Creating Learner Interests

Three Years of Off-And-On R&D


Category: Product & Design

Today I launched Learner Interests, but the journey did not begin here. I had prototyped two product directions and tested two brands previous to this. Below are the design journal entries I created for v1 in February of 2017, v2 in October of 2018, and v3 in February of 2020.

Creation Requires Repeated, Controlled Failure

Passion Education V1

Design Journal Entry from February, 2017:

“Between October, 2016 and January, 2017 I conducted over 20 separate 45-minute interviews with homeschool parents and surveyed 130. (The main takeaways can be found in detail here.) I have good news and bad news, homeschool parents, about how homeschooling is predominantly implemented. Overall, though, I have great news because I know how we can rectify the bad news…”

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Passion Education V2

Design Journal Entry from October, 2018:

“ for homeschool parents” has been a phrase I’ve used to start my explanation of Passion Education to people. Yesterday I began to wonder: should Passion Education be or Wikipedia for homeschool parents?


In my article I wrote in Feb, 2017 I present the user research I conducted, the results collected about what homeschool parents’ goals and pain points are, and I laid out the nature of a product these parents want to have. The user research I conducted made it clear that they lack:

  1. a medium of idea exchange with a UX conducive to their needs
  2. a central source of niche content they demand
  3. a universally-accepted format of sharing their ideas

The app I believed at the time that provided the most inspiration for our purposes was It’s social and its rating system is designed for curation. With a design like, parents can share good hooks they see other parents contribute and follow certain passions and subjects to be notified when more hooks are published in those categories. At the time this felt like a very natural fit with amazing potential. As far as I could tell from testing multiple iterations of my InVision prototype with Passion Education followers they did, too.

Emerged Design Concerns

As time went on I felt progressively less confident about my design for Passion Education. These are the reasons why:

  • Creative Challenge: Several homeschool parents I’ve spoken with have spoken about the difficulty of crafting hooks often. How can I expect regular parents to come up with their own hooks if I - Founder of this side project - haven’t even crafted many hooks of my own?
  • Excessive Social Media: I get the sense that a lot of people are getting tired of social media - especially Facebook. Do they really want to adopt a new one?
  • Data Privacy: I see evidence of people getting more concerned about how companies are exploiting their data. I do not want to accumulate other people’s data and be coerced by government to give it to them.
  • Flawed Behavioral Economics: Will people contribute their efforts if we are making money off of it?
  • Compromised Mission: If we’re charging money - even the smallest subscription fee - how many children of poor parents (who use nothing but free services) will be barred from access to our content?
  • Unnecessary Market Limitation: Even though this app would be very tailored for the delivery to children, I can see the content this tool produces for high school aged students to be helpful for college students and adults - causing an expansion of content for adult learners. This current design is not very conducive to adult learners, though.
  • Compromised Trust: I told people in my article about Passion Education that this would be free… how do I deliver on that promise?
  • Hook is a Slightly Confusing Analogy. As explained in the book Passion-Driven Education, a hook is an age range-, passion-, and subject- specific approach to invoking an interest in a child in new subject matter based on their existing passion. I have often needed to explain and review this analogy with parents. I still have yet to think of a better analogy.

Rethinking the Design

Then I listened to this interview of Jimmy Wales on his founding of Wikipedia and thought, what about modeling the app after Wikipedia? Wikipedia has been tremendously successful in ways I think we could be to some extent. Lets revisit the concerns above within the context of a Wikipedia-inspired implementation of Passion Education.

  • Creative Challenge: The creative challenge of crafting a hook is no longer entirely set on the shoulders of our users individually. They can collectively make millions of incremental improvements to the articles.
  • Excessive Social Media: A wiki format makes the entire focus on accessing, contributing, and editing content.
  • Data Privacy: The Passion Education organization can no longer be corrupted by choosing to sell people’s privacy, shape users’ thoughts with feed algorithms or with highly-targeted commercial and political messages, nor by giving users’ data to government for warrantless surveillance. The parent and child’s home education can maintain the privacy and safety of their home.
  • Flawed Behavioral Economics: Users no longer have to experience the cognitive dissonance of contributing their labor for someone else’s riches. A non-profit model maintains the purity of the mission. Time and again, history has shown that people make massive contributions to organizations that have proven effective and whose motives are pure.
  • Compromised Mission: As long as someone has an internet connection, they have access to Passion Education. This reaches billions and in a shorter timeframe than most people realize, will reach most people in the world.
  • Unnecessary Market Limitation: Having an open wiki instead of a social app designed for parents will make bring in contributors and users for more use cases (like their own learning).
  • Compromised Trust: I no longer have to send out an update that, despite promising a free product multiple times, we have decided to charge money.
  • Hook is a Slightly Confusing Analogy. I can’t cross this one off, yet. I still have yet to think of a better analogy. Maybe we will just always refer to articles as ‘articles’ and know that in the context of Passion Education they have a special format.

Benefits of a Wiki

To reframe the benefits of having a Wikipedia-inspired product design, here are the three main reasons I’m starting to believe that Passion Education’s recipe for success will more likely be learned from Wikipedia:

More content will be created.

  • Non-profits create great culture for which people willingly volunteer their efforts, whereas even small revenue sources turn volunteers off.
  • It’s much easier for regular people to write portions of articles than it is for parents to come up with entire hooks.
  • It’s easier to start an article to which other users can make piecemeal contributions than it is to wait for contributors to author entire hooks, themselves.
  • The ability to make incremental contributions to articles is addicting for people who like to make a difference (like starting the Africa wikipedia article as “Africa is a continent”).

The content will be higher quality.

