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Research Project About Tech Literacy and Informal Learning

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TIL: Informal Tech Education in a Cross-Cultural Perspective


Every tech-oriented press outlet can attest to the fact that the “ed tech” industry has exploded in the past 10 years--from start-ups helping learners to code, to new platforms that scale to meet the needs of thousands of learners, technology has affected education in a profound way. (

As the promise of ed-tech platforms try to match the massive demand for tech literacy, another movement is garnering steam in the background: informal learning communities that offer face-to-face, small-scale, individualized and social approaches to tech literacy.

As informal learning groups like DevBootcamp, Hackerschool, Hackidemia, OpenTechSchool and Coder Dojo have established themselves around the globe, we don’t really have a sense of where each group excels, where the points of innovation are, or what is unique to the cultural context of each group. Is the curriculum structured around projects? How does each group approach the affective dimension of learning? How is serendipity and horizontal sharing nurtured? What does peer activity look like, such as critique or pair programming? How does expansion up the curriculum to advanced projects function?

This project will seek to take a survey of the informal tech education landscape. Lines of questioning will include cultural cohesion, learning design, and governance. I will also look at how each group defines mastery and measures success. I will speak to founders, and observe participants by attending one event.

The result will be a series of case studies on each group, and will culminate in a larger, book-length project that is a snapshot of this field.

In return for an interview and permitting me access to their organization, I’ll make learning design recommendations for each group based on a peer-learning, interested-driven, project-based perspective for them to implement as they see fit.

Approach and Methods

I’ll be traveling around the world, visiting informal learning groups that focus on technical education. I’ll conduct a qualitative interview with founders, participants, and attend one event. The protocol will focus on the following lines of questioning:

  • Introduction / Area 1: Cultural Cohesion
    • Norms and values
    • Mission
    • Onboarding
    • Intraorganizational communication
  • Area 2: Learning Approach
    • Pedagogy
    • Projects
    • Content development
    • Success / Literacy / Mastery
    • Target demographics
    • Peer interactions
    • Sharing
    • Space design
    • Critique / feedback models
  • Area 3: Ethics and Governance
    • Relationship to industry “needs” and requirements
    • Recruitment
    • Sponsorship & Partnership
    • Competition
    • Decision-making

This project will be committed to participatory design and participatory research. I will ask organizations what they'd like to know about themselves and this landscape, and will incorporate their questions into the protocol.

Audience and Distribution

I'll be trying to find out which variables make informal tech education "work"--so the audience for this book will be people interested in building face-to-face learning communities, or people interested in improving tech education. While drawing upon formal research methods and scholarship, this project will be open access, fully transparent, and totally not boring. My aim is to provide actionable data, and so I’ll do my level best to engage you with examples from these groups, and to recommend designs to use for any learning space you construct.

The project will be posted to Github and considered in perpetual beta. Interviews will be posted to SoundCloud ( Informal peer review will occur via pull request. Electronic versions will be available for free and print versions for nominal fee. The license for the project will be a Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY).

About the Researcher

Vanessa Gennarelli is a qualitative researcher, learning designer and maker of things. She’s the Learning Lead for Peer 2 Peer University (, a grassroots group leading experiments in how we learn online. She’s worked on innovative projects such as the Mechanical MOOC ( and Badges for Lifelong Learning ( She holds a Master’s of Education from Harvard University and is a former Research Intern with the Lifelong Kindergarten Group at the MIT Media Lab. You can contact her directly at, @mozzadrella or [email protected]

Works Cited and Consulted

Collins, A. Joseph, D., & Bielaczyc, K. (2004). “Design Research: Theoretical and Methodological Issues” The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 13.1, 15-42.

Collins, A., & Halverson, R. (2009). Rethinking education in the age of technology: The digital revolution and schooling in America. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1990). Flow: the Psychology of Optimal Experience. New York: Harper & Row.

Dweck, C. (2000). Self-Theories: Their Role in Motivation, Personality, and Development. Psychology Press.

Gardner, H., Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Damon, W. (2002). Good Work: When Ethics and Excellence Meet. New York: Basic Books.

Illich, I. (1971). Deschooling society (Chapter 6). New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Jenkins, H. et al. (2006). “Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century.” MacArthur Foundation.

Mueller, C. and Dweck, C. (1998). “Praise for Intelligence Can Undermine Children's Motivation and Performance.” Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 75.1, 33-52.

Papert, S. (1980). Mindstorms: Children, computers, and powerful ideas. Basic Books, Inc..

Resnick, M. (2007). “All I Really Need to Know (About Creative Thinking) I Learned (By Studying How Children Learn) in Kindergarten.” Presented at Creativity & Cognition conference, June 2007.

Resnick, M., and Silverman, B. (2005). Some Reflections on Designing Construction Kits for Kids. Proceedings of Interaction Design and Children conference, Boulder, CO.

Roberts, T. (2006) Self, Peer and Group Assessment in E-Learning. Hershey, PA: Information Science Publishing, 1 - 16.

Shneiderman, B. (2002). Leonardo's Laptop: Human Needs and the New Computing Technologies. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Wiske, M.S. (Ed.) (2005) Teaching for Understanding with Technology. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Bates, A.W. (2005) Chapter 3 “Selecting and Using Technologies in Distance Education” pp. 41-66 in Technology, E-Learning, and Distance Education, 2nd Ed.U London: Routledge.

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