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
- 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
- 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.
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.