EA Online Learning Buddy Platform

by JaimeRV3 min read16th Nov 20218 comments

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Summary:

Part 1.  introduction to MoocLab: a platform that facilitates learning by helping its members find people to learn with on a given topic.

Part 2. proposal for the implementation of a similar platform within EA.

What is MoocLab?

MoocLab is an education resource that lets users pair up with Study Buddies to discuss concepts, work together on courses, etc. It also offers Study Groups — virtual spaces for group discussions, content sharing, etc.

Why learning with a buddy?

In my own experience, trying to take advantage of COVIDlock-downs to learn about new topics, MoocLab has proven to be much more effective than other methods such as setting goals for myself and using applications like beeminder to motivate me to meet them. Having to give weekly reports to a person has personally been more motivating, rewarding and satisfying than losing money. This is however something agreed between the “buddies”

Current Online Learning in EA: 

Today the main platform for learning about EA-related topics is the EA Virtual Programs.

Having participated in most of these programs, I cannot recommend them highly enough. 

However, they do have a couple of limitations:

  •  Few topics covered compared to the vast amount of topics EA can cover. To give an example here is the list of topics covered in the current VP In-Depth:
    • ethical positions which inspire effective altruism
    • developing a clearer picture of the world and improving our thinking both for ourselves and our work
    • Community Building for Effective Altruism
    • Heavy Tailed Impact
    • Decision Theory
    • Uncertainty
    • Using Forecasting Tools
    • Global Catastrophic Biorisks
    • Artificial Intelligence; Predictions and Capability
    • Limits of Evidence and Cluelessness
    • Something Else

Many of the topics mentioned in the list are suggestions for participants to choose from.

At the end of the list there is an option to talk about other topics but in my own experience this is rarely more than one session. I would be surprised if many groups spend most sessions talking about "Something else", but feel free to leave a comment if I’m wrong. :) 

  •  Occurrence: Even if they occur very frequently (every couple of months), the availability of VPs could be much higher.

I am sure there are other things that can be improved in the VPs, but my objective here is not to criticize them. As I have said before, after having participated and facilitated several VPs, I find them a very good platform for EAs to learn and discuss different topics.

Having said that, I personally see that much of it could be automated with a platform like MoocLab for EA topics.

The EA MoocLab: 

The simplest version would be a giant spreadsheet with a list of EA related topics. Within each topic there would be a possible list:

  • articles, recommended videos
  • books
  • courses on Coursera, ... 
  • ...

and also a series of questions that could be discussed in the different sessions.

People could post their interest in related topics (maybe together with experience, availability, …) so other people could contact them directly.

This “EA MoocLab” (probably a better name would be “EA LearnLab”) would be a considerable amount of work for two groups:

  • platform developers
  • organizers who would be in charge of filling in the lists for each topic.

Other things could also be considered, such as participants being able to add readings to the lists (with admins to vet if necessary), leave comments,... 

The platform could be very complex but the MVP seems relatively easy to implement and would allow whoever to learn about a given topic at their own pace together with other EAs who share their interests. 

Conclusion: 

The benefit of the MVP to increase motivation and knowledge within EA personally seems to me to outweigh the costs of money/effort/time invested in such a platform. That being said please feel free to:

  • leave a comment with criticism, suggestions, …
  • register your interest for such a platform in this form. Note that at the moment there is no MVP and it will only get started if enough “buddies” register their interest :)
  • collaborate and help build the platform (the project can be found under “EA LearningLab” but feel free to message me directly)

 

Finally, I would like to thank Aaron, Yi-Yang, Mike and others for their comments and contributions.

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8 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 9:36 PM
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Hey, how about starting with an MVP which is an existing platform, such as a Facebook group, Slack channel, discord, or something like that?

(Instead of developing a new platform)

It could be an option. However, here some points to the existing platforms:

  • Facebook: as far as I know you cannot have in a group different pages for different topics. Scalability would also be a problem  in the future for example to add new features
  • Slack: in the 10+ EA slack groups I am in, most of them people go to introduce themselves and never come back
  • Discord: similar to slack

a small MVP would be I think fairly easy to implement. But if the platform development seems to be a constraint sure an existing platform shall be considered

Facebook: as far as I know you cannot have in a group different pages for different topics.

Perhaps have one group for one topic as an MVP?

Slack [and discord]: in the 10+ EA slack groups I am in, most of them people go to introduce themselves and never come back

Do you think this is a problem with the features in Slack/Discord?

a small MVP would be I think fairly easy to implement.

This is not my intuition, especially since the features of Facebook/Slack/Discord don't seem to be enough. Maybe I'm not in sync with what you imagine as an MVP?

But if the platform development seems to be a constraint sure an existing platform shall be considered

My prior for this kind of project is that the bottle neck is something between "critical mass of people" and "some idea [product market fit?] on what to do together (such as meet-once-a-week or whatever)", and not the technology. In other words, it's not like this project will succeed-or-fail based on having an extra click to find a document, or having a slightly better filtering mechanism.

But this is only a prior, I expect it will either really resonate as true or that I'm missing something

  • Facebook: not optimal but as MVP might do
  • Slack/Discord: it has nothing to do with the features but with how little people use (or are comfortable using) slack/discord outside their  already existing EA Groups/Projects. In Facebook people are more active in general but if you have data to prove my wrong happy to be wrong :)
  • what I imagine as MVP as mentioned in the post is a simpler MOOCLAB: https://www.mooclab.club/members/?key=study_buddy_members

 

I think also the critical mass of people is important. The post has not reached many people so probably Facebook is the best alternative to make it easier for the people to find and start gaining members fast in the corresponding pages, even if the pages idea seems far from optimal. 

how little people use (or are comfortable using) slack/discord

Even if they use slack/discord very little: They use a new [a new platform that doesn't exist yet and nobody ever used and everyone knows that nobody used] even less. No?

Facebook is the best alternative to make it easier for the people to find and start gaining members

I agree, and again, this is an advantage that a new platform will never have. (right?)

corresponding pages [...] pages idea

Do you mean "Facebook Group" (where you wrote "page")? If not - then I didn't understand, could you explain in other words?

Great idea! Note also the existence of The University of Bayes on Discord. This doesn’t focus specifically on EA-aligned subject areas, but it is doing something similar to your proposal: ie you can freely join classes, and learn with other members of the Discord topics like Bayesian statistics, calculus, and machine learning.

I love this idea! Let's connect and chat about it -- https://www.linkedin.com/in/alex-barnes-toronto/

Can you build it on Gather Town?

Invitation sent in Linkedin ;)