How Do Online “affinity Spaces” Support Learning?

Researchers studying learning in schools and universities have discovered that online academic “affinity spaces” can lead to much more research and student interaction than those websites normally facilitate.
Researchers studying learning in schools and universities have discovered that online academic “affinity spaces” can lead to much more research and student interaction than those websites normally facilitate.

When I sat down with Jeffrey Cohen, who produced the new docu-series-turned-Netflix project Hothouse: The Maker Experiments, he explained what kind of show this is:

“Imagine if what you want to learn is skills that are a cultural import, but you don’t know where to get them from… at what stage of life have you gotten the rarefied information? A tutor: This will show you how to do this or that. Then you graduate with all this knowledge that you can apply to everything else you love and then what do you do with that?”

Who is Jeff Cohen? A successful web-designer/designer/developer that worked on apps for a big California corporation. Then he got hooked on filmmaking and did web-series for kids on a flip camera.

He explains:

The idea of how we find our potential online is probably fairly deep and universal because it applies to every industry. The trick has always been, if you want to learn from someone about x, y or z, go and find them. You need to interview them, contact them, ask them questions, and so on. The barrier has always been there. Those times have changed because now we have conversations about “flipping chairs”—both with coaches and leaders—that sort of thing. You can find those people through meetings, via word of mouth. But now you can be online looking at different experiments, and see how they look and how you can apply them. If you look around online, there are incredibly powerful stats and numbers showing that you can learn so much. Some of the numbers I find particularly fascinating…we take education in schools for granted because the stats speak for themselves. But what about the education industries? For instance, does the education industry need to evolve in order to become a one-to-one solution where students can pick up language skills and web design skills and feel confident and productive in advance? (Hooray for the internet!) The science and knowledge is there, and people want to know how to use it, and if they’re using it properly. I find that one of the most fascinating and unexpected things online.

What Hothouse: The Maker Experiments is about, and Cohen’s project itself, is to show people how to interact online, how to use programs like Torch to easily get the full punch quote in the form of an actual educational app and how to do something as simple as creating a video game. All of it, of course, a service that should be free.

In today’s world, the gulf between cyber-learning and classroom learning seems to be more significant than ever. I love my part-time professor, Judy Martin, and she is always so enthusiastic, motivating and knowledgeable. I really appreciate that she is not in the classroom teaching, but is so alive and important in the life of the community. But online and offline it is so much harder to find people who truly want to enhance your education. The answers are out there, they are in the data. Cohen argues:

We need to raise this stuff in the same way that a TV doctor is someone who is making a timely show about cancer or heart disease or something like that…You just have to be willing to be led by that video. Because if you’re not it won’t work. It’s about leading people on.

Wondering how I could find out more? I looked into one of the TV show’s discussions on Facebook’s public page. I was greeted with this post:

“I think I need to see more YouTube videos. Why not let me jump in and be where the action is?”

If this is your situation, there are options. You can message Hothouse the film producer Jeffrey Cohen directly.

And if you absolutely want to be helped in a more direct way than reading blogs, you can join Give it a try, you could learn from some amazing people online in the process.

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