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· 8 min read
zach wick

Patterns are always obvious in retrospect. Upon reflection, the story arcs of my life are typically around ten years long.

From 2010 to 2011, I attended math lectures at University of Michigan's campus. I wasn't enrolled as a student there, I just lived nearby and worked odd hours as an iOS contract developer so after figuring out when and where classes that sounded interesting would meet, I would purchase the textbook from the campus bookstore and then just start showing up and not turning in, but completing all the work. I would attend sporadically in the fashion of a stereotypical perennial slacker student and try to withdraw from the class unnoticed all the while pursuing the topic on my own. I became reacquainted with numeric analysis, discrete math, and algebraic topology from my undergrad studies in this manner.

From 2014 to 2016, I was regularly traveling to New York City for work. On one particular trip, I had three in-person pitches to venture capitalists in as many days. After those pitches, I realized that I didn't really understand how exactly venture capital funding worked financially. Since I was in NYC, I went to the NYU bookstore and bought a copy of Venture Capital and the Finance of Innovation as well as a copy of Patent Law and Policy: Cases and Materials , the latter of whose title caught my eye and a quick perusal had me hooked. I always suspected that my future endeavors would have a legal aspect, and at the time, I dreamed about my startup exiting and practicing IP law for software businesses as a retirement hobby. This IP law textbook was purchased in the guise of being a ready source of semi-productive daydream reading as well as being a physical reminder to myself of my legal aspirations.

Buying a textbook from a campus retail bookstore when you have no affiliation with the institution usually requires a non-zero amount of social engineering. The conversation usually starts with the cashier asking to scan your school id. I've always had success by openly responding with "Oh, I'm not a student here, I just wanted to purchase this book for my own purposes." There's usually a bit of a pause, and then the cashier either shrugs and rings up my purchase, or they flag over a manager to get them to ring it up. In the worst case, searching online by the ISBN almost always yields an opportunity to purchase a given work.

Accordingly, in NYC in 2015, after a brief conversation with the cashier at the NYU bookstore, I had my books.

From 2016 to 2021, I worked at a private fintech unicorn and helped scale and create teams that worked on problems at the intersection of developer experience as a product, technical education, and marketing. This is too brief of a description for what was the most personally rewarding work-for-hire I have ever engaged in, but it is sufficient for this context.

On February 2, 2021 I published the inaugural edition of Read Law.This was the kickoff of an ambitious project to acquire an autodidactic legal education in a learning in public way, a la building in public . It was my intent to use learning in public to hold myself accountable seeing this project to fruition and as a way to build a network of peers to leverage to later advantages.

As many of my projects do, it began in earnest. On February 8, 2021 the second issue, on Judicial review and more went out. A week later, another issue went out, this one on the appellate flavor of judicial review . Around this time, I had an insight. I wanted two distinct outcomes from this nascent Read Law project that I was quickly realizing would be a multi-year affair at shortest. I first and foremost wanted to acquire a legal education for my own use and benefit. Secondarily, I wanted to be illustrative of what can be accomplished by sheer force of will. Perhaps some measure of vanity and ambition accounts for the first aim (and some of the second). The insight that has resulted in my re-association with Bowling Green State University after first attending fifteen years previously as a bona fide undergraduate student, was that in order to be the most illustrative example of what can be learned in an autodidactic fashion it would be necessary to be able to provide a framework or lens to my learning in public peers to evaluate what learning if any was occurring individually and en masse. I recalled a previous conversation with a coworker while working on constructing a developer education and certification platform for the aforementioned private fintech unicorn. We were discussing the difficulty of accurately assessing the effectiveness of a self-directed asynchronous technical education course at a scale of thousands of new users daily. To my everlasting obligation, my coworker said something that I remember as "what we really need is an instructional designer".

About two weeks later, my last day working for that company was February 19, 2021. In that same time period between my sophomoric realizations regarding Read Law and the difficulties in assessing learning in my recently departed day job, I had applied to Bowling Green State University for two graduate programs. A Master of Business Administration with a concentration in Accounting and a Master of Education in Instructional Design and Technology. Much like before, personal ambition fueled this former set of goals and less pecuniary motives fueled the latter.

