A new home for Tech Explorations

This website is a platform on which we are building an awesome learning experience for our students. A connected, interactive, social learning experience. A Maker Education-style experience.

Let me explain…

When I started working on Tech Explorations in 2013 with my business partner (and wife) Michelle, my “why” was simple: I wanted to teach the things that excited me (in my life as a University lecturer, I taught the course I was assigned).

My plan was also simple: I’ll create video courses on my favourite technology topics, and hopefully, people will want to enrol to learn from them.

And that’s what I did.

In the course of a few long years, I was able to publish several courses. Tens of thousands of students enrolled. People came from 182 countries to learn Arduino, Raspberry Pi, electronics, and other topics. Many of them were hobbyists; others were engineers learning new skills for work, teachers getting up-to-speed with the latest educational technologies, students working on their science fair project, and retirees practicing life-long learning.

I was, and I still am, amazed. The diversity is staggering.

During these years, I pumped out content and communicated with thousands of people. My statistics are crazy. For example, in 2017, I responded to over 2000 help requests. Many of them required multiple exchanges. I replied to at least that many emails, most of them from students. I recorded over 60 hours of instructional video when for 10 minutes of published video I need 3-4 hours of production time.

Starting in early 2018 my team is now helping me with this work so I can keep my sanity.

From all this, sometime in 2017, I made a realisation: to be able to offer more than just instructional videos and books to our students (like an “exceptional online learning experience”), Tech Explorations will need to change. This realisation was my inflection point.

Something similar to what happened to the Web, when we went from Web 1.0 to Web 2.0. The inflection point was the Dot-Com Bubble and Crush.

When it comes to online learning, the reality is this:

  • It is lonely.
  • It is barely interactive.
  • Most people find it hard to motivate themselves.
  • Self-pacing courses are almost never completed.
  • When you are stuck, you need to ask a human.
  • Instructional content can be tiring and boring.

It just doesn’t feel right. It certainly doesn’t fulfill the basic premises of Maker-style education, where learning happens through practice and peer support.

I have experienced these problems myself as a student. Over the years, I have enrolled in over 100 online courses but only completed around ten.

In almost every case, I felt alone.

This disconnect from other people affected the speed of my progress and my level of understanding of the content.

What I wished for, was a learning community.

A learning community that could provide a connected, interactive, social learning experience.

I am not talking about virtual or augmented reality.

Simply, I wanted an increased level of interactivity between the learners enrolled in a course, and with the instructors. In learning, the people involved are “peers”, who can teach (help others learn) and learn at the same time.

I want to break the silos, so to speak.

I want to change the reality of online learning, to make it awesome.

Social networks have succeeded in connecting people online.

I think that taking lessons from Facebook’s success can help us create a better online learning experience.

Instead of sharing a snapshot of your gourmet dinner, share your latest Arduino sketch and schematic.

Instead of your latest status update telling the world that you are at the beach (don’t forget the sunscreen), let your peers know that you are stuck in an infinite loop (or your gadget is running out of RAM, or you’ll be attempting your first drone flight this afternoon).

How cool is that?

Very cool. So, we got to work.

We started building an early version of this vision in late August 2018.

And we invited the first few students to experience it a couple of weeks ago (I am writing this on the 30th of January).

You are reading this blog post at techexplorations.com, the new home of Tech Explorations.

The old home, txplore.com, is still available, helping us during the transition period.

To be sure, the new home of Tech Explorations is nowhere near Facebook, and it definitely not perfect. We are making small or big improvements every day.

It already has all of our courses and books, and we are adding new students daily.

And, it is already a lot more interactive than the old one.

More important, it provides us with a platform on which we can build an awesome, social learning experience over the next few months and years.

This first step involves building a completely new platform. Our team had a lot of learning to do that included many mistakes (ensuring some excellent learning outcomes 😉 ).

We have implemented an integrated Help Desk for one-on-one support, and a rich forum for peer-to-peer interaction.

There is also a gamification aspect, which allows you to earn points and badges as you complete achievements (like a forum interaction, completing a quiz or a section).

Course completion certificates are on their way.

A personal activity stream informs you of your progress, so you know where you left off last time you logged on.

Over the next few weeks and months, we’ll be releasing more interactive and social features, like custom student groups, and private messaging.

We are also looking at creating an online maker faire and a projects magazine where you get to show off your creations.

Every journey starts with the single first step, as they say.

We have just taken that first step.

Ultimately, we created the new Tech Explorations website to serve our students and community better. As a student in our courses, you can influence and shape how it will evolve, especially in its early days when it is at its most malleable.

In this post, I outlined my motivations behind this project, what it looks like now, and our vision for the future.

Go ahead and spend some time with it.

Feel free to post your thoughts in the discussion below.

If you are enrolled to a course on our old website (at txplore.com), you may already have received an email with instructions to use your content on the new website. If you haven’t, you will soon (please be patient). We invite students to move across in small segments to avoid overwhelming our servers and the support team.

If you have any comments or recommendations, I’d love to hear them. Please create a ticket, it is better than email (I find a lot of student emails in my spam folder, and because of the volume of emails I receive, some emails simply get lost).

Enjoy our new learning experience!

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