Taking Learning Beyond the Classroom

Seeking learning opportunities outside the classroom provides an important way for students to advance their knowledge and skills. But real-life learning isn’t limited to traditional internships. In this two-part post, I’ll introduce three ways students can learn outside the classroom. 

1. Startup Weekend

Startup Weekend in Action by ProfessorJosh.comThis non-profit is in more countries than Starbucks. From Orlando to South Africa to London to Brazil, people around the globe come together for a weekend to pitch ideas, form teams, and start companies in 54 hours. This is the perfect environment for students to learn about what it takes to develop a company from conception to implementation.

All Startup Weekend events follow the same basic model: anyone is welcome to pitch their startup idea and receive feedback from their peers. Teams organically form around the top ideas (as determined by popular vote) and for the next 54 hours, they engage in business model creation, coding, designing, and market validation. The weekend culminates with presentations in front of local entrepreneurial leaders who provide another opportunity for critical feedback.

Orrett Davis, an event organizer and facilitator says, “Startup Weekend is truly a unique experience for students to apply the concepts they have studied in the classroom toward building real products and businesses. Startup Weekend forces students to challenge their assumptions by placing them outside of the classroom comfort zone.”

I’ve been a mentor helping teams at both Startup Weekend and its educational focused counterpart, Startup Weekend EDU. I’ve seen all ages, skills, and backgrounds come together to learn from each other and develop something new. Amazing things can happen over a weekend. This type of learning experience can’t be replicated in a traditional classroom.

Learn more about Startup Weekend at http://startupweekend.org.

2. Hackerspaces

Orlando Library Melrose Center Fab Lab EggsHackerspaces (also known as hacklabs, makerspaces, and hackspaces) have popped up all over the country. No matter what you call them, they serve as community-operated workspaces where people with common interests can meet, socialize, collaborate, and learn. Most of these groups provide sustainable spaces for learning and collaborating, as well as equipment and classes for both hackspace members and the broader community to explore their creativity and curiosity in the age of innovation.

Bruce Burke of Tampa Hackerspace says, “Hackerspace is a great extension of classroom learning as it facilitates relationships with like-minded people. Those at the hackerspace are there of their own accord and not forced to learn or follow a syllabus. Individuals can explore aspects of the project that speaks to them—rather than a rigid structure that forces an outcome. It results in innovation, not a predetermined outcome.”

For students, participating in open hackerspaces events means gaining access to high-tech equipment and mentors who can help inspire them to think outside the box. For more information and to find hackerspaces near you, visit http://hackerspaces.org/wiki/.

3. Learning Platforms

Above our discussion was about how learning outside the classroom is about more than just internships. Frankly, it’s about more than MOOCs, too. Here’s the third (and final) extracurricular learning activity I hope students will consider as they’re looking for ways to expand their real-world technology skills.

Various self-paced interactive platforms exist for students who want to learn new technical skills, such as WordPress, Ruby on Rails, Photoshop, or how to build a web site. Most middle and high schools don’t attempt to teach these types of skills, but they’re absolutely necessary for budding entrepreneurs and tech-savvy youth. Here are four examples of platforms that provide self-paced learning opportunities.

Code School badge-student

A. Code School (codeschool.com)

Known for their course, Rails for Zombies, which teaches Ruby on Rails, Code School combines educational, but entertaining videos with onsite coding activities. At $29 per month, you get access to over 30 courses, 1,700 coding challenges, and lots of content.

Gregg Pollack, founder of Code School, says the school’s focus is on creating the best way for someone to start learning any new technology. “Often, this means it takes three months and five to six people to create four hours of online content. We want that four hours to be the most engaging and effective introduction to any given topic.”

B. Lynda.com (lynda.com)

Lynda.com covers everything from 3-D animation to project management to retouching photos. A variety of membership levels are available from $25 a month to $37.50 a month for access to over 111,000 tutorials and exercise files. Learning on the go is a plus at Lynda.com with the ability to switch from computer to mobile device. Lynda Campus provides educational institutions access to reports, co-branding, and certificates of completion with the convenience of single sign-on capabilities.

C. Treehouse (teamtreehouse.com)

Treehouse provide tracks for learning web design, iOS development, Android development, WordPress, and much more. Their expert teachers are entertaining and make learning easy with clear steps along the way. The basic plan is $25 a month with access to thousands of videos, live code challenge practices, and members-only forums. The gold plan is $49 with all the basics plus talks from industry professionals and exclusive workshops and interviews. They have a special promotion right now: for every new gold account, they will donate an account to a student attending a public school.

Codecademy_logo

D. Code Academy (codecademy.com/)

Code Academy is a free educational site for learning to code. Various platforms include JaveScript, HTML, PHP, Python, Ruby, and APIs. They also provide an after-school program to help students learn more about coding or start a coding club with a curriculum attached.

Each of these programs is unique, but all share a similar goal: helping people learn.

(Originally a two part series in the Instructure Keep Learning blog)

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