I will complete the Accounting program in May 2023, and this retrospective is written as the culmination of the Instructional Design and Technology program.

With a clear idea to the idea of tailoring one's content to the medium, context, and audience that it is intended for, I applied to the IDT program with this Statement of Purpose , that begins with the paean

Reflecting back on it now, it is obvious that since my self-directed learning was just that—self directed—I meandered through the garden of knowledge picking fruits as I went, instead of systematically harvesting the fruit from one end to the other.

and ends with the appeal

My hope is that with the knowledge I gain during this degree program, I am able to make my own self-directed learnings more efficient and more comprehensive by knowing strategies and styles for teaching myself.

These same inward facing frameworks and lens for evaluation could also be applied externally, and thus investing time and effort in this IDT program seemed a prudent decision to make. A similar, but much more accountingly-terse calculus and statement of purpose were used to decide to invest in the Accounting program.

Now at the maturity date of one of these capital investments, it is time to take an accounting of the performance thus far.

Since February 2021, I have spent at least $724.56 USD on books for the furtherance of my progress in the IDT program. The receipts for two books cannot be located at this time. Unsurprisingly, some readings from each program have proven useful in the other, but this figure represents books that would not have been purchased were I not in the IDT program. Calculating a similar figure for tuition is left to the imagination, but it is a sufficiently large enough number to be noteworthy. BGSU's website notes that the estimated tuition for the e-campus IDT program option is $14,350. That seems a reasonable enough low-end estimate based on my recollections of paying regular tuition bills. For easier later mental math, let's approximate the lowest possible total monetary expense of the IDT program at BGSU at $15,000 USD for books and tuition. Participating in this program does have an opportunity cost associated with it since I could not possibly earn at my full potential while spending some time on educational efforts. The dollarization of that opportunity cost is likewise left to the imagination.

With that $15,000 USD figure in mind, my investment in the IDT program has been a resounding success. I now have the frameworks and lens by which to assess learning. I have increased confidence in my ability to use these lens to internally inspect personal learning as well as externally evaluate the learning of others. I have the specific knowledge by which to critically evaluate and improve my work, and the general understanding required to best encourage and enable others to learn from their work. Concretely, I have a clear vision for how to complete my Read Law project in a way that achieves my goals. By working at the intersection of my prior experience in marketing to technical audiences and my newfound instructional design toolkit, I have found my educational path back wandering the paths and sampling the wild fruits after a season of cultivating cash crops.

Have I experienced a change in my career aspirations since beginning the IDT program? No, I don't believe that I have. What has changed is the clarity by which I can see the abundance of ripe knowledge around me. Has the IDT program been a sound financial investment? Only time can definitively answer that question, but all indications point to the payoff period of this investment being quite short. Without ascribing values, it is a true statement that my confidence in the financial soundness of investing in earning a Masters in Education in Instructional Design and Technology has greatly increased in the 21 months since I resolved to determine that soundness experientially.

· 3 min read
zach wick

When working in the area of software developer enablement, my goal is to get the developer to be as effective as possible, as quickly as possible. For software businesses that serve technical audiences, product adoption is often predicated by educating potential customers on why your software product solves their issue. This is best done by providing a structured knowledge set that is efficiently consumable by the intended technical audience.

To do this requires having a complete definition of who the audience is, and then tailoring the educational experience to that audience. By aligning story based guides to common product usage patterns, the educational experience's goals and the learning developer's goals are aligned to enable more motivated learning (Ambrose, 2010, p. 73).

In order to provide a mental scaffolding of how the various product configuration options work in concert, all educational language must be consistent and particular in its use. For visual educational content, the particular words used and medium that they are presented in must be consistent. Typefaces and other visual cues can be used to impart special meanings to written content. This visual separation of language helps learners differentiate when they need to use declarative or procedural knowledge to complete their product use case. (Ambrose, 2010, p. 34).

In order to effectively reach learners of different styles, the educational experience must be broad in its means of publication. Some developers will be most efficiently served by having a comprehensive documentation set of every product configuration option. This publication strategy provides the informational organization for this knowledge to lower the cognitive burden of learning it (Ambrose, 2010). Other developers will be quickest to be successful by watching another developer use the product in a meaningful way. These developers are motivated by seeing real world applications of this technical product knowledge. Ambrose suggests that tying new knowledge to real world applications of that knowledge motivates some learners (2010, p. 83).

