P2PU Brings Peer Learning to Online Higher Education

At the How Peer-to-Peer University is Hacking Higher Education Technology Salon in San Francisco, Philipp Schmidt discussed his Peer 2 Peer University initiative, an innovative approach to further the reach and impact of higher education.

The initial concept stemmed from the idea of creating peer groups to help each other out through open-source education materials like MIT’s Open Courseware, in a fun engaging method.

However, through P2PU’s flexible business model and Philipp’s entrepreneurial character, P2PU quickly evolved to become more. P2PU now offers peers to teach over 30 different courses to 500+ other peers online from subjects such as software skills, to music theory introduction, to finance.

And while Philipp expected most courses to be built around MIT Open Courseware, in fact, peers have taken the classes in a whole other direction, with much greater variety. The more interesting and popular courses are “Kitchen Science” based on an MIT chemistry course, “School of Webcraft” with the Mozilla Foundation, and “Copyrights for Educators” developed by P2PU peers.

P2PU offers capacity building for peers who lead courses, though they are still trying to find a good name for the lead peers, without giving them titles that denote too much post (such as professor) as the educational model is still peer learning vs. top-down learning.

For learners, the draw of attending P2PU vs. a traditional university is its online convenience; coupled with intimate, peer learning. P2PU is also looking at offering credentials, such as Mozilla-branded web development certificates and adult education credits from the University of California at Irvine.

For Philipp, the challenge is scale and sustainability. P2PU is attempting several models to exponentially increase enrollment, such as requiring each new attendee to bring a friend. Sustainability could be met through a mix of income from the credentialed courses and by direct user fees for those that have the means and capacity to pay. Or via funding from renewed foundation interest in online education.

P2PU is already having an impact. Its attendees have shifted from the techno-elite of North America to the teeming millions in Brazil and India who would otherwise never have the opportunity for higher education.

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