Mainstream live online education is coming sooner than we expected. If you haven’t noticed the trend, you will soon.

Thanks to new technologies like Zoom, education is fundamentally shifting for both students and teachers, becoming:

  • Active instead of passive.
  • Communal instead of solo.
  • Responsive instead of static.
  • Live instead of pre-recorded.

Prior to the internet, information was a scarce resource. In order to learn new things, people had to spend hours combing through stacks of books in libraries and sift through entire shelves of encyclopedias. In 2012, after 244 years, Encyclopedia Britannica stopped the presses.

Schools were designed to get students to attend and complete traditional assignments in order to learn. Grades were given to determine how well students retained the information. But as we now know, learning doesn’t work this way at all.

With the ubiquity of the internet, information went from a scarce resource to abundant and virtually free. The bottleneck shifted to accountability, self-discipline, and commitment to learning, not just completing. Self-paced education became common and information was available to anyone who was willing to find it.

The knock on self-paced online education has been that pre-recorded modules haven’t worked for the majority of subjects. Imagine watching six hours of history lessons by yourself. Because of this, online courses have traditionally had low completion rates. The static formats have not lent themselves to an immersive experience that’s more conducive for learning.

In the last few years, live online classes over Zoom have introduced structure, accountability, and community into the equation. This has been a fundamental shift for how students learn and how teachers teach online. Classes became active, communal, and dynamic. Students are immersed in the content with their peers where they learn together and motivate each other.

Having a community of people who help you learn and pull you back in when you fall off track is a powerful accountability mechanism. Plus, learning in a live format is more fun and the social experience helps students learn faster. Relationships begin to form on the internet first and then people get together in the real world. Learning and community become one and the same.

Teachers have tried designing accountability mechanisms for students, but communities already have these naturally built in. People who you respect would be disappointed if you didn’t uphold certain standards. People learn new things because it would be embarrassing if they didn’t learn them within their communities. We’re designed to buy into a culture and live up to those standards. Recreating education is simply building new communities.

Thanks to programs such as Lambda School, online education is becoming more mainstream. Lambda has been able to show tangible transformations in students who have substantially increased their salaries after their nine-month program. These results aren’t flukes, they’re happening again and again.

I have seen these changes first hand in my own learning experience.

Last year, I signed up for Tiago Forte‘s Building a Second Brain course. At the time, it was only available as a self-paced version and I completed the modules at my own speed. The material was phenomenal, but I felt like I didn’t get as much out of the course as I originally expected.

Then, I took David Perell‘s Write of Passage course which completely shifted my perspective on the online education format. Course lectures were pre-recorded but classes were in a live group format where students got to interact, review new material, and discuss topics in breakout groups. It was so energizing to see the entire student body in a live Zoom call (~100 students).

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Once the five week class was over, myself and several alumni decided to continue having Zoom calls every Saturday morning in a session we call ‘Crossfit for Writing’.

As Tiago was getting ready to kick off a new cohort of Building a Second Brain in a live format, I re-joined immediately. Then, Tiago opened applications for BASB alumni to become mentors for the course. I was excited to take the class in a live format but also have the ability to teach what I learned to broader group of people. I thought about the prospect of networking and building further relationships with smart, like-minded people and to continue learning.

The most important lesson for me has been the identity shift that I experienced over the last year. I wanted to take some online classes to learn to be more productive and write online, but I was able to take much more from the experience. I was able to lift the psychological block that kept me from sharing what I learned online. I was able to become more active on Twitter, start a weekly email newsletter and this blog. No longer did I experience the impostor syndrome that my ideas weren’t important.

The last bottleneck lies between your ears. In the age of abundance, your ego is your only barrier.

Will Mannon

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Acknowledgements: This post was inspired by a podcast episode with David Perell and Tiago Forte. Thanks to Ben, Jen, Zach, Adam, Blair, and Charlie for their feedback.

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