Andrew Barry and the Online Education Revolution

Education is changing.

Andrew Barry and his wonderful cronies are to blame.

For the last 8 weeks, I produced 8 videos documenting Andrew Barry’s online course for people who want to learn how to teach online.

Andrew’s asking me for my thoughts on the course, so here they are. Half my brain was in editing mode during the last 8 weeks, with pen and paper in hand marking quotes and timestamps to recall in the editing room; the other half was in student mode, soaking in as much wisdom from Andrew as I could.

First, the teacher. Andrew Barry wears many hats. He’s an entrepreneur, an educator, a podcast host, and now his name is synonymous as Seth Godin’s to cohort-based-courses. Andrew Barry cares about online education. He likes to use the word transformation. If an educator is going to use the same word over and again, transformation isn’t a bad choice. Because transformation matters. If there’s no transformation, there’s no learning. And if there’s no learning, then you can’t call it a course. It’s difficult to pin Andrew Barry down – he comes equipped with a diverse skillset: speaker, teacher, entrepreneur, investor, leader. One quality pokes it’s head throughout everything he touches: genuine care to improve people’s lives.

Second, the curriculum. Andrew’s curriculum wasn’t necessarily his curriculum. The course featured many guest lecturers. Appearances by Alex Tabarrok, Ali Abdaal, Noah Kegan, and many others gave students a lot of material to chew on and apply. Not to mention the peer supporter groups led by experienced course creators like Cam Houser and Julia Saxena. There was a lot of material. The course was 8 weeks long, though even that didn’t feel like enough time to get through the theory and fundamentals of teaching online and marketing your course. However, I don’t blame Andrew for this. You could spend 5 semesters on how to teach online: Course Creators 101, Course Creators 102, 105, 110, and so on. This is because teaching online is more art than it is science. The results vary with personality, skillset, and background. Plus, one could teach just about anything online. From cooking to philosophy, if it exists, you can teach it.

Third, and lastly, the cohort. First, let’s look at the sheer number of people who signed up for Andrew’s program. 150 people joined On Deck Course creators. This raises a question which I don’t have the answer to: At what number of students must a cohort pass for one to say that it’s no longer a cohort? 150 is Dunbar’s number, the number of relationships one can reasonably hold at any given time. Most people think of classes as having no more than, say, 30 people. You can get to know 30 people. You can’t get to know 150 people without passing out from exhaustion. The quagmire: If the course creator limits their course to 20 people, then people miss out. You saw my launch tweet too late — better luck next time. Additionally, if the limit is 20 people, then from the entrepreneurial perspective, the course creator makes less money. On the other hand, if there is no upper limit to how many people can join the course, then the course becomes more like a convention than a cohort. Conventions are noisy, chaotic, and exhausting. Cohorts are cool, calm, and connected. But again, I don’t blame Andrew for this. With help from the extraordinary and conscientious Jackie Williams, nearly all 150 people enjoyed the course and were transformed — exactly the outcome Andrew had hoped for.

In sum, great work, Andrew and team. I’m proud to have worked with you on this project. It wasn’t perfect, and thank God for that, because if it was, it wouldn’t have been as exciting.

Education is changing. If you want to be at the forefront of this change, I recommend giving Andrew a follow on Twitter. Highly recommended. And here’s a conversation I had with Andrew on my podcast.

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