Online Learning Communities 🤝 Transcend Newsletter XX

How peer learning and software can help create "learning playgrounds".

This week we bring you our thinking around online communities, particularly learning communities. We sincerely hope you find it insightful: if you do, please take a second to share the newsletter with a friend!

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tl;dr: most online communities struggle to improve the member experience when they add more members; online learning communities have the potential to benefit from this (network effects), as the world gets increasingly interconnected.

First, what are Online Communities?

Let's start by looking at online communities in general.

Online communities are nothing new - they've existed for as long as the internet has been around (and arguably even earlier, through physical mail!). But something feels different this time around: while in the past these communities were an extension of physical circles, the nature of online learning communities of the 2020s are online-first, have deeper cultural ties among members, and are now exploring ways to become economically sustainable.

The depth and breadth of these communities are much stronger than previous online communities. What's behind this shift? As human life moves increasingly online (give Chris Nixon a listen), the cultural and geographical differences that once represented a barrier to cohesion for online members are falling apart - when "internet culture" is your primary culture, your online community is your nation and university.

We are going to dive deeper into the nature and future of online communities, and particularly those that focus on learning (online learning communities).

We believe there are two elements that define online communities: purpose (the goal of the interactions and group) and levers (the actions that members can undertake to interact with one another to achieve that purpose).

✍️Read about our thinking around Online Communities in our Open Theses.

There are communities for pretty much every purpose imaginable, and some are growing quickly, such as economic/professional communities (remember that a majority of jobs are still filled through personal networks) and learning (given the proven benefits in peer learning and the scalability of software).

Let's look at learning communities more in-depth.

Online Learning Communities

For online learning communities (whose main purpose is to have members learn) the main lever is peer learning methodologies in different forms, enabled by software.

How does software enable online learning communities? Let's start with this idea: successful learning communities transform "squares" into "playgrounds".

🚸A "square" is a place with some traffic, where you can choose to interact with people because they are passing by the same space as you.

🎢A “playground” is a space that also contains lots of traffic, but where new interaction types (levers, in this case games) appear to coordinate people.

Not only do playgrounds enable new types of interactions - they get better when more people join, a concept know as network effects. Software - in theory - is also able to drive network effects beyond the traditional dimensions of physical spaces, so it can drive even more profound gains for learners in this new online environment.

✍️Read more about Network Effects and Learning Communities

The Future of Online Learning Communities

There are a few key questions that will define the impact that online learning communities can have over the learning world in the coming decade:

  • Disciplines of study: some disciplines and skills require teachers and mentors to transfer knowledge in a more top-down direction: will Physics or Biology university students get to learn the content they need through communities?

    • What aspects of the teacher-student relationship can be integrated in a software application that enables learning in communities?

  • Engagement barriers: in the past, online learning, in general, has been limited by its inability to reach those who are not intrinsically motivated to learn (precisely the ones who should be the benefactors of new learning innovations)

    • Can online learning communities address this engagement hurdle?

  • Learner data quality: many are the edtech startups that promised better learning outcomes by using Artificial Intelligence, but so far all of them have failed (see Declara's epic demise).

    • What kind of new datasets can be captured and utilized to improve curriculums and pathways for online learners?

  • Technological advances driving new learning methods: just in the last five years, we can find initiatives like the Minerva Project, HBX or MashMe leveraging the decreasing cost of computing to increase the number of students that can attend a real-time facilitated class.

    • What are the increasingly effective and engaging learning methods that technology will enable in the coming decade?

  • Business models for communities: new communities are popping up everywhere - but there isn't a "dominant design" just yet for their business model. I expect many experiments in the next years around monetizing this work.

    • How will online communities sustain their work?

  • Product stack: software has made it incredibly easy to spin up online communities, with new tools for hosting, messaging, interacting and sharing. But online learning communities are missing a "learning stack" that enables them to ensure learning outcomes in a systematic way.

    • What are the tools that will be employed to run and grow these communities? What products will be used to ensure these are engaging learning environments?

✍️Read about our Request for Startups in this space in our Open Theses.

What do you think? We’d love to get your thoughts: please leave a comment or reply to this email!

📅As we enter a new decade, we recommend reading two resources for the next 10 years: “Review of the Decade: Ten Trends in Global Education”, by the Center for Global Development, and “Will the 2020s be the decade of Africa’s economic transformation?” by the Overseas Development Institute.

🖐️Two awesome education events are coming up in the Bay Area: EdSurge & Peak State Venture’s Innovators Meetup (February 12th) and CooleyED Edtech night (February 26th).

📖Imaginable Futures is a new fund that has spun out of Omidyar Network (leading impact investing firm) to fund both for-profit business and philanthropic initiatives.

👩‍🔬Ness Labs is our go to publication for all things productivity, mental models, and mindfulness. This week we are highlighting “The speed reading fallacy”, a great read!

🌎Our friends at Edutive (W20 Transcend Fellows) crafted an awesome analysis of the state of edtech in LATAM.

👋Looking for opportunities or want to say hi? Introduce yourself here!


Remote Business Development Consultant@ EdConnective

EdConnective's mission is to transform education from the bottom up by ensuring student success through transformative teacher training.

  • We wanted to flag another role the EdConnective team is hiring for: a remote Business Development Consultant.

  • Will Morris, CEO, recently talked to our Transcend fellows about his journey as an entrepreneur.

  • If you are interested, want to learn more or know anyone that could be a good fit, send an email to

All the updated job opportunities can be found on our Job Board!

  1. Software Engineer and Head of Coaching - CareerCopilots

  2. Operations Intern - 256 Ventures

Fill out this form if you are looking to hire or get hiredand check out our job board for updated openings.

We are starting a series this week where we’ll introduce you to our Transcend Fellows.

👀Learn more about our Transcend fellowship.

This week we’ll learn about Kevin Celisca, CFO and co-founder of Integrate.

What does Integrate do?

Integrate is a teacher and student engagement tool that captures LMS/SIS data for schools to understand: performance, graduation rates, behavioral analytics, and equity so schools can make informed decisions.

What stage are you at/what are you working on this quarter/year?

We are a seed-stage company that is focusing on beta testing, developing the best MVP, and working on our sales. This year is focused on making sure we create the best product for our end users and that we are getting as many sales as we can.

What is one trend/shift that you are confident will be a part of the future of learning and work?

As more and more schools adopt laptops for everyday use, one of the biggest issues has been to figure out what the best EdTech software applications are. Education is incredibly fragmented when it comes to software, on average schools balance a limited budget across 5 different programs that don't talk to one another, which leads to a loss of data opportunities. A very recent trend in the market is understanding that there is a need for an elegantly integrated solution to take care of education's core needs. You can see software like Clever, PowerSchool, and Schoology that attempt to be an all-in-one solution, but fall short as the majority of schools that use them have to supplement their lack of functionality with more software.  

What’s your call to action to the community?

If you are connected to K-12 schools that provide every student with a laptop for everyday classroom use, we would love to talk to you about getting connected to Integrate to make your school more efficient and affordable.

Thanks for reading another week! For any feedback, requests or ideas, reply to this email.

Special thanks to Megan Cho for her invaluable help on this issue of the newsletter!

Alberto(alberto@transcend-network.comMichael (