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I was invited to lecture at UC Berkeley in January, 2012, and to involve their faculty and their graduate students in some kind of seminar, so I told the story of how I’ve used social media in teaching and learning - and invited them to help me create a handbook for self-learners.

I called it the Peeragogy Handbook. I met twice on the Berkeley campus in the weeks following the lecture with about a dozen Berkeley faculty and graduate students. We also had a laptop open with Elluminate, an online platform that enabled video chatting and text chat, enabling people around the world who were interested in the subject, who I recruited through Twitter and email, to also participate in this conversation. All of the faculty and grad students at Berkeley dropped out of the project, but we ended up with about two dozen people, most of them educators, several of them students, in Canada, Belgium, Brazil, Germany, Italy, Mexico, the UK, USA, and Venezuela who ended up collaborating on a voluntary effort to create this Peeragogy Handbook, at peeragogy.org. We all shared an interest in the question: “If you give more and more of your power as a teacher to the students, can’t you just eliminate the teacher all together, or can’t people take turns being the facilitator of the class?”

Between the time nine years ago, when I started out using social media in teaching and learning, clearly there’s been an explosion of people learning things together online via Wikipedia and YouTube, MOOCs and Quora, Twitter and Facebook, Google Docs and video chat, and I don’t really know what’s going to happen with the institutions, but I do know that this wild learning is happening and that some people are becoming more expert at it.

I started trying to learn programming this summer, and I think that learning programming and doing programming must be very, very different now from before the Web, because now, if you know the right question to ask, and you put it into a search query, there’s someone out there on StackOverflow who is already discussing it. More and more people are getting savvy to the fact that you don’t have to go to a university to have access to all of the materials, plus media that the universities haven’t even had until recently. What’s missing for learners outside formal institutions who know how to use social media is useful lore about how people learn together without a teacher. Nobody should ever overlook the fact that there are great teachers. Teachers should be trained, rewarded, and sought out. But it’s time to expand the focus on learners, particularly on self-learners whose hunger for learning hasn’t been schooled out of them.

I think that we’re beginning to see the next step, which is to develop the methods – we certainly have the technologies, accessible at the cost of broadband access – for self-learners to teach and learn from each other more effectively. Self-learners know how to go to YouTube, they know how to use search, mobilize personal learning networks. How does a group of self-learners organize co-learning?

In the Peeragogy project, we started with a wiki and then we decided that we needed to have a mechanism for people who were self-electing to write articles on the wiki to say, OK, this is ready for editing, and then for an editor to come in and say, this is ready for Wordpress, and then for someone to say, this has been moved to WordPress. We used a forum to hash out these issues and met often via Elluminate, which enabled us to all use audio and video, to share screens, to text-chat, and to simultaneously draw on a whiteboard. We tried Piratepad for a while. Eventually we settled on WordPress as our publication platform and moved our most of our discussions to Google+. It was a messy process, learning to work together while deciding what, exactly it was we were doing and how we were going to go about it. In the end we ended up evolving methods and settled on tools that worked pretty well. We tackled key questions and provided resources for dealing with them: How you want to govern your learning community? What kinds of technologies do you want to use, and why, and how to use them? How are learners going to convene, what kind of resources are available, and are those resources free or what are their advantages and disadvantages. We were betting that if we could organize good responses to all these questions, a resource would prove to be useful: Here’s a resource on how to organize a syllabus or a learning space, and here are a lot of suggestions for good learning activities, and here’s why I should use a wiki rather than a forum. We planned the Handbook to be an open and growable resource – if you want to add to it, join us! The purpose of all this work is to provide a means of lubricating the process of creating online courses and/or learning spaces.

Please use this handbook to enhance your own peer learning and please join our effort to expand and enhance its value. The people who came together to create the first edition – few of us knew any of the others, and often people from three continents would participate in our synchronous meetings – found that creating the Handbook was a training course and experiment in peeragogy. If you want to practice peeragogy, here’s a vehicle. Not only can you use it, you can expand it, spread it around. Translators have already created versions of the first edition of the handbook in Spanish, and Italian, and work is in progress to bring these up to date with the second edition. We’ve recently added a Portuguese translation team: more translators are welcome.

What made this work? Polycentric leadership is one key. Many different members of the project stepped up at different times and in different ways and did truly vital things for the project. Currently, over 30 contributors have signed the CC Zero waiver and have material in the handbook; over 600 joined our Peeragogy in Action community on G+; and over 1000 tweets mention peeragogy.org. People clearly like the concept of peeragogy – and a healthy number also like participating in the process.

We know that this isn’t the last word. We hope it’s a start. We invite new generations of editors, educators, learners, media-makers, web-makers, and translators to build on our foundation.

Howard Rheingold
Marin County
January, 2014