  • When solid facts are consolidated with a wiki model, there’s less risk of ideological echo chambers found in social platforms.
  • A wiki presents facts that are compiled from a variety of sources in pursuit of truth while social media causes people to lose hope of objective truth.
  • Editorial decisions on a massive scale is best crowd-sourced (after editorial permissions and good editorial policy are put in place).
  • The community editing process of wikis results in higher quality content. “Given enough eye balls, all bugs are shallow.” (This is an expression in the open-source community.)
  • Neutral points of view are best done with a diverse, global organization. Organizational centralization breeds political agendas (Google, Facebook).
  • Education-oriented parents are an above-average trustworthy community of contributors and editors.

The mission will be more effectively accomplished.

  • This format strips out all creative fluff and presents the raw ideas, which entails a few benefits:
  • – Parents of all types can more easily craft hooks for their own circumstances and unique needs.
  • – Contributors can more easily translate the content since it is more cross-culturally conducive.
  • The wikipedia volunteer model has proven to be effective for translation.
  • With an improved model for translation, we would better facilitate a migration out of public schooling globally.
  • Easy to expand our feature-set to location-based articles JUST like Wikipedia recently did with their mobile app.

It’s easier.

  • Wikipedia’s code is open-source (MediaWiki).
  • We can start the mobile-responsive wiki in a week or two of work as opposed to a glitchy app in a few months.
  • It’s a considerably lower-cost organization model to run in relation to a for-profit business.

There are design reasons why Wikipedia has made it possible for everyone with an internet connection to access the largest amount of human knowledge ever assembled, and why it’s the #5 most globally-visited domain on the internet. And even though Jimmy Wales only has a $1 million net worth, Wikipedia still received $85 million of donations in 2017 - primarily from small donors. Considering the benefit people could gain from Passion Education, I can see how a successful community-build of the platform would result in a successful donation model for us, too.

Testing My Assumptions

I was fairly confident about this design pivot before testing my assumptions about it - and loved the idea of how much easier it would be to create the MVP than a simplified app. I at least needed to sanity check myself, though, before any new design is announced or effort goes into building the product. So I sent a survey to the Passion Education followers.

The Survey Results

In order of least to most validating, here are the results:

What would you be more likely to reference for curriculum planning for your children: a Wikipedia article or a relevant blog post from a homeschool parent friend?

  • Wikipedia article: 33.3%
  • Relevant blog post from a homeschool parent friend: 66.7%

*Post-survey reflection: My guess is that this has to do with parents wanting to support the creative effort of their friends. Homeschooling can be lonely if you don’t foster your community. Parents realize the importance of working together and supporting each other to avoid getting burnt out. If I could redo this survey, I’d test this hypothesis and explore more about what utility Wikipedia articles provide for them.*

Have you ever contributed content or an edit to a Wikipedia article?

  • Yes: 40% (This is a high number.)
  • No: 60%

On a scale of 1 to 5, how much do you like using social media?
1: I always avoid using social media where I can.
5: I actively use at least one social platform daily for leisure.

  • Average: ~3.1 with a fairly wide spread (they mostly like it, but some really don’t)

One person wrote this in a comment: “The last thing I want is one more social media site. I just want info.”

How important is it to you to be able to build online relationships with other parents on the Passion Education platform?
1: Not at all important to me.
5: Very important to me.

  • Average: 2.9 with a wide spread (not important for most parents)

On a scale of 1 to 5, how much trust do you have in social media companies with the data they have collected about you?
1: I actively take measures daily to reduce my digital footprint and tolerate inconveniences in order to do so.
5: I trust companies with my data. / I don’t care how companies use my data.

  • Average: ~2.3 (not a lot of trust, no one gave a 5)

What would motivate you more to contribute a hook to the Passion Education platform? Be honest.

  • Making a change for the benefit of the community: 80%
  • Growing my number of followers and building my reputation among existing followers: 20%

What’s more important to you on the Passion Education platform: quality of hooks or quality of social experience?

  • Quality of hooks: 100%
  • Social experience: 0%


The utility of user research is not that you will get your answers from your users. In this case, I know things they do not and can make strategic decisions that take their feedback into account. This feedback is a bag of mixed results, but mostly validating. Few things are certain when building something from 0 to 1, but in this case I think we’re getting warmer.

Flow of Learning

Design Journal Entry from February, 2020:

So the Wikipedia-inspired strategy for Passion Education didn’t work. I couldn’t get it to catch on with parents for a few reasons. My hypotheses are that:

  1. Wikis as expansive as this project will require more content up front in order to amass a following.
  2. The wiki was ugly. Who would want to share that?
  3. The project had the wrong brand. Not everyone has real ‘passions’ or has gained enough self-awareness to know what theirs are. And if they have them, they don’t necessarily think of them in that way. There’s a reason other educators refer to ‘interest-lead learning’ the way they do. In that vein, the word ‘education’ is divisive because of its more-academic connotations. Tradition-model schooling has tainted the word. Fewer people think of ‘learning’ the same way.

After months of the wiki sitting idle, spammers deleted all the content and posted links to their cheap websites. So that didn’t quite work out.

New plan. It’s time I take the content creation into my own hands.

Home Page

Interest Page

May, 2020 Reflections

The problems with Flow of Learning, as articulated from visitors, include:

  • Flow of Learning is a three-word name encompassing too meaty of an idea for people to grasp at first (even if it is a powerful concept).
  • Visitors are confused by what they’re looking at on the site. The connection between the name, banner image, and the page listings doesn’t click for them.
  • The interest pages are accumulating enough to explore an improved browsing experience.

Learner Interests

June 8, 2020

So Learner Interests is the latest iteration in moving the ball down the field for the interest-driven learning methodology. Why the Learner Interests branding:

  • Even though Learner Interests felt like a boring name, it describes the literal offering of the site most concisely (and the .com extension was available for it)
  • It looks more polished and fun.
  • Browsing experience is improved.