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Why

TL;DR 

Learning can be a wonderful experience but also typically comes with a lot of challenges. Haven't we all dealt with lack of motivation and procrastination at one point in life? Or been forced to follow a learning method that felt ineffective?  
 
On top of that, keeping up with the pace of the modern world also creates a whole range of learning needs and obstacles. We for instance have so many options to choose from that it becomes increasingly difficult to pick one. Our jobs also require us to continuously learn new skills and adapt to changing markets and demands.  
 
But at the same time, technology has gifted us with new means to solve both traditional learning problems and the issues contemporary learners are facing. Digitalization can help bring knowledge to larger audiences. A well-written algorithm can recommend resources that fit your exact needs. And the possibility of being in touch and working with millions of people all around the globe opens new opportunities that will prove invaluable to improve education. 
 

“I don’t know what I don’t know” 

A lot of questions arise from this simple statement. 
 

  • How indeed can I learn something that I don’t even know exists? 
  • How do I know if something would be valuable to me before I have any experience of it? 
  • And where to start? How do I define my goals if I don’t have a general idea of what awaits me? 
  • How do I assess learning material quality? How do I identify the actors and specialists in a domain I don't know anything about? 
  • How do I know what learning method works best for me in a new field? 
     
    Answering these questions requires a lot of effort, time, and possibly anxiety. This whole process can and should be improved greatly so that we have more room for actual learning
     

Drowning in information 

We have access to seemingly infinite amounts of information, which is amazing. However, a lot of this information will never be of any use to us. Sorting out the useful is getting increasingly tricky as we are submerged by a constant flow of data. That’s why finding good and relevant learning content online can feel like a daunting task. 
 
Imagine that you want to know what all the fuss around Machine Learning is about. You will probably first go to Wikipedia. This will give you a dazzling glimpse into all that you don’t know about computer science. Some people will give up right away. But maybe you feel challenged and decide to watch one of the hundreds of introductory Youtube videos on the topic, or read an ELI5 ("Explain Like I'm 5") post on Reddit. Now you feel a little better about yourself. But maybe you also start doubting again: was this video not too simplified? And more importantly: where do I go from here? 
 
You can easily find an introduction to any possible topic online. But which step to take next is often far from obvious. More often than not, the next page(s) you open will either have content that repeats what you already know or will be too advanced for you. 
 
There is huge room for improvement here. Luckily, recommendation engines based on what content a user has consumed previously have been a staple of how the Internet works for years. Curating the amazing learning resources available online in the right way will enable us to smoothly navigate the flood of information. 
 

One size fits all 

Instead of diving into the intimidating infinity of the Internet, it can be reassuring to have a more familiar and well-defined structure to rely on. That's why some of us prefer to register for a more traditional course, either in a classroom or online.  
 
Picking this option will allow you to get to know other learners who all have very different sets of needs, goals, and interests. This can be a very rewarding experience. Unfortunately, in such a context, you can also quickly feel left behind if you need more time to assimilate something, or, on the contrary, get bored of things not moving fast enough.  
 
Despite your teachers' best efforts, you will likely be confronted with only one way of approaching the topic at hand. Aside from potentially giving you a one-sided perspective, if the methods used do not correspond to the way you learn best, a lot of effort and time will be needlessly wasted.  
 
A successful learning experience should maintain your enthusiasm by being tailored to your interests and being just challenging enough to stimulate and entertain you at the same time. We must foster curiosity. It’s a precious and powerful drive to explore new topics, but an easy one to lose. 
 

Access to knowledge 

You may not be able to afford to pay to learn something new. Or to travel to a specific location. Or to take the time off from work. And even if you could, maybe you don't even want to. Why? Because we all got used to fast, easy, and (mostly) free access to information.  
 
The COVID-19 pandemic has indirectly accentuated this phenomenon. By disrupting education to an unprecedented degree, it has forced us to quickly adapt to remote online learning. This shift towards the digitalization of education has increased awareness of online learning tools and has encouraged teachers to use these in creative ways to compensate for the lack of in-person interaction. 
 
Now imagine that you have created an innovative way to teach color theory to web designers. You want it to be put to good use by as many people as possible. Not everyone in your close circle of acquaintance will be equally responsive to it. Your great approach may simply not reach the people who would benefit most from it. On the other side, just by the sheer number of people you can reach online, you are bound to find an audience there that will match your teaching style.  
 
The rise of self-learning and co-learning (and co-creating) is also opening new doors for highly scalable social learning platforms. It reduces the need for tutors and teachers and favors the intrinsically rewarding dimension of acquiring knowledge, rather than having an external agent pushing you. These trends along with others such as "learning in public" are getting more and more traction even if solutions are still scarce on the market at the moment. 
 
Being only a few clicks away from all the factual knowledge we could dream of means that we do not need to memorize every single bit of information anymore. Our educational needs are shifting towards a new paradigm based more on how a concept works and can be put to practice than on remembering all the specifics. This does mean however that it becomes paramount to keep track of what you learn to be able to refer to it when needed. 
 

Continuous learning 

Learning Management Systems (LMS) have been around for a while now. But they are unfortunately dependent on where you are working or studying at one point in time and therefore have limited usefulness in a world where people change jobs and careers all the time. There is more than ever a need to create a tool that maintains a record of what you have learned and allows swift and seamless progress from one field of expertise to another. 
 
The skills children and young adults are learning in schools and universities might be obsolete in a couple of years. Demands in fields like Machine Learning or User Experience Design appear on the markets before people can be formally trained to supply solutions to them. COVID-19 has unfortunately also impacted the job market heavily and has created bigger needs for reskilling and upskilling of the workforce. 
 
These disruptions may be an opportunity for people to take back control over their education. We have to learn to be more flexible and adapt our methods. A good learning experience will increasingly be based on how it answers your own unique needs, goals, and sensitivity at a specific moment in time. 
 
The good news is that technology makes this possible. On one side, tools like graph databases and machine learning are now mature and can help solve some of the most challenging issues with recommendation systems. Recent advancements in Natural Language Processing such as GPT-3 also have the potential to be game-changers and will make online learning a very exciting field in the near future.  
 
On the other hand, two decades of experience around the Web and entrepreneurship means that we have a huge collection of best practices and principles, in areas such as product, UX, or online community building, from which to draw inspiration. 
 
We now have more tools than ever to leverage in order to transform online education. 
 
Check Vision to learn more about how Sci-Map offers to tackle these issues.

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