Community Based Learning & Community as Curriculum

I have an internal based conviction that community is the answer to education, personal growth, self development, professional advancement.

I haven’t laid out concrete thoughts around this, I hope to in the coming weeks/months/years. This is not a fad idea either, I haven’t been able to lay it to rest for years.

For a little bit of context…

Everything I’ve learned has pretty much been through community. I lack any kind of formal qualifications. I home ed my kids and pretty much reject the notion of school and set curriculums. Of course, context matters, and in some instances there is a need for formalised settings and routes. However, in most cases, I don’t believe there is a need.

But the key here is community, or people. Everything I’ve learned has been about connecting the dots between people and their thoughts and their outputs. And I think there is something powerful here that allows us as human beings to follow our curiosities.

Consider this post as me building understanding in community.

I came across the idea of People Based Learning:

Innovative schools use engaging and relevant models, many abbreviated as PBL- Place Based Learning/ Project Based Learning/ Problem Based Learning .

What all of these have in common is that they involve PEOPLE. Humans are social beings, and we learn with and from those around us all the time. We need to add a new P to PBL: People Based Learning. When students engage in People Based Learning they

  • …. grow more empathetic. (People connecting with people grows empathy.)
  • …experience clarity in their direction. (They see examples, and get feedback.)
  • …share, iterate upon and get to realize their ideas more often and more easily.
  • …grow a larger network of champions and mentors.
  • …see things in systems, and make connections. (Their worlds gain detail.)
  • …allow divergent ideas to bloom. (They can disagree and see things anew.)
  • ….navigate the academic, personal and professional world with more confidence.
  • …evolve and iterate upon both their ideas and themselves.

People Based Learning engages individuals actively in meaningful connections with others for the purpose of inclusive, durable, emotionally threaded learning.

Making Big Ideas Usable

How might you make this practical and usable? Some ideas:

  1. SELF LEARNING : Learning from yourself, which begins with connecting with yourself and self knowledge. Meditate. Journal. Ask yourself questions.
  2. STORY LEARNING : Developing the skills to learn from others’ stories, and to feel empowered to tell your own, builds and strengthens relationships.
  3. SHADOWING : Learning from people, which ranges from shadowing to peer instruction, networking to mentoring.
  4. STUDYING PEOPLE : Learning explicit “people skills”, including communication, connection, caring happens through modeling and mindsets.
  5. SUSTAINED CONNECTION: The skills needed to connect over a sustained time with others, not just at one time for one purpose, feed and expand People Based learning.

I stumbled upon the above via [Community as Curriculm](3 Strategies to Create Community AS Curriculum, it’s worth reading that whole post, but here’s some highlights:

Connecting to community is NOT

  • field trips to museums or one time guest speakers.
  • about events, community service, or travel. (…though these are great!)

Community as Curriculum IS:

  • about sustained relationships, apprenticeships, and mentors on call.
  • true network building, and it is time well spent.


Community as Curriculum involves:

  • Engaging and building long term community guides, advocates and mentors.
  • Participating in community, and inviting community to participate in schools.
  • Collaborating on authentic, engaging and equitable work that matters to all.
  • Finding individuality and learning inside exercises that build community.


  1. Mindset: Move from Guests to Advocates — We begin with mindset, and here, language matters.
  2. Model: People Based Learning — Our mindsets need a model to guide action.
  3. Mattering: What matters to you? — When defining our community connections, we need to begin creating programs rooted in what matters to our community.

There’s ALOT to think about here. I’m mulling it over. But what stands out to me personally is the interconnection of all the things and the people.

It is well known that self paced / online courses have a very low completion rate.

Many course creators or adapting their stuff to become more community-focused. I question many of these. Not all, of course. But we run the risk of falling into the trap of community focused education not delivering real value.

I feel that there is space for communities, and the people within the communities to lead with education. And not by having a main ‘leader’ evangelising about how to do things. It’s actually pretty unhealthy for people to become obsessed and fixated on one view of doing things.

