I am exhausted.
But also very satisfied.
I announced this newsletter in April, and the first post is going out in June. That’s pretty poor on my part.
So what took me so long?
Early in April, I joined the inaugural cohort of OnDeck Course Creators (ODCC). ODCC is an online course that teaches people how to validate, create, launch and scale online courses. In the words of Andrew Barry, ODCC Program Director, it was all pretty meta.
The experience blew me away.
Never before have I learned so much in a 2 month period.
I haven’t done an MBA, and I don’t think very highly of them either. How do people spend a year (or two) learning stuff that in essence can be learned for a tenth of the cost?
Ahh, the network. Yes, I get it. So you’re telling me you are happy spending $50,000 to meet people your age who are very similar to you in every respect except nationality? Sorry, but I don’t buy that. Okay, so you do it to be able to say you graduated from X School. That is still an acceptable argument, especially when combined with the first one. And the third reason most people say they go to school for is so they can take a year off (or two 😲 ) from work.
Reputed school + year off + network = MBA1
Anyway, I digress. Let’s get into it.
Why ODCC was a great experience
Spirit of giving: When Andrew reached out for an ‘interview’, one of the questions he asked was how I would give back to the community. I found this a bit odd and wasn’t sure what to say. Anyway, I made some shit up on the fly, as you do. What I did say was that I had helped people in the past and quite enjoyed doing so. (Which is true though, and also just vague enough to have it taken seriously 🤭)
It was only after the course started that I fully understood what spirit of service really meant. The amount of knowledge that flowed freely amongst course participants was immense. People were more than happy to share their expertise for free. The participants came from diverse backgrounds and they didn’t hold back when it came to sharing insight.
It truly was incredible to learn from people doing seriously interesting things with their lives. Course creators held sessions on a diverse range of topics - making course trailers, product thinking, how to create your own content machine, how to grow your social media influence, how to present spectacularly, financial fluency, facilitation, community building and so much more.
Shared purpose: One thing about cohort-based courses (CBCs) like this one is that they bring together eager learners who share a common vision for what they want to accomplish. All of us on ODCC want to eventually build courses and earn from sharing our knowledge online. With that end in mind, it was fascinating to see how people at various stages of their journey could come together to learn from each other.
Some of us already had successful courses. Others like me were still trying to figure out what they wanted to build. Despite this apparent inequality, the conversations were enriching for the vast majority of participants.
If this sounds like it was a heterogenous group, it was. But such diversity actually lends itself very well to expanding the space of possibility for everyone involved. This heterogeneity requires that the content and tasks that students engage in be ‘low floor, high ceiling’. What this means is that the tasks are of a level where everyone can participate, but at the same time provide the more advanced people in the group to extend their thinking and ability to execute.
A safe space: Do you think it is possible to form close bonds with people that you have only interacted with virtually?
Pre-ODCC, despite a year of having lived the pandemic life, my answer tended more towards NO. During ODCC though, I realised that as long as the interactions were structured in a way where people felt safe, it really was possible to build long-lasting relationships.
Through a variety of core sessions, feedback sessions, office hours and even some virtual happy hours, the trust within the group began to grow. Integral to this experience was the implicit belief that we could count on each other to share our minds and to do so without the fear of being judged or being made to look stupid. Barring one or two people, I now feel like I can reach out to anyone in the cohort for a chat and to get feedback that I can count on as honest and constructive. That’s something!
Entrepreneurial Mindset: If there was one quality that tied everyone together, it was an entrepreneurial mindset. Sure, many of us hadn’t yet launched a course, but it was clear that the majority of people thought about their futures as filled with opportunity.
Possessing an entrepreneurial mindset isn’t such a big deal. Everyone is a maker, builder or entrepreneur these days. Except that when you bring 150 such people together and they’re all in on trying to achieve a shared purpose over 8 weeks, it creates an avalanche of inspiration.
Post-collegiate education in the future
When I say future, I mean from this point on.
If it isn’t already evident, indie education (education by independent educators, a term coined by Shakir, an ODCC fellow) is here to stay. It has a number of benefits that the traditional route of Universities and MBAs and Masters programs doesn’t provide. To my mind, the five biggest advantages of indie education are:
Unbundling: Traditionally, post graduate education came in a box. You either did an MBA, or a Masters or if you wanted to go into Academia, a PhD. The path to be followed was set in stone. If you wanted to learn from the best minds, you had to prove that you were good enough to get into the best Universities.
Youtube, OpenCourseWare, MOOCs and most recently indie educators have been poking holes in this model for years. Why does an MBA have 6 core courses and 6 electives? Beats me. Let’s say I want to work in tech after an MBA. I still have to sit through classes in finance, accounting, HR and others that I don’t really care about. Which is inefficient. In the world of indie education, you pick what you want and run with it.
Cost: As long as you possess some degree of initiative, structuring your own education has become as easy as surfing the internet. Udemy courses go for $10 a pop, while the same experience in a live cohort will cost you thousands of $$. That being said, if you want to go really deep into a particular topic, you truly are spoilt for choice.
The economic justification is clear. Structuring your own education will cost you a fraction of what it would if you went to University.
Practicality: Indie educators emphasise usefulness over theory, practicality over coursework. Everything in a good CBC is geared towards getting things done and moving you closer to your goal.
Does that mean they’re not good for learning technical skills? I think what we’ll find is that anything that can be taught be online, will be. For a range of budgets and in various formats, so as to suit diverse requirements. This will make learning on the go a reality, as long as you have access to the internet.
Cohesion: A good indie education experience emphasizes the role of peers in shaping learning and in enhancing relationships. Peers in CBCs are usually more diverse than in a traditional post graduate degree. This means that you’re all making the most of the limited time that you can devote to learning and getting better. This limitation increases the quality of interactions and infuses the process with urgency.
Compare this with a 1 year or 2 year degree where you feel like you have all the time in the world. I remember my Masters well and I can say unhesitatingly that I was not as efficient as I should have been. Sure, having fun was a part of the experience but I didn’t learn and do as much as I could (should?) have.
Just in time (JIT): The proliferation of indie education ensures that you can learn as you go. There is no real reason to believe that you finish studying at a particular age. You get to follow your curiosity. You get to fulfil your professional and personal itches. And you get to do all this for a fraction of the cost of attending a University.
Gone are the days (I hope!) where you spend months preparing for entrance exams, writing personal statements, collecting recommendations and attending interviews. Want to learn from the best? With a bit of googling, you will be able to find a very knowledgeable teacher who will be willing to teach it to you. All you have to do is show up.
It is indeed an exciting time to be working in education. The opportunities are vast. The pace of innovation is frenetic. As long as we stay open to experience, one can only see the power of formal degrees fall. I can see a future where even Universities will unbundle all courses longer than 6 months into mini courses which take 8 - 12 weeks to complete. The quality of the really good CBCs will rival those of the best Universities.
An interesting aspect of this trend that I will explore in the next newsletter is how physical spaces fit into this new model for education. Online education is great, but physical spaces will play a crucial role in helping indie education evolve.
If you enjoyed reading this, and you aren’t already one of the 11 people that receive this in their inbox, hit the subscribe button!
One cool thing I’m working on now
I met Dominic at ODCC and have started building a course on Superlearning with him. Our first mini course is here. It is a quick, short introduction to getting started with superlearning! We are also taking applications for our beta cohort, so do check our website out.
This is a generalisation, obviously. From my experience, many MBA types broadly agree with this.