When product adoption is predicated on product education, then it is in a software companies' interest to ensure that its product education is as impactful as it can be. This educational experience can be maximized by motivating its technical audience to engage with the material and making the knowledge structured and easily consumed.


Ambrose, S. A., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., Lovett, M. C., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research-based principles for smart teaching. John Wiley & Sons.

· 4 min read
zach wick

Educational behaviors rooted in the theory of behaviorism, or at least the operant conditioning branch of it, are regularly used in software product design decision-making processes. Product onboarding, as an educational experience, is an archetypal application of these theories. For instance, within the sequence of informational popups that show a new user how to use a piece of software, the button with the positive, forward-in-the-onboarding-process call-to-action (such as "Next", or "Okay") should be consistently placed and styled, and match the styling of the rest of the product. This has the result that a user is gently nudged towards learning the visual cues and language that the product they are being educated on uses. As described by Chen, such reinforcement of the visual language used within the software would positively influence the perception category of Bloom's psychomotor domain, which deals with "the ability to use sensory cues to guide motor activity" (2005, p. 133).

The order in which new users are guided through the main features of the software product also influences the educational impact of the onboarding. In Bloom's affective domain, which includes a learner motivation dimension among others, the organization category "organizes values into priorities" (2005, p. 133). Because learner's motivation is increased when learning a high priority item, the new user onboarding process should show the most important feature (or features) first. This helps ensure that new users are able to not only see value in becoming revenue generating customers of the software product, but that they are educated the most effectively on how the software can be used to solve their business need.

Behaviorism is present in significant ways in many popular software based educational tools. For example, the online MBA program offered by Bowling Green State University relies heavily on the Connect and SmartBook products from McGraw-Hill. SmartBook is a web-based software product that uses programmed instruction as written of by Chen (2005). This behaviorist style of instruction uses a series of sets of questions each associated with a section of reading. In order to progress forward through the instruction, the learner must answer the set of questions correctly and may be required to re-experience the associated reading if the questions are answered incorrectly multiple times. This type of instruction is appropriate for the content of this program which is often centered around analyzing a financial process.

As described by Chen, behaviorist theories of learning position spaced repetition as an integral part of the learning process (2005). The idea of using repetition to impact learning can be leveraged with consistent use of language cues in software product documentation.

Consider the software documentation for a generic REST API for a todo list tool. Using this REST API, a user can create new, read existing, update existing, or delete existing todo items for themselves. The documentation for such an API, should start with the most important use case first, to influence the organization category of Bloom's affective domain as discussed above. In our example, this means that the first bit of documentation should be how to create a new todo list item.

In the language of REST APIs, a task to be done in our example is called a resource. When talking about the resource in the documentation for this API, the capitalization and styling of the resource's name should be consistent and visually distinct from other uses of that resource's name as a word. This means that when referring to the resource that corresponds to a task to be done, it should be consistently referred to as "a Todo" with a capital letter as an English proper noun.

In the contrived example of a todo list REST API, the benefits of this kind of repetition may not be evident. However, consider the REST API for a payment processing product. In that context, many of the resources needed while moving through a payment process are commonly used nouns and verbs in addition to being important foundational concepts of how the software product works. A good example is the API resource of a Charge which is the software representation of taking a payment from a customer. In the documentation around how to interact with a Charge API resource, there are sentences that read similar to:

To charge a Customer, create a Charge object.

In this example documentation sentence, "charge" is used as the English verb while Charge is typographically identified as being the API resource. In keeping with the behaviorist emphasis on repetition to influence learning, being consistent in the typographic indications of what object or abstracted concept is being referred to allows readers of the software documentation to have a positively impacted educational experience.


Chen, I. (2005). Behaviorism. In Encyclopedia of Distance Learning (pp. 127-147). IGI Global. (

· 6 min read
zach wick

In their work Scenario-based e-learning: Evidence-based guidelines for online workforce learning, Clark defines Scenario-based e-learning and discusses its constituent parts. Most of the discussion however focuses on examples that are outside the domain of programming instruction. This brief exploration of Advent of Code as an instance of Scenario-based e-learning seeks to ground Clark's discussion to this area of instruction.

