When I created diycomputerscience.com, one of the objectives I had in mind was to empower self learners. A few things that self learners do not have access to, is a peer learning community, and a way to establish credentials.
I believe it is a lot more fun to learn with peers, than in isolation. Besides this we also learn better when we can discuss ideas with other learners, ask and answer questions, and improve our own thought process by understanding how other people approach the same problem.
A student at a traditional college would typically get a certificate or degree which they can use as credential. A self learner on the other hand may have knowledge, but does not have the certificate to corroborate it.
These are some issues I am trying to solve at diycomputerscience.com. We have a peer learning community around different courses where everyone can learn at their own pace. Each course has a forum where participants can ask and answer questions. An integral part of doing the course is to keep a learning journal in the form of a blog. Everyone is encouraged to blog their notes, answers, solutions to various course activities, and whatever else they wish to add to the blog, such as how they arrived at a particular answer. Such a learning journal can serve as a learners e-portfolio. Just like photographers and artists have portfolios of their work, which they use as credentials, a student's learning portfoio combined with other artifacts of partipation in a course can become their credentials. To meet this end, each course at diycomputerscience.com, encourages students to submit links to their blog posts in the course. Submitting the links serves the purpose of peer review of each other's work. In a college such review may be done by teachers or TA's. Here at diycomputerscience.com, the idea is that every participant submits their work for peer review. The purpose is not to grade the work or brand it with an 'A', or 'B', but rather to help a learner develop their skills. If someone sees a submitted blog post, where they feel the problem could have been approached in a better or different way, then they can engage in a conversation, which will lead to better learning and understanding.
However, the above process also has a flip side. If a course is based on a book (such as the "The Elements of Comouting Systems" course), then we will inadvertantly be publishing (on our blogs) solutions to the homework problems from the book. Having solutions out in the open might tempt college students who are taking similar courses based on the book, to take the easy way out and not apply themselves to the solving the problems, as they would otherwise have done. Having the solutions out in the open, can in some cases lead to "academic dishonesty", and in some cases may spoil the experience of those who are learning by themselves, and do not wish to be tempted by ready made solutions.
I have been trying to think if there is a middle path, which balances all issues. It is possible to create a private space where self learners can exchange notes, and thoughts. However, I am not sure if a private learning journal would be as effective as a credential , as a public blog. A private space would also mean that participants lose control over how they want to maintain their learning journall. Perhaps another solution is to just have the solution code snippets in a private space, while the learning journals continue to be hosted on the participant's blogs, wikis, etc. These private spaces can have access control rules, so when someone follows a link to a code snippet from the learner's blog, they will be able to access it only if they are part of the same peer learning group. Maybe there are other solutions which I cannot think of as yet ...
As examples of similar initiatives, University Of the People uses a private peer learning setup. They give certificates, and all communication among the participants is done in private. P2PU's School of Webcraft on the other hand is fully open. They are also working towards a badge framework, where students can submit responses to challenges. The students get a badge is a certain number of peers/facilitators upvote the student's response.
I would like to request feedback from the larger Interner community of teachers, students (learning at traditional universities), self learners, and professionals, about these issues.? I will appreciate if you can share your thoughts in the comments section below.