Alex Peake's "Code Hero": How To Scale Education The Right Way

Thiel Fellow Dale Stephens explains how "Does it scale?" applies to education.

In Silicon Valley, one often hears the question, "Does it scale?"

What a technologist means by this is: How can a specific technological innovation be applied in a broad manner to affect a wide range of people? If Google only searched two websites it wouldn't be terribly useful. But because Google scaled effectively to search the entire Internet, it became extremely engaging.

Technologists wonder the same thing about education. And projects like the Khan Academy have risen to prominence because they scale--a single video can be watched by millions of people. But while it's wonderful to give millions of people access to knowledge, we should be careful when scaling education.

Often educational experiences don't scale. I don't think you can replace the learning that comes from an intimate five-person discussion about Shakespeare with watching a video from MIT, the Khan Academy, or anywhere else. I don't care who makes the video, or how great a teacher the person is, having people to support and challenge your ideas is irreplaceable.

I become frustrated when people talk about OpenCourseWare or the Khan Academy as revolutionary. Don't get me wrong, both are doing wonderful things for education, but they still follow the same pedagogical model as the classroom--a one-to-many model. The student is a recipient of knowledge and only passively engaged. Certainly there are steps in the right direction--the Khan Academy now offers exercises and some interaction. I am thankful that resources such as these exist, but putting knowledge onto the Internet is only the first step. A revolution is when students become active participants in learning, improving, and sharing knowledge. A revolution is when students take on the role of teachers.

My friend Alex Peake, a fellow Hackademic who skipped college entirely, has built a game called Code Hero to help you learn how to code. What I love about Code Hero is that Alex has made the player an active participant in the game. Not only do you play the game, but as you play the game, you actually help build the game.

Alex has figure out the only way to effectively scale education--by turning students into teachers. As you progress through learning you are expected to share your knowledge. When we expect people to share knowledge, we take education offline and into the real world. It's wonderful to have knowledge available from MIT and the Khan Academy, but it's not the same as people getting together in the real world to discuss what they have learned.

There are more projects creating real-world learning groups that I'll share soon, but I want to mention one last thing about Code Hero: They are raising money on Kickstarter! One week ago they only had $19,000--less that one-fifth of their goal. Yesterday, they passed their goal of $100,000 and are surging ahead to $200,000. Donating just $13 gets you a free copy of the game to help you learn how to code.

If you're interested in learning programming or computer science, I encourage you to check out Code Hero on Kickstarter and consider donating. Even if you aren't interested in learning to code, I encourage you to check it out and watch them closely. The pedagogical model Code Hero uses--turning students into teachers--is one I think we'll see more of in the coming months.

Dale Stephens was homeschooled and then unschooled. Now he leads UnCollege.org. Perigee/Penguin will publish his first book about hacking your education in early 2013.

[Editor's note: Dale Stephens is one of the inaugural Thiel Fellows who stopped going to college in exchange for a place in an innovative mentoring program. Read more from Dale--and about PayPal founder Peter Thiel's education experiment--here.]

[Image: Flickr user maniwa_pa]

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