over the web”.

    • msurman says:

      Jay: there are two things in play > 1) open badges, which is a badge platform anyone can use for any topic and 2) a set of mozilla badges we’ll develop related to web skills, specifically for people who want to learn about web tech. The mozilla badges will be part of the web literacy offering that I want mozilla to build. Open badges is meant to support learning innovation more broadly. Make sense?

  • […] Post #6: To make this concrete: we need a clear simple Mozilla learning program that anyone can dive into, no matter their age or skill level. This starts with the best bits of Drumbeat: Hackasaurus, School of Webcraft, MoJo, etc.. And is wrapped in a system of Mozilla badges that recognize the most skilled and generous community members. […]

  • […] has been publicly processing and sparking conversation around what he calls Mozilla’s effort to “go big in learning” on his blog Commonspace. I urge you to take a look at these posts and see where he believes we are […]

  • […] work but have recently done some thinking and hacking about how we all fit together to go “big in learning” in […]

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