In the yearly Advent of Code event, a scenario is given and then there are guided steps, each with their own instructions, by which participants build a stepwise programming solution to the general scenario.

While there is no explicitly stated learning objective, the creator of Advent of Code describes it as

"Advent of Code is an Advent calendar of small programming puzzles for a variety of skill sets and skill levels that can be solved in any programming language you like. People use them as a speed contest

, interview prep , company training

, university coursework , practice problems, or to challenge each other."

Because there is no explicitly stated learning objective and participants can use the Advent of Code scenario to achieve their own desired ends, the guidance provided in the scenario changes Advent of Code from a "discovery learning" scenario to a "guided learning" scenario (Clark, 2012, p. 122).

In the 2021 instantiation, the scenario starts with the following prompt as the scenario's trigger event.

You're minding your own business on a ship at sea when the overboard alarm goes off! You rush to see if you can help. Apparently, one of the Elves tripped and accidentally sent the sleigh keys flying into the ocean!

Before you know it, you're inside a submarine the Elves keep ready for situations like this. It's covered in Christmas lights (because of course it is), and it even has an experimental antenna that should be able to track the keys if you can boost its signal strength high enough; there's a little meter that indicates the antenna's signal strength by displaying 0-50 stars.

Now that the scenario is established, the actual task description is given as "Your instincts tell you that in order to save Christmas, you'll need to get all fifty stars by December 25th.". Each day from December 1 to December 25, two correlated puzzles are offered that build off of the previous days' puzzles to guide participants towards a complete solution.

For the first day's first puzzle, scenario data in the form of a CSV file of depth readings is provided. This data file looks like:


The guidance and instruction for the first puzzle is then provided, in which it reads in part

The first order of business is to figure out how quickly the depth increases, just so you know what you're dealing with - you never know if the keys will get carried into deeper water by an ocean current or a fish or something. To do this, count the number of times a depth measurement increases from the previous measurement. (There is no measurement before the first measurement.) In the example above, the changes are as follows:

199 (N/A - no previous measurement)
200 (increased)
208 (increased)
210 (increased)
200 (decreased)
207 (increased)
240 (increased)
269 (increased)
260 (decreased)
263 (increased)

This guidance, especially the inclusion of an example programming script output that illustrates part of the task, successfully mitigates the "flounder factor" by showing participants what is expected of them. Clark suggests that "One of the most important success factors in scenario-based e-learning is sufficient guidance to minimize the flounder factor" (2012, p. 30). In order to complete the first day's first puzzle, participants must write a programming script that results in an answer to the question of "How many measurements are larger than the previous measurement?". The provided response to this question is automatically checked by the scenario's own programming.

If an incorrect response is provided, the scenario provides feedback that is more than simply an indication of whether or not the response was correct. Clark writes that "feedback has little value unless the learner reviews the feedback and considers how his or her actions or decisions led to the outcomes seen" (2012, p. 81). This scenario applies this insight by providing formative feedback with additional guidance of

That's not the right answer; your answer is too low. If you're stuck, make sure you're using the full input data; there are also some general tips on the about page, or you can ask for hints on the subreddit."

The addition of hints such as "make sure you're using the full input data", guide participants to consider where and how their proposed solution deviates from the ideal solution based on the other bits of feedback such as "your answer is too low." This inclusion of feedback statements such as "your answer is too low", or "your answer is too high" ensures that the provided feedback is similar to what Clark refers to as intrinsic feedback in which there is a visual representation of "how the scenario plays out or responds to the learner's actions" (2012, p. 80).

This scenario does not have an explicit "reflection" phase, which doesn't detract from its effectiveness as an instantiation of Scenario-based e-learning. This is because "while some components, such as task deliverable, trigger event, and feedback, are required elements, others may vary according to your learning domain and context" (Clark, 2012, p. 72). In the context of this scenario, the only reflection is implicit in each days' puzzles building off each other and therefore each puzzle's solution must be adapted to become the solution for the next puzzle.

