Islands vs. Streams as a learning model

How we learn in this digital age is broken, amazing, and weird at the same time. I see two major paradigms that are present in learning models: islands and streams.

Islands of learning are a traditional classroom approach. There’s a syllabus of reading, tasks to do, and lectures to listen to. It’s a very safe and guarded experience. Major online learning platforms such as Udemy or Coursera are bringing that model online. The other option is to learn through different streams of information. You read a chapter from a book, look at the YouTube video, do a short Skillshare course, and lurk on Instagram.

I’m trying to figure out how we can make these types of learnings more explicit to the learners. I’m also noticing that there is prestige attached to being a part of an island of learning. There’s just more status to say that you’re part of an expensive island instead of admitting that you’ve learned from many YouTube videos and blog posts.

There’s also a matter of getting good feedback loops in the process of learning. Let’s say you decide to learn about baking sourdough bread.

Islands way is to: 

  1. Read a book and try to follow instructions
  2. Go to a two-day workshop.
  3. Experiment with baking and talk to your family and a few close friends.
  4. Participate in a Facebook group for your workshop class

Streams way would be to:

  1. Find a 101 YouTube video from Tasty
  2. Read articles on the Perfect Loaf website
  3. Fail and discover “Beginner sourdough bakers” Facebook groups
  4. Post your pictures, get feedback from others, and with time get better
  5. Start posting on Instagram and get feedback from a global community of people

You only need to find the first few and you’ll organically find them by attracting people that are just a bit better than you. You’ll also start helping people that know a bit less than you.

6. Discover new sub-communities and repeat the process. Think of it as a journey and there’s no final destination.

The way I described streams is very community-driven. It requires a lot of vulnerability to consistently share failures instead of only your successes. Even with your best work you should approach it by asking how to improve it further.

I’m approaching learning from both perspectives and it’s frustrating in both cases. Islands make it hard to weave in resources from outside. Streams are often just these giants blobs of content that don’t make it easy to weave them into a coherent story and they’re hard to reference later.

Products that would help me on this learning journey

Figure out what’s the smallest and most streamable unit of content for each creative work. I’m thinking in terms of paragraphs and short video clips from longer videos. I’d like to have a way to easily assemble a learning trail of such content. Both for my reference and to be able to share it with others.

I’d like to relate these units of content to a larger community. Give a bit of context about the author and what’s the best audience for them.

Is there an inherent feedback loop that makes sharing such resources better with time? Can we develop assistive tools that will make it easier to suggest links to community-written FAQs or instructional videos?

Overall I still find that the process of collecting and curating learning is too high friction. There’s a lot of value in seeing the journey that one person took and we don’t make it easy for others to follow them. Our prevailing model is still mostly of top-down teaching and collaborative learning is still not a fundamental building block.

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