A few weeks ago the Mozilla Festival took place in London. Members of the MDN team were there, and we ran several sessions. Chris Mills and I ran two instances of a session about self-teaching.
The intent of those sessions was to share experience about self-teaching (as everybody teaches themselves one way or another) and to get some outcomes to improve the MDN Learning Area, which is intended to be used for self-teaching about the Web.
We ran two 40-minute sessions, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. In order to make sure everybody had a chance to share their experience, we split the session in two parts:
For the first ten minutes of each session, we asked five questions to the participants, and gave them sticky notes to put their answer to the questions on a wall.
- What works well about self-teaching?
- What sucks about self-teaching?
- Do you prefer self-teaching or mentoring and why?
- What resources are good?
- What tools would you like to see/use?
The remaining 30 minutes was dedicated to discussing the various answers, making sure every body had a chance to share their experiences and opinions.
So what did we get?
What works well about self-teaching?
The biggest outcome is the feeling of accomplishment of learning things by ourselves. Fighting difficulties and being able to solve problems on our own is a big part of the self-teaching experience.
What sucks about self-teaching?
On the other hand, feeling lonely appears to be the biggest issue with self-teaching. That sounds obvious but very concrete issues were raised:
- It can be difficult to keep motivation and focus.
- It’s hard to find answers when we are stuck with a problem and it feels sometimes like “begging” for help.
- It’s hard to find good self-teaching materials without any help or guidance.
Do you prefer self-teaching or mentoring and why?
According to our participants, both self-teaching and mentoring have their pros and cons:
Self-teaching is nice to be able to learn at our own speed and to choose what to learn. On the other hand, again, being lonely and alone when facing a hard problem can lead to a dead end.
Mentoring definitely makes things easier when we need help or to reach a community of peers, especially to solve complex problems. But on the other hand, it requires to adjust ourselves to peers’ and mentors’ way of teaching/learning which can be difficult to follow because it’s too fast or feeling like moving too slow if we are quick learners.
What resources are good?
Among the various resources that came out of the session, there are three which were pointed out quite often:
- Online courses and tutorials (with Codecademy gaining mindshare as usual) to learn the basics.
- Community tools (forums, mailing-lists, IRC, etc.) to share help and knowledge between peers.
- Books or offline resources as a source of reliable long standing knowledge.
What tools would you like to see/use?
Finally when it come to self-teaching, the most wanted tools are:
- Interactive learning tools for code (Codecademy and Webmaker are the most often names that show up).
- Tools to measure/evaluate one’s level of knowledge.
- Some resources on “learning to learn” on their own, and on structuring their learning pathways.
Those session were very enlightening and will definitely help us in shaping the MDN learning area.
Thanks to all the attendees. I look forward to run some other sessions next year.