Philipp Schmidt

Ashoka Fellow
United States
Fellow Since 2012
My work: fueling participatory learning by building the first open-source lesson planning platform.


This profile was prepared when Philipp Schmidt was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2012.
The New Idea
Philipp is combining the best in open education with leading technologies for social networking and collaboration to create a revolutionary model for online learning. Beginning with the premise that people learn best in groups and that a person learns as much from designing a course as from participating in it, Philipp has set out to change not what we learn, but how we learn. Through Peer 2 Peer University (P2PU), peer learners from around the world connect around topics they care about and skills they wish to master, harnessing the vast wealth of high-quality openly-licensed education materials currently available over the Internet. Unlike traditional courses, however—which match those who want to learn a subject to those able to teach it—P2PU enables learners to come together around a shared goal, and to collect and share whatever resources are required to meet those challenges. Students act as both teacher and learner, and are thus able to collaborate throughout the entire course development process, beginning with design, and extending through co-teaching and peer evaluation.

While recognizing the value of learning for learning’s sake, Philipp understood early on that students would need some form or recognition for their advancements and accomplishments. The team thus designed a system of badges, which participants earn through both technical mastery and the demonstration of critical social and organizational abilities, such as the ability to work in teams. The new digital credential is then authenticated through peer evaluation, and by select partners consisting of well-respected employers in the field. Partners can issue their own badges, thereby defining the skills they wish to see in employees, and providing a powerful lens to evaluate success in a particular subject. For example, recognizing a need for new education resources for web developers, Mozilla now oversees a growing number of courses that serve thousands of users. These partners thus play a dual role: increasing demand, by opening up their network to new cohorts of potential users, and legitimizing the skills and accomplishments that come of each successive challenge.

The result is the first-ever open source lesson-planning platform, whose quality and value only improves with time. Just as web developers can now experiment with one another’s code—creating ever-improving web platforms and technology tools—learners and course developers can now build upon existing lesson plans and materials to create more and more quality courseware. P2PU is more than a cost-effective alternative to traditional higher education: it is changing the way professors—and others inside and outside the university—approach learning and coursework. Philipp is working with universities to leverage the P2PU platform in their own courses, and its open source design means that anyone anywhere can take advantage of its resources. Launched in 2009, P2PU now serves more than 23,000 members and between 4,500 to 6,500 active users each month. With 1,000 more members joining each month, P2PU is poised to connect the millions of potential learners around the world looking for a better and more cost-effective means of education.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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