Experiments: Learning

The vision for our Learning products is to use the power of MDN to teach web development to future web developers. Experiments with new content (the Learning Area), new formats (Content Kits) and new contribution paths (the MDN Fellowship) are underway. Each of these experiments is the culmination of months of planning and development.

Furthermore, experiments in the Reference product such as Helpfulness Ratings, the Metrics Dashboard and Interactive Code Samples promise new opportunities to improve MDN’s Learning products.

In other words, MDN’s Learning products enjoy plenty of enthusiasm and forward momentum. I propose just two additional experiments to supplement those already underway.

1. Discussion Areas

Someone recently created a page in MDN’s new Learning Area asking for help:

“Good day, I have a problem with nsIWebProgressListener for extension firefox. I need a status is target blank, mean: when user on click to tag a (<a href=”www.mysite.com” target=”blank”>) then we have a this status. 

Please, help me.
Thanks all!”

Learning Area wiki pages are not well suited to this kind of discussion. The Learning Area does include a link to the Webmaker forums which are definitely more suitable. But they are not focused on the same audience of aspiring web developers.

I have spoken several times with learners who chose to invest in development training at a coding bootcamp such as The Turing School or Code Fellows. For them, the peer group afforded by such opportunities was very compelling.

Learners need a way to discuss their subject with others who are learning the same thing at the same time. We should identify a forum/forums focused on the same audience and subjects as MDN’s Learning Area. A dedicated area of the Webmaker forums is probably the most lightweight place to explore the usage and implications of this feature. We should be able to answer these questions through observation:

  • Do people use the forum?
  • Do they help each other?
  • What management does the forum require?

With those questions answered we can decide whether a more involved solution is justified.

Status of this experiment: Product stakeholders recognize the gap, but nobody is currently working to address it. The proposal needs more discussion and commitment.

2. Exercises in Github

Analysis and surveys of the online learning space suggest that online learners are constrained by sandboxes. They learn from online tools how to code; they do not learn from online tools how to build and launch web sites.

The Turing School maintains its syllabi, lessons and activities in a Github Repository. This creates additional opportunities for students to interact with git and Github, both critical elements of the modern web developer’s toolkit.

MDN can adapt this approach to work for thousands of learners. Specifically, MDN can create activities in Github that require users…

  1. to fork and/or clone a repository
  2. to deploy their work to Github pages

This approach offers numerous benefits:

  • Learners use the same source code management tools that real web developers use
  • Learners create measurable artifacts of their progress, which can help identify opportunities to improve lessons or activities
  • Learners build a website in their own Github repository that may help demonstrate their skills to future employers

The open-source Nodeschool.io offers training in this format. We could create a Nodeschool.io activity to accompany one of MDN’s lessons and track usage that way, thereby learning answers to these questions:

  • Do people start the activities?
  • Do they complete them?
  • Does their work demonstrate fluency in the lesson the activity accompanies?

Status of this experiment: Proposal to Learning Area stakeholders met with enthusiasm. Needs specification and an engineering commitment.

MDN Product Talk: The Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Business Context
  3. The Case for Experiments
  4. Product Vision
  5. Reference Experiments
  6. Learning Experiments
  7. Services Experiments
Experiments: Learning

MDN Product Talk: Vision

As I wrote this post, MDN’s documentation wiki hit a remarkable milestone: For the first time ever MDN saw more than 4 million unique visitors in a single month.

I always tell people, if we have a good quarter it’s because of the work we did three, four, and five years ago. It’s not because we did a good job this quarter.

– Jeff Bezos


Mozilla’s MDN project envisions a world where software development begins with web development — a world where developers build for the web by default. That is our great ambition, an audacious summary of MDN’s raison d’être. I discussed MDN’s business strategy at length in an earlier post. In this post I will talk about MDN’s product strategy.

Several posts ago I described MDN as a product ecosystem — “…a suite of physical products that fits into a bigger ecosystem that may entail services and digital content and support”, to use one designer’s words. The components of MDN’s product ecosystem — audience, contributors, platform, products, brand, governance, campaigns, and so forth — are united by a common purpose: to help people worldwide understand and build things with standard web technologies.

The Future

The efforts we undertake now must help people years hence. But projecting even a few years into the future of technology is … challenging, to say the least. It is also exactly what MDN’s product vision must do. So what does the future look like?

