What Can Education Learn From Learnist?

learnist-logoWhat Can Education Learn From Learnist?

by Terry Heick

Full disclosure–in the past, TeachThought has had a business relationship with Learnist in that we helped create educational content for them. That is, content centered around education.

Both TeachThought and Learnist launched around the same time (late 2012), and they have a significant audience of educators that use the platform for both sharing their thinking in something-other-than-a-blog, or for classroom use.

In short, Learnist is a platform (site + app) that allows people to share playlists of learning–specifically sequenced content plucked from the web that represents need-to-know information. Love woodworking? Create a “Learnboard” on that topic by finding artifacts from across the internet that people need to “see.”

You then introduce and contextualize each artifact in a brief explanation, sequence a short collection, and see who cares. The result is a collection of curated content to help people learn. Neat?

The Shift From Tom Brokaw To Jon Stewart 

Learnist (not coincidentally, I’m sure) gave birth to themselves at an interesting time in both mobile technology and #edtech. In the last 30 months or so, the hardware era has given way to the social era, which has itself given way to a kind of visual curation era–an elegant kind of collation of all the loose fragments of the web.

The kinds of changes they make–and made by competitors–can be informative to survey. In general, there seems to be a yearning for both simplicity, readability, and true expertise–and not necessarily one afforded by traditional means of university degrees and certification.

Millenials are wary of the system, and Gen X has shown a knack for finding their own way as well. This means who is trusted as a source of information, news, and expertise has shifted from Tom Brokaw to Jon Stewart, and local newspapers to twitter.

In that context, an easy to skim and use site that makes discovery and curation fun makes sense. Four major network publishers have become 100,000,000 publishers–and that means there needs to be some kind of order and credibility.

A leaner, more authentic, and more transparent expert is able to generate significant credibility with certain demographics of internet users–which both reinforces blogging as an internet pillar not going anywhere, while also suggesting new ways–more visual, accessible, and conveniently packaged–for them to share what they know with the world.

Making Sharing Cool

Learnist is a platform that allows that–users to share what they know, and learn from others. Boards are curated lily pads of expertise to move from novice to–well, that part depends on the user. With no assessments, curriculum, certifications, or degrees, the learning is self-directed and wonderfully selfish.

But this makes their growth interesting to watch as they adapt to digital trends and changing revenue demands. They’ve recently introduced paid content in the form of premium boards, which on the surface seems to go against their previous work where learning is transparent, crowdsourced, and, well, free.

They explain that “Learnist’s 10 million users worldwide now have exclusive access to multimedia lessons by director Gus Van Sant, actress and activist Olivia Wilde, designer Danny Forster, MythBusters TV host Kari Byron, former NFL star Dhani Jones, author Brad Meltzer, and others. At just 99 cents, premium Learnist Learnboards provide curious people with a unique opportunity to learn from the world’s most celebrated experts in the arts, technology, sports, food, fitness and more.”

With this move, can they still be considered #edtech? Is that an important label to educators? Is the label itself changing in meaning?

The old Learnist continues to exist; to that they’ve added the possibility to learn from individuals with a different kind of credibility. This should help users filter out mediocre content while adding some star power to it all. On a cultural level–and if it were wildly successful–It could also making sharing-what-you-know rather than sharing-what-you-had-for-breakfast cool.

Perhaps for their next trick they can make the process of learning cool, too. For now this is an interesting experiment in edtech, where users pay for access to expertly curated sequences of content as if through iTunes, where you can filter by Genre, Artist, etc.

As with eLearning, MOOCs, and streaming webinars–and related sites like Rap Genius, NuSkool, and Brainfeed–it will be interesting to see how what teachers think. How people want to learn–and what they want to learn–is clearly changing. Education’s response–or lack thereof–to these kinds of trends will be equally telling.

What can education learn from the kinds of moves companies like Learnist continue to make? It might start with decentralizing–feeding the ecology of connected communities sharing what their stories and expertise.