Comment on This is the Internet, you type in what you want and hit enter.
Hmm.. okay, I've got issues with the special emphasis being placed on online learning as the *basis* for a project like this. I mean, I'm a child of the Internet and definitely appreciate the way it's revolutionized communication and access to information, but I think online learning should be viewed as an extension of physical, communal education, not the other way around. I'm of the general opinion that technology is best used to enhance, not replace. I think perhaps I'm more in line with Olena's thinking here than of TheUndying and dmitri's. The Internet may be vital to the ultimate success of alternative education, but it's the wrong place to begin as a foundation. Anyway, let me try to unravel my tangled mess of thoughts on this project..
We all begin developing and losing our interests before we become citizens of the online world (to whatever extent, if at all). And before we become citizens of the online world, we have to *learn* the ins and outs before we can use it effectively (or safely). Unfortunately, although most people have adapted quite well to general computer usage, a staggering portion of "seasoned" Internet users still know very little about how to really use it. Those of us who have managed to learn the ropes shouldn't forget about those who are limited or intimidated by this 'second life'. Furthermore, as has been mentioned here, people have different ways of learning, and that includes people who need/want to be physically engaged with others when learning. I'm really glad the "target audience" idea has been tossed out, because flexibility is crucial.
Ultimately, I think a project like this should be divided into four basic aspects which are prioritized as follows:
0) Learning how to learn
I'm not sure if there's a better term or phrase for this. I'm tempted to say "life skills" but I'm not sure that's the right term (which reminds me of The School of Life) but it gets back to dmitri's point about learning "how to focus in the first place".
Before information comes in, we use various mental techniques to decide which content to store or use and which to throw away. Being that this is SpaceCollective, I feel like this is a rather sticky topic.. but I would say critical thinking skills / skepticism, rationality, recognizing cognitive biases, and the like are crucial for deciding how to react to information. As Olena mentioned, the problem with Wiki is that much of the information lacks reliable sources. Learning to not only look for sources, but reliable sources is an essential skill, especially when it comes to the Internet. But I would certainly also say that anything taught in an alternative school should be presented rather than dictated. Ultimately, it should be stressed that it is up to everyone to decide their perspectives.
I put this aspect as #0 because I feel like it's essential, but it should start as more of a backdrop to what's happening in the initial learning process (#1). Ideally, I think discussion of these techniques should permeate the basic structure, while also having full separate courses about them.
1) Learning options in the offline world
Basically, this means we should start by finding the most flexible, appealing, and effective ways to stimulate interests and active engagement in the offline world. On this level we can examine where the various alt ed movements have had success and where they've struggled. Breaking the intimidating hierarchical structure which turns so many people off while marginalizing others ultimately comes down to accessibility and appeal. And not only does the system have to be widely accessible and appealing, but the information as well.
A crucial point to make is that accessibility isn't just about raw access to information, it's also about making the initial level of that information comprehensible to casual audiences. This means finding and developing good communicators. I'm sure that most here share my experience in having far less good school teachers (if any) than just teachers. And by good I mean not only did they teach, they also entertained and engaged. But outside of the education system, we gravitate towards people who are often not certified teachers, but rather artists, scientists, and philosophers who are truly passionate about inspiring others and keeping curiosity alive. That's the appeal aspect.
Okay, so let's say we've put together a really good foundation: Cheap or free classes at a core meeting space and a handful of other reliable spots, a flexible, appealing structure, a pool of knowledge, and some great communicators. I'd say that's all you need for a great community learning project. But unless the current structure of society and the standard education system have radically changed, the project will have a really hard time expanding very much. Plus, some people are too busy to get as involved as they want to. Here's where the Internet really starts to become essential, and where I think most alt ed movements have generally failed.
2) The Internet as a means of communication between people
There are two basic levels of communication to be considered here: within the local alt ed community and between alt ed communities, no matter how far. On a local scale, you've already got a good project put together, and the Internet can be used for 'extracurricular' discussion, coordination, and the exchange of media. But the correlation between offline and online activities is often so strong that it alienates other communities. It is much more appealing for each alt ed community to set up their own local online network (if any), and that's generally what I've seen happen. Unless a model is developed which unites alt ed communities alongside encouraging the cumulative growth and refinement of the various projects, widespread alternative education will fail.
This is the hard part which has not yet been accomplished: a successful global network. Actually, it's easy to understand at this point because it involves the same process as the first step, just on a much broader, virtual scale. It's still about accessibility and appeal.
Raw accessibility is the inherent advantage of the Internet. Just about anyone who is online automatically has access to a vast amount of information whenever they're available. But like I said above, if the content available online is too strongly correlated with the local community, it won't work. The local activities should be kept and allowed to thrive, but on a level above that, a more globally appealing pool of content should be developed. There are many ways this could be done I'm sure, such as a set of good local communicators working together and with communicators from other communities to develop a web of broadly relevant information.
But getting back to my earlier point, the Internet will still be a major problem for people who don't really know how to to use it. On top of the normal mental techniques people use before engaging with information, there is a special set which need to be learned when using the Internet. And given the volume of online content, these techniques are even more important to keep from being limited or completely overwhelmed. I'd say the best way for most people to learn how to use the Internet is partially offline, and partially online.
As for appeal, now there is a whole other realm beyond good communicators: good design. Nowadays, without good design, there is no hope for any website or network to function very well on a global scale. The more visually pleasant and user-friendly, the more successful an alt ed project is going to be online. At this point in the process, you still don't even need purely online resources. If after building a good offline-online fusion alt ed foundation and you've also succeeded in creating a really effective gateway into the online aspect, there will be an ocean of information and discussions between participants. But this structure is still somewhat unsteady given the imbalance between casual participants to more specialized participants with access to original content, and plus it's always better to have the option of verifying or examining things personally.
3) The Internet as an expanded resource
[Here's where I think dmitri's main proposal fits in best.]