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Michael Bodekaer

Learning scientist and head geek. Formally Labster CTO.
2 min read

When you think of cramming in as much information as you possibly can in limited time, you probably get cold sweats thinking about university finals. But there is a new way of learning that is gaining team and inspiring people from all walks of life to apply their knowledge just as soon as they pick it up. They’re called “learnathons”, and they’re fun new way to teach applicable skills to people who have passion for certain subjects.

Learnathons are similar to “hackathons”, but the main difference between them is that a hackathons are for computer engineers with the goal of creating usable software, often for big prize money for the best hack. For example, MIT’s biggest hackathon, Hack MIT, had a $4,000 first prize for last year’s winner, who created an app to notify students when free food or swag were being offered in the area and how to get it.

Learnathons, on the other hand are optimized sessions that teach participants how to apply what they learn as soon as possible. They are on the opposite end of how classroom teaching is organized, with lessons spread out over the course of a semester focusing on theory and weekly practice. They are a fairly new concept, but have created an environment for learning that is speeding up comprehension and application to levels that aren’t seen elsewhere.

With learnathons popping up around on college campuses and in cities all over the world, here are some tips on how to run a great learnathon.

1. Find People Who Have a Passion for What You’re Teaching

For whatever subject you are teaching, target students who are already learning it in the classroom. You can market your learnathon as a way to speed up the learning process and come away with an application of it in the same day. If you have a passion for teaching the subject, find students who have the passion for learning it. For example, Learn2Hack, a recent learnathon that was developed at the University of Michigan, put up a quick website and targeted students were close to completing or had just completed their first computer science class.

2. Take Breaks and Have Fun

Learnathons can last for very long periods of time without any rest ( recommends six hours). It’s important to give attendees a break to relax, as learnathons are more about absorbing and applying knowledge than winning a competition. Have plenty of food and refreshments available for your participants. A great way to get it for free is to have a local pizzeria or restaurant sponsor your learnathon. It’s a great way to get student to come back for your next one. Most importantly, have fun. Everyone is there for the same reason and you all want to learn about about a certain topic and put it to good use.

3. Have Plenty of Teachers On Hand

Learning a lot of material in a small period of time can create questions and headaches for the participants. Make sure you recruit enough instructors to help students if they are having questions or getting stuck. Instead of requiring students to raise their hand if they have a question, make sure your instructors are proactive in seeking out students that appear to be confused. This way the learnathon doesn’t have to be interrupted and students can get quick, individual attention to get back on course.

To get monthly updates on learnathons and other new ways of teaching, be sure to sign up for Labster’s monthly newsletter or try one of our virtual labs.


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