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When I created diycomputerscience.com, I was very excited about the potential of peer based, social learning, using online study groups. When I explained the concept to many people, they loved it, but still had a hard time understanding how exactly learning would happen in such an environment. I will try and explain in the form of a narrative. If you have questions, please post them as comments below.

Let us begin with a simple question. What is a study group?

A study group is a gathering of learners around a common topic, a fixed schedule, help from each other, as well as the assistance of one of more mentors. Let me illustrate this with an example.

Let's say I want to learn Javascript. I figure that there is a lot of content on the Internet and in books to help me learn. But that learning would be largely isolated. I wish I had a few buddies who I could learn with. We could all motivate each other and help each other with our technical problems. Having such a group would be really cool. It would be even better if a Javascript expert/practitioner/mentor could give a few hours to help the group with questions, reviewing assignmenrs, and so on. After spending a few weeks, I would have knowledge, but wouldn't it be cool if I could also get some recognition for that knowledge? A study group on diycomputerscience.com is exactly all of these things.

A diycomputerscience.com study group is a collection of learning material (focussed around one topic), along with activities for practice, a forum for discussing doubts, and a place where all your learning artifacts can be documented.

Let's see how this works with a simple narrative. Jill is a programmer who feels she needs to learn Javascript for her work. She goes to diycomputerscience.com and looks at the list of current study groups. Luckily she finds that a Javascript for programmers study group is begining on 4th May. Awesome. She clicks on the group to view details of the syllabus, who is facilitating the group, and the timelines. She likes the syllabus, she also feels that the facilitator has already facilitated several study groups and would do a good job of facilitating this one. She likes the schedule, because the entire learning is spread over 5 weeks, with distict material and activities for every week. So, she clicks on the 'Enroll button and enrolls for the study group. The facilitaor soon accepts her and she begins learning with other peers from around the world.

How does one learn in a study group?

Here's how Jill learned, and this is a process I would recommend everyone to follow. She first reads the study group home page to understand the syllabus, and weekly breakup. She even browses the enrolled participants page to see who else is learning with her.

Then she starts work for week 1. She reads the page for week 1 and realizes that the material comprises of watching a video. This makes her happy because she enjoys learning by watching videos. She watches the video and makes notes. She then blogs these notes (this, and this are two excellent examples of how others have blogged their notes). Blogging these notes helps at several levels. She can refer to her blog post later when she needs to remember some concept. By blogging she is sharing her knowldge with the rest of the worls, but even more important, she is documenting her learning, where her blog becomes like a proof of her learning, almost like a certificate, but far more transparent and open.

After watching the video whe scrolls below and finds that there are a few activities (assignments) to be done in that week. She looks at the first assignments. It involves thinking about  few questions, and posting answers on her blog. She thinks about these questions, and realizes that these questions helped her understand the material at a deeper level. She blogs her answers and submits a link to her blog post in the submission form below the activity.

Image 1 : Showing the activity submission form below the activity description.


She then clicks on View all responses, to see who else has submitted responses to the question. She finds a few responses, and decides to read them. Reading these responses helps her deepen her understanding even further. In fact one response was so good that decides to enter into a conversation with the author on his blog.

Then she moves on to the second activity. It's a programming assignments. She fires up her editor and gets to work. While working she realizes that she has some doubs. She goes to the course forum and posts a question. While on the course forum, she sees a question posted by another learning, and because she knows the answer, she posts an answer to the question. After posting the answer, she gets the warm fuzzy feeling of having helped someone, and to top it all she also learned something new while answering. Remember, teaching is one of the best ways to learn.

She moves on to her programming assignments, and starts researching different ways to solve the problem. In sometime her question is also answered, and she completes the activity. Now she has to submit this activity. She creates a repository on GitHub to push all her code to. She pushes her code and submits a link in the submit form below the activity. Even though Jill used GitHub, you could use something else. You could use some other open source respository like code.google.com, or even publish your code on your blog, or a wiki. It can be anywhere on the Internet, as long as you can link to it.

Jill's learning continues over the weeks. She learns by watching videos, sometimes listens to audio, sometimes reads reference material on the Internet. She asks questions on the course forum, answers other people's questions when she has knows the answer. In doing all this she realizes that a few of her questions were liked by her peers, and so were some of her answers. Every learning contribution she makes including questions, answers, the amount of time her questions or answers have been liked, all go towards building her learning portfolio.

She is totally engaged by this peer based, social learning method, hopes to learn many more things on diycomputerscience.com

Resources:

Open source code hosting

Free blogging platforms

Free wiki

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