This scenario could be improved by providing a venue in which participants must explicitly reflect on their provided solution to a puzzle. Such an explicit venue could take the form of asking participants to remark on the space or time complexity of their solution (commonly referred to as "Big-O notation"), or on the elegance and structure of their solution's code. Given that the understated goal of the entire Advent of Code scenario is to enable participants to use programming code to solve a real-world problem, such reflection encourages participants to consider the real-world consequences of their particular solution.


Clark, R. C.(2012). Scenario-based e-learning: Evidence-based guidelines for online workforce learning (1st ed.). San Francisco, CA: Pfeiffer.

· 9 min read
zach wick


Financial literacy is a body of knowledge necessary to have in order to make well-informed decisions when presented with financial situations. It is generally assumed that financial education can have a positive impact on financial literacy. However, individual characteristics of both the learner and the financial education itself have direct and significant effects on the efficacy of the financial education. This literature review explores how learner wealth, alignment of financial educational content to other desired outcomes, and the nature of the transferred knowledge impact financial education's efficacy.

Does financial education increase financial literacy?

In the most high level view, financial education does have some positive effect on financial literacy. In a meta-analysis of 201 studies comprising 168 papers, Fernandes et. al. found that "interventions to improve financial literacy explain only 0.1% of the variance in financial behaviors studied..." (2014, p. 1861). Furthermore, Fernandes et. al.'s meta-analysis revealed that "measured knowledge of financial facts had a weak relationship to financial behavior in econometric studies controlling for omitted variable bias" (2014, p. 1873).

A later meta-analysis by Kaiser and Menkhoff of 126 impact evaluation studies found that "financial education significantly impacts financial behavior and, to an even larger extent, financial literacy" (2017, p. 611). This meta-analysis also found "financial education is less effective for low-income clients as well as in low- and lower-middle-income economies" (Kaiser & Menkhoff, 2017, p. 611). This distinction in financial education efficacy along a demographic property is also present in the meta-analysis completed by Fernandes et. al. as well as in individual studies (Fernandes et. al., 2014, p. 1861).

What should financial education teach?

In a study by Postmus et. al., 85.1% of the 195 participants reported a yearly household income of less than $25,000 ( 2015, p. 255). This study sought to understand the impact of a financial education intervention provided to a random sample of female survivors of domestic abuse. Both women in general, and domestic abuse survivors specifically, are noted for being demographic groups at risk for financial challenges (Postmus et. al., 2015). Postmus et. al. note that financial education programs deployed by nonprofit domestic violence organizations speak to topics such as "basic financial management skills, such as saving, budgeting, getting or repairing credit, cash flow management, purchasing a home, predatory lending practices, financing major purchases, investing, and wise spending habits" (2015, p. 251). The financial challenges faced by these two groups are not too far removed from the financial challenges faced by other demographic groups. In a study by Friedline and West, adults born between the early 1980s and 2000s - generally " millennials" - "earn the lowest incomes of their careers while making financial decisions about attending postsecondary education, living independently from families of origin, finding employment, repaying educational debt, purchasing a home, and saving for retirement" (2016, p. 649).

How should financial education teach?

The study by Friedline and West analyzed data collected in the 2012 National Finance Capability Survey (2016, p. 649). This survey was "comissioned by the FINRA Investor Education Foundation and was completed online by a sample of 25509 adults in the United States between July and October 2012, which was nationally representative when population weights were applied" (Friedline & West, 2016, p. 653). Friedline and West's study used the responses of 6865 millennials to show that financial education that "focus solely on financial education or inclusion may be insufficient for facilitating Millennial's healthy financial behaviors; interventions should instead develop financial capability" (2016, p. 653). Friedline and West describe "financial capability" as the combination of the declarative knowledge from financial education as well as the procedural knowledge of how to apply it (2016, p. 653).

This theme of impactful financial education needing to provide both declarative and procedural knowledge can be found in other studies. In their study with female survivors of domestic abuse, Postmus et. al. used a financial education program that adhered to a "reasoned action approach (RAA), a manifestation of the Theory of Planned Behavior" (2015, p. 253). Viewed through the lens of RAA, a successfull financial education is one that "changes participants' knowledge, behavior, and intention to perform the behavior" (Postmus et. al., 2015, p. 253). The curriculum used is this study is specifically constructed to impart both declarative financial knowledge and procedural financial knowledge that is applicable to the lived experiences of domestic abuse survivors. Postmus et. al. did find that learning from such a tailor-made curriculum did significantly improve participant's outcomes.

