How learning happens in Growth Clinic

Unemployment in Nigeria is at its highest. Data published by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) puts the 2020 unemployment rate at 33.3% (Q4 2020); up from 27.11% in Q2 2020, 23.13% in Q3 2018 and 18.8% in Q3 2017.

You can download the Q4 Unemployment 2020 report from NBS

Why does this matter?

When workers are unemployed, their families lose wages, the country loses their contribution to the economy in terms of the goods or services that could have been produced, crime rates increase and the market value of all the final goods and services produced in the country (GDP) drops. People leave the country for greener pastures and quality of living in the country becomes a nightmare.

There is a belief that creating more opportunities (jobs) will solve this (unemployment), but vacancies still exist in business, technology and service areas that cannot be filled.

The recent Industrial Training Fund (ITF) and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) Skills Gap Assessment report say the lack of required skills is one of the key factors in the rise in unemployment.

With 250,000+ graduates entering into the Nigerian labour market every year and the size of Nigeria’s labour population increasing steadily, there is a strong need to solve this problem.

In thinking about solutions, the university system and companies like Andela still leave space for improvement. Admission slots are limited and training programs are cost-intensive.

MOOCs like, Coursera, Udemy and Udacity are getting popular locally, but they require a lot of internet data to use and one-one support is not as engaging.

Community-based organisations like Data Science NG and AI-Saturdays are doing an awesome job, but other non-technical skills like design, management and marketing are left unattended, and students need to be in a fixed location to learn.

I like’s remote internship, admission is free and open. The quality of the learning resource is great. However, everyone is expected to learn the same way and to always be online. Slack channel discussions are helpful only to some extent. It is a good starting point but there is still so much more that can be done. Especially on self-sustainability and ease.

Empty chairs - Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash

In trying to help a community I managed stay engaged, I found community members were learning by contributing to open source projects. I had just witnessed learn by doing happen within an online community.

As I watched it, I thought:

“this could be structured to improve learning generally!”

I thought this because growing up, learning was a big issue for me. I had to rely on movies to learn English and I repeated classes because my mind was too active to stay in the class long enough to understand what the teacher was saying, I would day dream myself out of class or be busy doing something else as the teacher talked. Learning in school wasn’t interesting.

So in 2018, I started a long research and experimentation into how learning could be made easier and faster so others like me wouldn’t have to sit through boring classes or read through long filler articles.

I’ll share different ideas and processes I found and how I have leveraged them to create something usable.

Researching for a solution

Community-based learning

In 2015, Seth Godin founded the altMBA. It’s an online leadership and management workshop with a 96% completion rate. 96% is key because studies show the average completion rate of online courses is 4%.

The program uses digital tools like Slack, WordPress and Zoom to engage more than 100 students at a time in an intense four-week course. In 2016, students from 27 countries and 85 industries worldwide participated.

altMBA Students interacting via Zoom - Photo from Psychology of stuff

Learn anything in 20 hours

In 2013, Josh Kaufman gave a TEDx talk at the Colorado State University on how to learn anything in 20 hours.

He broke the learning process into 4 steps:

  1. Deconstruct the Skill
  2. Learn enough to self-correct
  3. Remove barriers to practice
  4. Practice for at least 20 hours

As we can see from this tweet below dated October 2018, Josh Kaufman’s process is still in use, it works.


Screenshot of a tweet on Josh Kaufman’s process

This process reduced the time to learn a skill (TTLS) from 10,000 hours to 20 hours. And 10,000 hours became the time to master a skill.

Leveraging the research and digging deeper

Using Josh Kaufman’s process as a mould, we realised we could take it some steps further. We hypothesised that if learning could happen in shorter bursts, people could be more willing to learn, so we worked on reducing the time to learn a skill (TTLS). Below is an overview of the processes and how they reduced the TTLS.

Deconstructing the skill

To deconstruct the skill, we used the first principle. Along with insights from interviews with skilled professionals in various work fields.

The first principle is a way to break down scenarios into basic elements. And then reassemble them from the ground up [via].