The future, for me, is community led education. Perhaps this is a ‘community of practice’ that is still led by a small core team, but the benefit reaches much wider and is more inclusive.

It also requires thinking more flexibly. For example, people often talk of free and paid communities, but often omit to think of the fact that communities can be freemium, a bit of both.

It also requires intentionally tapping into, nurturing and supporting what the whole community has to give. It’s not about getting the influencers in, it’s more about helping the newer voices thrive.

On top of this, the model should become flipped. It’s not the leaders of the community that make all the money. The money becomes distributed to those that input into the ecosystem—where essentially anyone could put a resource, guide or course together and sell it to the community.

Lots of random thoughts that I’m word vomiting. I’m here to hear any thoughts, experiences or ideas you may have around this topic. :nerd_face:


As a cohort-based course creator… the incentives to create a strong community end once that OTP goes through.

Courses are designed to be one-off packages and that’s better for the customer too, they don’t have all this time to invest in a course, rather get it done in a few weeks and move on. I’ve got a bunch of experiments that I’m thinking through to tweak this model.

But a learning community, a community aligned by a goal, that’s the future. YCombinator early days are a good example of this. The value of YC during the cohort is productivity, the value after YC is the network. Mastermind groups are also a great learning tool, I meet with mine every week. We’re all working on different things towards the same goal and the exchange of ideas has been valuable.

Going deeper into networks. Networks are important when you’re building something because you learn techniques and tricks that aren’t accessible to other people. An easy example is the Paypal mafia, who doubled down on network effect growth techniques to build out their own businesses. Or the YC marketplace startups, twitch, airbnb, stripe, etc. It’s not a coincidence that they all know each other, it’s one of the reasons they were successful. Pretty much all material online is digital marketing and designed to convert, but in a network you hear the raw data, the emotion behind it, the results of any experiments that they ran last week. Compound over a year, that’s an incredible resource. “Hey this worked for me you should try it” is the sweetest song that I hear in these discussions.

Back to cohort-based courses (the latest course experiment). I think the appeal that draws people in is the money you can make. The community starts up and dies once the cohort ends. Mine is just 2 weeks. There’s not much I can do in 2 weeks to build community. I can do alumni stuff but I’m constrained with marketing, sales, and course creation too. I don’t have a good solution that doesn’t suck up all my time, but if I can figure out the community part that will drive my business to the stratosphere. I’m playing with the Paul Graham model - content marketing with essays, talks, forum, then cohort, and also actually caring about the users.

I think networks based around learning are the future. A lot of the ideas, techniques, value itself is locked in these legacy, esoteric networks like Stanford Alumni club or the ever so frustrating silicon valley boy’s club. It’s not right. I want access to that info. The fact that I don’t isn’t a fair playing field. The fact that a lot of people don’t isn’t fair. It’s also not healthy for capitalism in general imo.

The money becomes distributed to those that input into the ecosystem—where essentially anyone could put a resource, guide or course together and sell it to the community.

This problem is happening in Reddit right now. Entrepreneurs are battling bans on reddit and moderation to get visibility for their product. My own free resource was surging and trending and got banned for self promo. After it was banned I still had people dm-ing me for it. It was silly.


I’m really interested in this topic. I (sort of accidentally) created a community of people (Facebook group) who were preparing for a particular professional exam. We were all looking for resources and finding nothing. People keep joining, there is great discussion, sharing of tips, engagement and after they have taken the exam… they stay. And they help new members. The vibe is really good and they tell me they stay because they like the community and the way it’s moderated. But now, we have members at so many different stages of their education, career and professional networking journey. I don’t know how to segment them so I can serve them all and connect them to what they need. It’s all so overwhelming and there are thousands in the group now. @catsarebetter thanks for sharing your insights. “the value of YC during the cohort is productivity, the value after YC is the network” This is great food for thought