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Learning From the Meta Course

By The Hyperlink Team | 2020-07-29

The Makings of the Meta Course

In the first two months of Hyperlink, we've run three cohorts of the Meta Course, our course development workshop.

The goals of the Meta Course are to help generate ideas that might work well for courses on Hyperlink, provide structure to the course-making process, and onboard creators to the community.

The three of us (Brendan, Jared, Celine) each prototyped our own course ideas, and we had over a dozen others join us; across the three cohorts we workshopped around 20 ideas with the Hyperlink community. It was a ton of fun, and we learned a lot!

First Three Cohorts

The core structure of the Meta Course is three group calls, spaced a week apart:

  • Intro call to share ideas and post early thoughts (homework: draft an outline)
  • Midpoint call to talk through course outlines (homework: revise it)
  • Final call to go over revised outline, and do a retrospective together

Each of these first three cohorts had 4-6 participants, in addition to the three of us on the Hyperlink team. This felt like about the right group size, though we may need to either expand the total call time or make the Meta Course more focused (more on that below!)

We had a good variety of courses, many either creative or tech-adjacent. From seeing these initial batches, some commonalities for courses that seem like they may be a good fit for Hyperlink:

  • Designed to complement an ongoing creative practice
  • Active, directed project (individual or collaborative)
  • Exploratory, a community learning and making something together
  • Focused, but room to go deep, most courses in the 3-8 week range

What Worked Well

For us, the Meta Course was a success in early community building for Hyperlink, and a great way to get prospective course creators hyped up about developing some really cool ideas. While we found plenty of room for improvement, we'll start with what worked nicely!

Project Propulsion

The constraints of the course helped participants make progress refining a course concept, getting feedback on rough ideas and clarifying a direction. The short timeline added pressure to finish something reasonably scoped without feeling overwhelming, and the group helped with accountability.

Learning via Feedback

It was useful to stress test course ideas with other people, and talk through particular sticking points or potential forks in the road. Test Runs (facilitation practice sessions) were useful for those who did them; one thing that worked well for those was keeping them exploratory to see how participants engaged with a topic.

Casual Community

The Meta Course was pretty low-key and welcoming; we heard that participants appreciated how chill the overall experience was with the group. Some also mentioned that it's nice simply knowing that the Hyperlink community exists for people interested in talking about this stuff, as a space to return to for other workshop or course ideas in the future.


There are plenty of points of friction and confusion that can make the course creation process difficult. While creating a good course is inherently challenging, there's also a lot we can address to help make it more manageable.

Lack of Focus

We expected people to bring specific ideas, but many came in with a loose interest (or a few!) We could build a stronger ideation process into the Meta Course, to help creators think critically early on about what would be interesting to them, and what they are looking to get out of facilitating the course.

Video Troubles

Video calls for Hyperlink courses could be a lot better! We tried setting up our own Jitsi server — appealing because it's open source and very flexible — but the quality left a lot to be desired, and we'd like to explore better video integrations. It was also a bit odd to have the video calls in a forum embed; a separate Zoom window felt easier to use.

Need for Structure

The casual structure was nice, but we might benefit from making certain things more explicit, particularly the intended output of the Meta Course, and expectations for work in between the live sessions. It would also be helpful to have a clear course calendar with easy access to each live session and each assignment.

Teacher Training

For anyone not already experienced in the classroom, it can be a challenge to get hands-on experience facilitating a course without actually facilitating the course! Test Runs, sessions to practice facilitating an aspect of a course, were helpful, but we could build in more structure here, and provide more options e.g. for making use of breakout groups.

Initial Changes

We've made some initial changes to the Meta Course already, between the first and third cohorts:

  • Synchronous activity: Built more structured activity time into the group calls, e.g. in Call #1 added time to draft and post an initial idea, and allocated more time for feedback in the later calls.
  • Test Runs: Added as a space for facilitation practice. These were optional, and not everyone tried them, but those who did found them helpful.
  • Logistical clarity: we tried to clarify both how Hyperlink works and what the structure of the Meta Course involves, e.g. by including an earlier announcement about the Test Run option.
  • Live retrospective: we did the last retro via group conversation, which felt more dynamic than written feedback only. Not as legible or easy to reply though, so maybe a mix of both would be ideal going forward.

Next Time

A few things we'd like to do for subsequent Meta Course cohorts:

  • Clearer framing and goal-setting: We'll aim to do a better job shaping expectations about the trajectory and intended outcomes of the Meta course
  • Initial ideation process: We'll invite participants to do some brainstorming before the Meta Course begins, e.g. outlining multiple potential approaches to a course, so we can get folks holistic feedback right away before deciding on a direction.
  • More time: We'll make each live call 90 minutes instead of 60, to add more time for detailed discussion and feedback. Similarly, we'll work on adding more explicit discussion prompts to keep momentum going between sessions.
  • Emphasizing Test Runs: Test Runs were very useful for those who did them, but so far they've been optional. We may make this a mandatory part of the Meta Course, and/or provide other opportunities for facilitation practice.

Meta Course Future

The Meta Course has been a good space for getting feedback, helping focus ideas in a distinct direction. It's clear there's a lot more we can do to help with the later stages of curriculum development and facilitation possibilities; we're excited to improve the Meta Course going forward.

Additional possibilities we're considering:

  • Multiple Meta Courses: The Meta Course is trying to do a few things at once, and participants start at different stages. It might be useful to split the Meta Course into two parts, one for initial ideation and syllabus generation, and the other for actually testing out an idea and getting hands-on facilitation practice. We also considered the idea of themed Meta Courses (e.g. focused on art, or programming), though we find the cross-pollination of ideas to be nice.
  • Focusing on Facilitation: We may want to provide supplementary space for facilitation practice, outside the structure of the Meta Course; this could be useful even for people already running a course. In general, we need both more for exploring the practice of facilitation, and more resource or practical examples to illustrate possible teaching methods.

And a few parting questions:

  • How might we expand the possibilities for experimenting with learning structures? Can we facilitate testing out courses with extreme time scales, or other radical structures?
  • What might encourage more asynchronous discussion on the forum (or elsewhere)? Perhaps we can build in some more explicit functionality for prompts or automated reminders.
  • How can build a better-feeling cohort space for live group learning? How can we design for a communal feel to the calls and conversations?
  • Can we get participants' networks involved earlier? Marketing and sustaining a course over time is challenging, and it could be useful to get more external feedback early in the process.

Let us know if you have ideas. And of course, let us know if you're interested in joining for a future cohort of the Meta Course!