Looking at the future, we see futuristic shapes emerging from fog. We can’t tell yet whether they are riding hoverboards or wearing virtual reality headsets in self-driving cars. Maybe they are piloting webcam-equipped moth cyborgs. Will hoverboards implement web-standard APIs? Will MDN contributors need watch-optimized contribution pathways? We cannot know now.

We can be confident about a few things:

  1. Future information tools will take a marvelous variety of forms, from fashion accessories to appliances to autonomous vehicles. There is no replacement for the web; it will appear in some shape on all of these devices.
  2. Future information tools will deliver information when and where it is needed. Digging for information in search results will be less common than it is today, even among web developers.
  3. The future will have even more demand for capable web developers than the present has. Many of them will read documentation in their own language.

The three MDN products under heavy development now — the mature Reference product (MDN’s documentation wiki) and the new Services and Learning products — will evolve to meet this future:

Reference

In the future, web developers will still need a source of truth about open web technology development. MDN’s last 10 years of success have established it as that source of truth. Millions of web developers choose MDN over other online sources because, as a reference, MDN is more authoritative, more comprehensive, and more global. The vision of our Reference product is to use the power of MDN to build the most accessible, authoritative source of information about standard and emerging web technologies for web developers.

Services

In the future, MDN will still be an information resource, but its information will take different shapes depending on how and where it is accessed. MDN may look like the present-day reference product when it is rendered in a web browser; but sometimes it may render in a browser’s developer tools, in a pluggable code editor, or elsewhere. In those instances the information presented may be more focused on the things developers commonly need while coding. Some developers may still access MDN via search results; others will get something from MDN the moment they need it, in the context where it is most helpful. MDN’s articles will be used for learning and understanding; but subsets of MDN’s information may also power automation that enhances productivity and quality. These new uses all share one characteristic: They bring MDN’s information closer to developers through a service architecture. The vision for our Services products is to bring the power of MDN directly into professional web developers’ daily coding environments.

Learning

The future’s web developers are learning web development right now. MDN’s present-day material is already essential to many of them even though it is aimed at a more advanced audience. MDN’s new learning content and features will deliver beginner-focused content that authoritatively covers the subjects essential to becoming a great web developer. Unlike many other online learning tools, MDN needn’t keep learners inside the platform: We can integrate with any 3rd-party tool that helps learners become web developers, and we can create opportunities for web developers to learn from each other in person. The vision for our Learning products is to use the power of MDN to teach web development to future web developers.

The power of MDN

The success of all three products depends on something I above call “the power of MDN” — something that sets MDN apart from other sources of information about web development.

I have previously described information about web development as an “oral tradition”. Web development is a young, complex and constantly changing field. It is imperfectly documented in innumerable blogs, forums, Q&A sites and more. MDN’s unique power is its ability to aggregate the shared experience of web developers worldwide into an authoritative catalog of truth about web technologies.

This aspect of MDN is constant: We carry it with us into the future, come what may. For any MDN product to succeed at scale it must implement a contribution pathway that allows web developers to directly contribute their knowledge about web development. MDN’s products advance the field of web development at a global scale by sharing essential information discovered through the collective experience of the world’s web developers.

Together we are advancing the field. In 10 years web development will be concerned with new questions and new challenges, thanks to the state of the art that MDN aggregates and promulgates. We build on what we know; we share what we know on MDN. Here’s to another 10 years!

MDN Product Talk: The Series

  1. Introduction
  2. Business Context
  3. The Case for Experiments
  4. Product Vision
  5. Reference Experiments
  6. Learning Experiments
  7. Services Experiments
MDN Product Talk: Vision

Hoosteeno.com now with more WordPress than ever!

This blog has only a few readers who might notice (I’m looking at you, Boris) a burp in its content today. I apologize for that. I’ve decided to host it on WordPress.com for reasons that I will share in a separate post.

I did not migrate all the content. Much of it was just photos that I posted because Tumblr made posting photos so dang easy. I do not consider them to be archival material, unlike the timeless masterpieces that made the cut.

A Tumblr-to-Wordpress.com migration cannot include permalinks, which means old article URLs do not go anywhere anymore. Therefore I should apologize as well to the faithful search robots who have come back day in and day out to spider the same old content. Your confusion will not last.

Finally, to all readers old and new: This transition represents a turning point on Hoosteeno.com. Herewith there will be more.

Hoosteeno.com now with more WordPress than ever!