hardscrabble

fake tools

11 Oct 2015

Last week, Flatiron School launched a new online learning program called “Learn Verified”. The launch was accompanied by a letter from the founders, Avi and Adam. This section jumped out to me:

Real Tools

You can’t learn real skills with fake tools. As much as you can learn in a simulation, you can’t become a competent surgeon without picking up a scalpel or pilot without stepping into an airplane. Yet, online learning platforms today teach people using in-browser, simulated coding tools (often referred to as REPLs) and multiple choice quizzes which, while helpful, can never bring a student to the level of competency required of a professional software engineer.

Learn requires students to use the same tools and workflows that professional software engineers use on the job. From the start, students work in their terminals using git-based workflows. They’re taught to master the craft using the tools of the trade.

On the most recent episode of metaphor loop, we talked about the different styles of learning. One of them was kinesthetic learning, which we can say is like “hands on” learning. I hadn’t heard the term until Vaidehi told me about it and I realized I identified with it. I think kinesthetic learners are the same ones who will identify with Learn Verified’s emphasis on using “real tools”, because they’ll get to get their hands on the material they’re learning in a more direct, free-to-explore way. That market of learners has been underserved by the existing solutions, and I wonder if Flatiron will be able to pull off an online learning environment just for them.

I do kind of chafe at the idea that “you can’t learn real skills with fake tools”, though. It feels like a pretty inflammatory position to take. I’m reminded of Lost’s great “Don’t tell me what I can’t do!” catchphrase. Aren’t some people different from other people? And not to be all metaphysical here, but aren’t all tools kind of fake tools? Where do you draw the line? idk.