This helped us create mental models of these work skills. Mental models are your thought processes about how things work in the real world.

Platforms like Farnam Street help people learn complex topics fast using mental models. This reduced the Time To Learn A Skill (TTLS) by some amount. Let us call that amount X.

Learning enough to self-correct

To help people learn enough, we curated free learning resources, broke those resources into smaller content sizes that held enough information to explain concepts, but were not complex enough to confuse or feel daunting to read through. I called these smart micro-content, and in sharing them through our pilot workshops over the past years, we found that they made learning and assimilation easier.

Learning tools like Duolingo use microlearning principles to help people learn fast. This also reduced the Time To Learn A Skill (TTLS) by some amount. Let us call that amount Y.

Removing barriers to learning by making learning social

Marie Schacht, the Chief Learning Officer at altMBA says

“People add the learning time to their calendars and for them it is time with other people, not just time to learn”

They had found that learning in communities made people want to engage more, they made them come back and be more attentive because it felt like fun, like time with friends and not an arduous task.

Marie also said:

“Members who completed courses 4 years ago still keep in touch and meetup with others they met in the week 1 groups”

This motivation to join and ongoing connection shows success, because it is not just a ‘community’, but a welcoming place for like minded individuals to connect and help each other grow.

Making the learning experience social removes a lot of learning barriers, and it reduced the Time To Learn A Skill (TTLS) by some amount. Let us call that amount C.

Practising for at least 20 hours

To allow individuals to practice fast, we designed mental model workshops. These are a combination of short tasks from real-world social impact projects designed within the learning process by the learners themselves, with simple instructions and easy to understand resources and a guide. The guide shows the learners the way through the resources and gives prompts for them to follow. The learners then get a first-hand experience applying their learnings by completing the tasks and learning to source for more information via the shared resources.

The process of learning is based off the apprenticeship model as well as internships or learning on the job. It improves execution and learning speed by some amount. Let us call that amount D.

The New Time To Learn A Skill (TTLS)

Based on the explanations above, the Time To Learn A Skill (TTLS) becomes:

TTLS = TTLS - (X + Y + C + D)

Such that whatever the new TTLS is, it is much shorter than 20 hours.
In our pilot workshops that ran from March to May 2018, we found that people could learn a skill and use it to create something in about 2 - 3 hours.

Combining insights and developing a framework

So how does all of this come together to allow people learn while addressing the issues of the current solutions? How does it make learning more affordable, more accessible, engaging, sustainable and most of all easier?

We combined all of it to create a system of steps that leverages on people and peers to combine their knowledge, insights and experiences within a community, following a set of ordered steps which allows them create usable solutions in a way that these solutions can be monetised.

By leveraging communities, learning becomes social and bringing in the other aspects of mental models, microcontent and practice, we created a system we call the Growth and Innovation System.

A visual showing the Growth and Innovation System and the parts that make it

This works by having learners pick a problem they have felt personally, it could lack of access to clean water, dirty environs, bad roads or expensive housing. The problem would be one felt and shared by these people within their local community.

Then by applying design thinking process–a mental model, to the problem, a solution is created in the form of a digital solution. This solution is further structured by taking it through other industry-vetted mental models like:

Once complete, the solution becomes a digital product built by the learners for themselves. And because it has gone through mental models and frameworks used to create successful products and the learners were guided by experienced contributors/creators, they learn by doing and create something innovative and truly sustainable.

A visual showing a problem going through the system to become a product, and the different participants, contributors and benefactors

After testing this out, we’ve seen that the products that come out work as both social impact products and also revenue generating products, and this helps:

  • Improve the local economy where the product is being used to solve their problem(s)
  • Train and upskill the learners thereby improving skilled labour/talent
  • Improve existing products within companies to make them more scalable–and profitable, as they lean in on their community as a source of product development

You can see the past work of some of our initial workshop offerings where we applied this process: Owmi Pitch - Google Slides. This shows a social impact product that is both impactful and also revenue generating. Learning definitely does happen within this framework.