Ping U: Bringing open courseware to your inbox

As someone who recently completed CodeAcademy’s brief Getting Started with Programming lessons, I couldn’t be more excited for CodeYear, CodeAcademy’s latest offering. Says the site:

Make your New Year’s resolution learning to code. Sign up on Code Year to get a new interactive programming lesson sent to you each week and you’ll be building apps and web sites before you know it.

There are tons of free programming lessons out there, so why is this so exciting? Because this one will pester me in my inbox. I’ve experimented with a variety of online learning resources in various disciplines, and one thing I’ve wished for is the ability to sign up for the course as if it were an RSS feed. Send me one lesson per amount of time (ideally at my discretion) so that I can apply the same mania that drives me to keep my RSS reader and my inbox under control to learn new stuff.

As it is, the 1000+ in Google Reader and the [number not to be named here] in my inbox seem to call out and demand my attention, while the next Khan Academy lesson sits silently, never bothering me about when I’ll get around to it. In this very minor way, pinging me about the next lesson gets at one of the core bottlenecks of education, as Matt Yglesias has described:

I even downloaded an MIT lecture course off iTunes for free to refresh my existing base of math knowledge and lay the groundwork to pursue it further. But did I actually watch the lectures, study, and learn the stuff? Of course not!

That’s life, just as I’m sure I’m not the only blogger who finds himself not exercising as much as he probably should. Whoever finds good ways to ameliorate these kind of motivation / time consistency / akrasia problems will have the key to revolutionizing the sector. But for now, I think people focus a bit too much on the policy barriers to successful online education and not enough on the fact that we genuinely haven’t figured out how to make it stick at all.

As technology continues to improve, online education will be as much a motivation problem as anything else. I guess we’ll see in a year to what extent CodeYear’s simple solution of showing up in inboxes actually matters.

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  1. Walt,

    I like your response to this, I too have started using the site.

    Two thoughts/questions.

    1 – This is the best review of codeacemdy I’ve read by someone who really knows how to build technology for education, I think you’ll like it:

    2 – Is the only think that would make you like Code Academy better an email/Rss reminder? What if you actually looked forward to the lesson because you had a specific project you were completing? Or what is your were competing against a friend to learn something? I’m just trying to figure out if there is something extra, other then an email that would make you interested.


    1. Working on a project definitely makes it seem easier. But generally I think a lot of people start doing online ed stuff so that at some point in the future they’ll be able to take on cooler projects. So there’s the basic tradeoff of doing stuff they don’t really want to do short term (drill on the basics of something new) so that they can do cooler stuff later. Certainly there are lots of ways to drive engagement. By no means is email/rss reminders the only (or even most significant) one. But I do think it’s a very simple one that I’d like to have the option to use.

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