Opening engageSPARKs Learning Sessions

This January the engageSPARK dev team started Open Learning sessions. If you're interested in tech and are in Cebu: please come and join us! So far we've explored topics from a wide range: Ansible, why sleep is important, tech excellency, SCARF (an approach to build awesome teams), DevOps.

Open Learning, what does it mean?

Once per week we learn together. We listen to a talk from someone. We watch useful videos. We do Lightning Learning (as in lightning talks, more on that below). And we invite you to join us! It's free, no need to register, and there may be cookies! (Or not, depending on whether I remember.)

If you just want to know, how Open Learning looks like, jump to the bottom. For some stray thoughts on learning, read on. :)

Why to learn, by example of scrambled eggs

Why do you learn? What do you get out of it?

To my mind, there are three reasons for learning. First, you want to deepen your understanding of a topic, to get a better hold of it. Take scrambled eggs as an example. They are not exactly hard to make. Anybody can do them. Yet, even with something so simple, there's tons of variants: things you can do differently to make, not just scrambled eggs, but great scrambled eggs. How much heat do you put? When do you stir, and how? Do you add milk? What spices and when? And chives, could be. You can make this an art, and maybe that's what deepening is about: Learning the craft so well you develop an intuition.

One lazy afternoon, eating your eggs, scrambled and soggy, you watch a chef on Youtube who dedicates an episode to eggs: your well-known scrambled eggs, but also hard-boiled, soft-boiled, sunny side up, poached and deviled. “Aha!” you say. You may not be able to make those kinds of eggs well just by watching, but now you've heard of them, you understand better how scrambled eggs are different and it may even help you to experiment a bit. The video puts what you already know into context, gives you a new perspective on it, and that's just as valuable and necessary for mastery.

Then, the video finishes and a new chef appears who declares the Age of the Sandwich has arrived: Scrambled eggs are no good alone, she says, only on top or between slices of bread do scrambled eggs find meaning. Your jaw draps on your plate, scrambled eggs flying all over, mirroring the explosion in your mind: That's something you never thought about. Bread, of course! And, is she adding salmon? New galaxies open in your mind, you learnt something entirely unthinkable, something you could not have fathomed on your own.

Leaving the realm of scrambled eggs again, I believe, our Open Learning puts these three reasons for learning into reach.

Why learn as a group, why with other people?

Why not learn individually? Why do we want other people to join, like you? In short, because we love teaching and sharing and because it's faster.

Teaching is great, because for teaching something you really need to understand it. When someone else starts asking questions only then will you find out whether you got it or not. Also, the teachers practice their presentation skills. Two birds, one stone.

The sharing part is simple: Sharing is what we software developers do! Tons of libraries and tools we use are open source—the pinnacle of sharing. Sharing is giving back, and that fits with how we see engageSPARK.

On learning richer and faster

A myriad of reasons push us to learn faster: For us software devs there is so, so much to learn. It really helps distributing topics: Someone does the hard work of researching and digesting information to then pass on what hey learned. Much faster then everyone doing it individually.

StackOverflow programming is a great example of going fast. When running into a problem, the algorithm is simple: Google the issue, open first StackOverflow-link, copy the first answer, done. Not everyone needs to solve every problem from scratch.

Of course, if you're the first in a particular situation, you can't Google yourself out of this one—but you can learn from others how to fail quickly and find your answers fast. And you can learn how to solve problems in general.

The area where other minds are most helpful, though, is in figuring out what to learn: By sharing their attempts and failures, their way of thinking, their experiences, you stumble over topics, approaches and solutions that you would not know how to search for. Or that you should be searching for them in the first place.

To learn, you simply need many people, and the more different they are from each other, the richer and faster the learning. That's why we need you! :)

Three flavors of Open Learning

So, how does Open Learning at engageSPARK look like exactly? Our learning sessions usually last about one hour and come in three kinds:

The easiest is video. Someone proposes a useful, informative, fun, curiosity-raising video. We watch and discuss it. Done. Why do we watch videos? They allow us to dive into a topic, which we have no idea about. For example, we watched three short videos on the importance of sleep and how to improve and hack it. Also, videos are easy to setup. :)

A talk is the second flavor: Here team members present a topic that they are interested in. Could be a powerpoint show, a plain talk or something more interactive. The great thing about talks is that they allow someone to share his passion. Kerwin did a talk on SCARF for example.

The spiciest flavor is Lightning Learning. Just as with Lightning Talks, we quickly shuffle through as many speakers as we can within the hour. Each gets 5 minutes to present, after which there are 2 minutes for questions. And yes, it's actually shuffling, as we draw numbers to determine the order of speakers. :) Lightning Learning is about quick exposure to many different ideas, tools or skills.

It's a journey

We're now doing this for the fifth or so time, and it's been a great so far. As usual with experiments, we try new things, change the rules, and by the time you're reading this, we may already be learning differently.

So, come learn and share with us! We usually publish our Open Learning as events on Facebook or on