Learning in Perpetual Beta

Learning in Perpetual Beta

Learning in Perpetual Beta

For today’s post I thought I would explore a little more deeply the themes and overlapping thinking surrounding my previous post about a Mindset of Failing. In particular I’d like to unpack this concept that learning is and always should remain in perpetual beta.

It is actually a considerable challenge to get perspective on the completeness of our work with students. I am not referring to when projects end or when we have finished that piece of artwork with them – the year long (sometimes much longer) development of learning relationships is often hard to wrap ourselves around. Since leaving the classroom I have experienced quite finite projects that have a short timeline and stuff you have to get done. I still find this refreshing.

Perpetual Beta = Prototyping Disposition

vIn an earlier post this month I referred to the mindset we need to take towards the things we create and the way we learn. It is not just about junk modelling or computer aided design or 3D printing or physical building – a disposition towards prototyping means we:

  • Are committed to the expertise and ideas we might gain from others and don’t just simply rely on our own perspective.
  • Believe in the value of feedback and how critique can move our ideas forward.
  • Engineer as many opportunities for feedback as we can as, early as we can.
  • Are willing to share what we create when it is extremely, painfully incomplete.

When a piece of software is being developed it has various stages it goes through, depending on the scale of the product of course. Beta is a time for testing, as defined below:

Beta, named after the second letter of the Greek alphabet, is the software development phase following alpha. It generally begins when the software is feature complete. Software in the beta phase will generally have many more bugs in it than completed software, as well as speed/performance issues and may still cause crashes or data loss. The focus of beta testing is reducing impacts to users, often incorporating usability testing. The process of delivering a beta version to the users is called beta release and this is typically the first time that the software is available outside of the organization that developed it.

Perpetual beta is when this state is extended, sometimes indefinitely, a web service or software product remains in constant development with feedback and testing driving new feature releases. A product remains in perpetual beta.

What does learning in perpetual beta mean?

The links here with the way we think about learning and feedback in particular are quite strong. In my post about the Mindset of Failing I pondered on the mental resilience of tennis players compared to other athletes. Losing points is regular and failing is part of the back and forth of a tennis match, very different to other sports. The post was commented on by Pam Hernandez who remarked that:

This made me think about how we traditionally provide feedback on student learning which is not unlike the analogy to football. I’m thinking American football in this case and getting an A on assignment is much like scoring a touchdown. It’s not uncommon to see teachers use sports analogies and comment “Homerun” or “Touchdown” on good work. I like the idea of rewarding effort along the way and making it okay to make mistakes along the way and be rewarded for the learning. It’s a different mindset for parents, teachers and students. (Pam Hernandez)

And it is here that we have the biggest opportunity to shift the way people are thinking about failure and failing. It is no small feat mind you. There are cultural and ethical stances people have that influence their perception of mistakes and failure in learning. We need to help the whole learning community appreciate this positive prototyping disposition. Learning in perpetual beta is all about continuous improvement with an emphasis on engineering as many opportunities for feedback as we can.

Take a look through some of these other posts from my this blog about assessment and feedback and plan to take some action:

Pic: failure is cool by Steffi Reichert

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[…] Quote via Tom Barrett edte.ch/blog/2015/02/23/understanding-in-perpetual-beta/ […]


[…] Learning in Perpetual Beta – Borrowing from the tech industry, Tom Barrett (@tombarrett) suggests that learning should be a state of perpetual beta, where we engage in a continual cycle of feedback. […]


[…] Quote via Tom Barrett edte.ch/blog/2015/02/23/learning-in-perpetual-beta/ […]


[…] element of ongoing refinement that is sometimes lost within other processes. Tom Barrett sums this prototyping disposition as a case of perpetual beta, where, “Learning is all about continuous improvement with an […]