Vimsical

@vimsical

A Learnable World

Toddlers are both illiterate and highly scientific. Completely immune to spoken facts, they run trial & error experiments, deriving facts from experience. Fast forward 10 years, a high-schooler sits in front of a book trying desperately to upload its content into her brain. What went wrong?

When we zoom out and look at the landscape of information we notice one thing all media since the first cave-painting share: they are results. Okay, what’s so weird about that? Well think about it. As we make things, where do we spend most of our time?

Unarguably in process. Process is where decisions are made. It’s where the pieces come together. But because we’re limited to results, often all we can do is give a 👍 and move on. Have a look at the internet, would you disagree? This is consumer society, by design.

Egyptian pyramids are one example:

To this day we speculate how Pyramids were built. You might think yeah, that’s the past but today — well, what about today?

I just scrolled through Twitter for 10 seconds. Here’s the first thing I found:

These are code-generated images. And they’re fascinating! But check out the first comment:

How will Jason learn how? Will Kovas tweet step by step directions at him? Good luck. Will they hop on a video call together? Really? Who has time for that? Will Kovas point Jason at the source code for this project? Maybe, but what if it’s 5000 lines of code? How will Jason make sense of it?

As we progress, our creations get ever more complex. The problem is complex things are hard to reproduce. Just look at the image above. It’s not even human-made. It’s generated by human-written code. If you wanted to recreate it, where would you even start? With over 3 billion people and their content on the internet, trying to make sense of things is an act of sheer insanity. This pushes people into two categories: broad thinkers who retreat to abstract theoretical models, and applied experts who become masters of a niche. How do we get to broad pragmatism?

Our challenge is, not just for education, but for the world to make things self-explanatory. Whatever you see, you should be able to learn how it was made.

How can we make Kovas’ code self-explanatory? Well, for one he had to explain it to himself. And to do that he ran a lot of small experiments. There must have been a moment when Kovas’ code drew just a few pixels on the screen. Once he had that, he could move on to the next thing, and the thing after. We should be able to see how Kovas writes and integrates each part into the growing codebase. But seeing is not enough. As we follow Kovas’ breadcrumbs and re-experience his insights we’ll find that Kovas knows a trick or two that we don’t. To understand how the code works we must be able to run our own experiments. And that means editing Kovas’ code and seeing how our changes impact the result.

Today, video is the medium of choice to capture process. All video cares about is pixels changing colors. You can ‘t copy & paste code from it and you definitely can’t edit it. On the interactive side we have files which, like the pyramids, are always in a result state. We can edit them, but we can’t see how they were made. We need something that combines a video-like watching experience with 100% interactive content.

That’s Vimsical. Play it, change the code & see your impact:

Want to record your changes? Click here.

Even if you’ve never coded before, we bet you’ll be able to find and change the color of one the moving strokes. Just skim through the timeline. When it’s changing on the left, the code for it is being written on the right. Then click and change it yourself. This is learning by inference. And that’s what Vimsical is all about — ship creations with the instructions to make them. Batteries included.

vim |vim|
noun informal
energy; enthusiasm:
in his youth he was full of vim and vigor.
whimsical |ˈ(h)wimzik(ə)l|
adjective
playfully quaint or fanciful, especially in an appealing and amusing way: a whimsical sense of humor.

Vimsical extends digital media into process media. It integrates into our apps, where, unlike video and pixels, it records what we do as data. This allows it to derive the state of our work for any moment in time. It provides us with meaningful data to analyze how we work. It gives us the most powerful backup we ever had. It brings version control to any app it’s integrated with. And by making content playable, it turns every creation into a tutorial.

Education that scales

Before writing any serious code, we spent 2 years learning from our favorite people in education. Today, our list counts 143 people from all walks of life. Some are amateurs with a blog, others creative coders and designers. They are university professors as well as professional online instructors with millions of views on their tutorials. We asked them questions, we looked over their shoulder as they created new material, we went into their classrooms and talked to their students. And we had them play with our prototypes. Our goal was to identify the biggest bottlenecks in education.

Learning didn’t bear many surprises. Students are not engaged enough. Schools put energetic kids into a classroom and tell them to sit & listen. Online, students watch passive videos followed by “interactive” checkbox quizzes. Measures like the flipped classroom are promising, but we think they don’t get to the root of the problem.

Teaching blew us away. For one, in our survey, we learned that in the best case online educators spend at least 7 minutes for every minute of content we get to see. But the jaw-dropping realization was how small the community of creators and publishers that teaches the world really is. Today we have a minority of educators who spend the majority of their time creating one-size-fits-all content. How can that scale?

Having a minority of educators who spend the majority of their time creating one-size-fits-all content doesn’t scale.

Teach by Doing, Learn by Playing.

We need to take it a step further than flipping the classroom. We need to flip the medium. Instead of relying on a small group of people, we need to make media itself learnable to turn everyone into an educator.

That’s why we’re building Vimsical.

Thank you for reading. We’ve only scratched the surface. Follow us on twitter for updates on our research, technology and, literally, process. If you want to use Vimsical, get in touch.

Special thanks to Julien Fantin, Shaun Williams, Nicholas Mauro, Evan Korth, Alex Qin, Marie Casabonne, Amery Winter, Chloe Kramer, Arshad Chowdhury, Jared Katz, Steve Ojeda, Josh Kornreich, and Cory Forsyth for their support along the way.

Topics of interest

More Related Stories