Welcome Back to Exponential Thinking: Part 4
Summer is upon us and that’s a great time of year for our aquaponics systems. We really get to showcase what theses systems are capable of and start growing all kinds of cool plants. In the summertime with the extended sun and heat, you can grow anything from peppers and tomatoes to cucumbers and squash. But growing new plants takes new knowledge of how to care for them.
How did I learn to grow all these different things in my aquaponics systems? Combing the internet and combining the strategies, tactics, tips, and tricks I’ve learned has allowed me, a shmo with no prior farming experience, to grow longer each year than the multi-generational farming dynasties around us. This is all thanks to online learning, a disruptive educational evolution that is spreading knowledge faster and wider than ever.
Continuing our multi-part series on exponential technology and aquaponics, we’ll be covering the topic of online learning. Aquaponics is a very interesting industry. A large number of people are initially introduced to aquaponics through the internet because of its relative youth as an industry. I know I found aquaponics thanks to Google!
It all began on Amazon. Two days after surfing, I received a book in the mail that changed my life. 1491, by Charles Mann, is an amazing book that chronicles the native people of the Americas in the year prior to Columbus’ arrival in the “New World” It inspired me to search Google for “chinampa”, the ancient form of agriculture used by the Aztecs to feed their magnificent empire. Chinampas are essentially in-ground aquaponics, where “raised beds” are built in a shallow lake. The beds absorb lake water and create an extremely fertile agricultural treasure. Well, searching “chinampas” turned up a ton of results on this new thing called aquaponics.
The results of that Google search changed the course of my life. I’m writing to you today as a result of typing those 8 simple letters into the search engine!
Thanks to tools like Amazon and Google, I had access to an entire world of information that I had no idea existed before. In just a few more searches, I had designs for a small desktop aquaponics system and a map of all the locations I needed to go to grab everything.
After countless late nights scouring Youtube, the massive free video platform, also run by Google, I felt sure that I could design, build, and maintain my first aquaponics system.
Just a week or so after first learning about the idea of aquaponics in the first place, I was off to the races. It took two bus transfers to get from my Boston apartment to the closest aquarium store. This isn’t so bad on the way there, but coming home with a 20 gallon glass fish tank, a 10 pound bag of sand for the bottom of the tank, a pump, and a whole bag full of odds and ends is a different story altogether. Not to mention Boston winters get pretty dang cold. I had to shelter my new fishy friends on our journey home, nestled away against my chest in my big bulky New-England coat. It was an intimate, if not altogether comfortable, ride back to the local station.
I still remember the first aquaponics video I watched on Youtube. It was the awesome Strawberry Tower video from Rob Torcellini. We still have a couple dozen towers of his design in my basement. Turns out that Rob actually lives about 25 minutes from my house–a fact I’m very grateful for! I never would have imagined the guy in the first video I ever saw on the topic would end up being a local Aquapioneer here in Connecticut!
Existing Gold mines
I’ve scoured the web over the last four years for the best educational opportunities in aquaponics. I’ve rounded up a few of the major gold mines that I’ve unearthed.
Rob is a major player in the online education ring himself. With dozens of videos and nearly 38,000 subscribers, Rob is one of the most influential online teachers in aquaponics today. He has recently embarked on a new project using Patreon; check out his page by clicking here. This cool project gives you access to in-depth videos you won’t find anywhere else, and all your donations go to the build out of his new large-scale greenhouse!
Along with Rob’s awesome videos, I’ve also used Sylvia Bernstein’s video course, the Aquaponic Gardening Online Course. This includes 5.5 hours of content, across 33 videos, that perfectly compliments her best-selling aquaponics primer, Aquaponic Gardening. We used this course in our early days here at FRESH Farm Aquaponics, in order to secure a firm foothold on the fundamentals.
Then there are the great courses from Bright Agrotech and their Startup Farmer Academy. Dr. Nate Storey is teaching Aquapioneers around the world to grow to their fullest potential using his ZipGrow towers. These classes are great because they are specifically geared for entrepreneurial aquaponics.
These are just three of my favorite sources for online learning about aquaponics. There are literally dozens of other great places, including the Practical Aquaponics forums with Murray Hallam, the Backyard Aquaponics forums and the forums on the Aquaponic Source.
Online communities are another vital part of online education. My favorite place for aquaponics community right now is the True Aquaponics group on Facebook. They are an active group that grows every day! I love the group because I can post a problem and get immediate feedback.
Online Learning – Education Evolved
Why is online learning so effective? There are many reasons, more than I can cover here. Speaking from my own experience, I found three major differentiators that show why online learning is changing the course of education, especially in a new industry like aquaponics.
Mass Asynchronous Dissemination
Just 50 years ago, even the best teachers could only reach a few thousand students in their lifetime of teaching. Now, a single Youtube video can reach millions of viewers. The world’s information is not only growing deeper, but it’s reaching a wider audience.
