Learning with a little help from your friends

by P

Two weeks ago P2PU held its third workshop. This year’s focus was on “getting stuff done” and bringing together people who are working on concrete projects. And we did get a lot done. Check out the etherpad with our notes and visit our new projects board on trello for the details. But we also spent time as a community engaging with the reasons why we got started with P2PU and what it is that holds us together.

Returning to Berlin brought with it a good dose of nostalgia. We held our first ever workshop there in 2009 and we wanted to reconnect to the spirit and excitement of that event. At the time many of us had never met face to face and we weren’t sure what would happen. It turned out that we were not just a group of individuals interested in similar things, but a community with a shared purpose.

P2PU in 2009

Despite all of our different backgrounds, interests, and characters, we connected deeply – both at a personal level and with the idea of P2PU. We became friends and collaborators. And we couldn’t wait to get started. At the time we didn’t want to get bogged down by a long process of defining our vision. We knew what that vision felt like and that was good enough. In order to have a compass to guide our decisions we agreed on three core values of openness, community, and peer-learning and then we set out on the journey.

Barcelona 2010

The three values turned out to be good guides for our original community, but they didn’t convey the excitement and sense of purpose that we felt. They didn’t help new people connect to the idea of P2PU in the same deep way that we had connected with it. There is a certain magic that happens when a great group of people spends four days in a room and that is hard to convey digitally. But we also never clearly articulated what it was that drew us together and that made us so committed to the idea. As we grew it became clear that we needed more than three core values. We needed something that would not only guide our future path, but that we could share with others, and that would express what we stand for. We needed to write down our vision.

P2PU ninjas in Berlin

Berlin 2011

That is why at this year’s workshop we spent two long sessions trying to get to the bottom of some of the fundamental questions about P2PU. We asked ourselves what problem P2PU is solving, what unique approach or ability we bring to solving it, and what it is about P2PU that we feel so passionate about. In the coming weeks, Bekka, Jane, Nadeem and I will take a stab at turning our notes into a draft vision for P2PU, but I wanted to share some of my own take-aways for those who couldn’t be in Berlin this year:

  • P2PU is a diverse community of individuals who are passionate about learning. We stand for human-centered education. We are not a product or a service, but a community that creates products and services. We thrive on experimentation.
  • P2PU is a way to build the world we want to live in. We foster a culture of reciprocity, of helping each other out, of giving a leg up. The education system is in trouble and we want to help rather than point fingers or complain.
  • P2PU is for passion-based learning. Everyone is passionate about learning something. P2PU is a place to identify that passion and we celebrate the long tail of learning and education.
  • P2PU can scale. The traditional model works well for small numbers of learners, but quality goes down when numbers go up. As a result many people don’t have access to quality learning opportunities. P2PU’s open source model can scale.
  • P2PU preserves the core ideas of the university. We are not against the traditional university, but want to help preserve some of its original values such as freedom of ideas, and a culture of learning through open sharing.

In the spirit of the old musically-themed P2PU newsletters I’m asking Joe Cocker to lend a hand in closing this post.

With a little help from our friends we are able to block out the noise and listen to the voice of our hearts. It’s a little help from our friends that dares us to follow our intuition. And it’s with a little help from our friends that we can become who we truly want to be. P2PU is learning with a little help from your friends.