Information used to be silo’d away in universities, research labs, and private corporations. Now thanks to the global reach of the internet, anyone with web access has the entirety of the web’s knowledge at their fingertips.
People the world over are able to freely search and use content of their own choosing, at their own pace, and on their own schedule. This is known as asynchronous education where the teacher and student do not have to be in the same place or time, the student chooses when to be educated. This flexibility and freedom creates an educational system without the friction of arbitrarily imposed subject requirements and testing.
Multi-Sensory Learning Tools
Our information is expanding rapidly and the tools we use to teach it are evolving as well. A simple Youtube video is a deceptively powerful educational tool.
Video education is powerful because it works with multiple senses at once, making strong impressions on visual learners, auditory learners, and kinesthetic learners alike.
Video content appeals to the visual learner, who is gets to see something that they have not come across in their non-digital life. The video gives the brain a visual impression of the subject without any physical version nearby. This was great for me when I first started out in Boston. I had no idea where to find an aquaponics system, so I devoured Youtube videos till I had a clear mental image of the system I wanted to build.
The spoken content and audio tracks accompanying the video is vital for auditory learners. Do you listen to audiobooks instead of reading? You just may be an auditory learner! Hearing someone explain the subject helps these videos speak directly to this audience.
Kinesthetic learners learn best by doing. Now this might seem hard to actually do from an online video, but there is some cool neuroscience involved here. In all of our brains and bodies, there is something called mirror neurons. These are special nerves that mimic physical action that you observe. So if you see someone climb a ladder, you know instantly how to climb a ladder yourself. The best Youtube videos trigger our mirror neurons and actually allow kinesthetic learners to benefit just by watching someone do what they want to do. This is why step-by-step DIY videos are so popular and wildly effective!
All these reasons make online video learning super effective when it comes to learning new subjects. It is true nothing can replace true hands on experience, but it is hard to argue with the exponential increase in audience and reach. Online video learning is the perfect way to disseminate information to where it did not yet exist, where it can grow naturally with hands on experience, in the dirt. It could be said that online video learning plants the seeds for future hands on experience in fertile minds. Are you feeling fertile?
Online Community and Peer Review
We humans are funny. We can be fiercely individual, yet we are at our very core social creatures. As such, it is vital that our educational programs meet this social need. Peer review, collaboration, and a culture of openness have been shown to foster innovation, accelerated development, and abundance.
Digital learning platforms are best when they incorporate some sort of social community. The internet can be a lonely place without a community. Whether this it’s a private Facebook group, a private forum on a personal website, an email chain, or a Slack team, social connection is vital to the health and vitality of any online educational program. This is seen in some of the most successful aquaponics companies in the industry, as mentioned above.
If you have not already, I suggest you begin to look at some of those social groups and see if there is one that fits you! You’ll see a massive acceleration in your progress as soon as you begin to participate. And who knows, you may makes some great friends in the process!
Potential dangers of online learning
There is a darker side to online learning. The internet is full of incredible resources, teachers, and communities. However, for every golden resource there are dozens if not hundreds of less reputable and even downright dangerous ones.
It is an invaluable skill in this day and age to recognize spam and online scam artists. However, when you are learning a new topic you are vulnerable. I’ll give you an example of how I was swindled in the past into paying for a video course that ended up teaching me how to build a potentially poisonous aquaponics system that wouldn’t last longer than a single season.
The #1 selling product in the Garden & Home category on online courseware website Clickfunnels turned out to be a poor excuse for an aquaponics DIY guide. The foam mats it suggested for floating rafts contains known carcinogens including flame retardants. Additionally, it did not account for mechanical or biological filtration by omitting media filters or media beds. A system like this is unsustainable at best and dangerous to your health at worst.
Bad information like this harms the industry as a whole by discouraging people from trusting in aquaponics and stopping potential new farmers from growing successfully. One of the reasons I love a good online community is so you can get peer-reviewed content that you know works before you spend your hard earned cash.
Online Education Accelerates Success
Yes there are some bad apples online. It wouldn’t be the internet without them. It is an important part of the online learning process to do your own vetting to find the right vendor for you. But when you find the right place for you, you’ll be certain you’ll get good information taught in a super effective manner.
Soon enough the online literature for aquaponics, combined with data from on-the-ground systems and the farmers that run them, we will have a comprehensive library of aquaponics best practices, tactics and techniques that will help any Aquapioneer grow to their fullest potential.
I am passionate about online learning and bringing aquaponics to a larger audience. We’ve been working hard to put together a collection of peer reviewed online educational content from Aquapioneers. With the right knowledge in hand, aquaponics has the potential to revolutionize how we grow food. We think it will be a critical component to creating the City that Feeds ItselfTM. It all comes down to making sure our hidden farmers in these cities are equipped with the knowledge they need to be successful producers for their communities. Online education can be a great tool in the toolbox to educate many with limited resources. We’ll be following this trend and looking to utilize it in our mission to creat the City that feeds ItselfTM.