Furthermore, Postmus et. al. found that "the impact of the curriculum persisted over the full 12-month, post-curriculum, follow-up period" (2015, p. 262). Juxstaposed to this result is a finding by Fernandes et. al. that "even large interventions with many hours of instruction have negligible effects on behavior 20 months or more from the time of intervention" (2014, p. 1861). This juxstapositioning suggests that it may be the case that a financial education aligned with the learner's specific needs will be most effective in the post-intervention period.

This result of enhanced efficacy due to content aligning with the specific needs of learners is significant enough that financial education has been used as a secondary concern in order to positively affect a primary concern. Courtney et. al. developed a smoking cessation study protocol to "evaluate the potential of co-managing financial stress as a means of enhancing smokers' capacity to quit smoking" (2014, p. 1602). While this "two-group parallel block randomized (ratio 1:1) open-label clinical trial (RCT) with allocation concealment" study protocol is not accompanied by the actual performance of the study protocol outlined, the authors do note that "financial stress consistently predicts lower probabilities of sustained abstinence, even after controlling for nicotine addiction, psychological stress and use of cessation aids" (2014, pp. 1602 - 1603).

When should financial education teach?

Aligning financial education with a particular learner's specific needs for increased efficacy can mean simply aligning the curriculum's financial content with it's non-financial content. Financial education efficacy can also be augmented by the temporal proximity of financial education to the immediate needs of the learners. While this temporal proximity of financial education to learner needs can be seen in the study by Postmus et. al., it also can be be seen in a study by Gerrans. In their study, Gerrans writes "The undergraduate years, therefore, appear to present a teachable moment when students could acquire financial knowledge and skills, as well as develop the attitudes of behavior required for financial independence" (2020, p. 1). In this regard, the results of these individual studies are also borne out in the meta-analysis by Fernandes et. al. who write "We suggest a real but narrower role for 'just-in-time' financial education tied to specific behaviors it intends to help" (2014, p. 1861).

It remains unclear which of facet of financial education, either temporal proximity of the instruction or the alignment of the content to more generalized goals, has the greatest effect on financial literacy. In either case, it appears that temporal proximity of financial education to the behaviors that it seeks to modify can help provide the procedural knowledge that is a necessary component of such financial education being successful. Gerrans found that among undergraduate students who receive financial education during these formative years "retain significant objective and subjective financial literacy effects, with modest decay, three years after completing a unit of personal finance education" (2020, p. 1). Notably, this study found a "sustained positive effect for checking the affordability of purchases, which remained for three years after the unit" (Gerrans, 2020, p. 16). This result suggests that learners who receive financial education temporally near behaviors using that information are likely to retain the learned knowledge for much longer than the knowledge gained from purely declarative financial education.


Financial education's impact on financial literacy as evidenced in human behavior attenuates over time. The rate of attenuation can be slowed however by aligning financial education content to the immediate needs of the particular learners and providing the instruction at a time just before the learners will need to apply it. These results indicate that financial education is most effective when it imparts both declarative and procedural knowledge. This result arises both via a meta-analysis of the literature and in particular studies looking at demographic groups known to be at-risk for financial problems. Educators should take these themes into account when designing and providing financial education.


Brugiavini, A., Cavapozzi, D., Padula, M., & Pettinicchi, Y. (2020). On the effect of financial education on financial literacy: Evidence from a sample of college students. Journal of Pension Economics & Finance, 19(3), 344-352.

Fernandes, D., Lynch, J. G., & Netemeyer, R. G. (2014). Financial literacy, financial education, and downstream financial behaviors. Management Science, 60(8), 1861-1883.

Friedline, T., & West, S. (2015;2016;). Financial education is not enough: Millennials may need financial capability to demonstrate healthier financial behaviors. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 37(4), 649-671.

Gerrans, P. (2021). Undergraduate student financial education interventions: Medium term evidence of retention, decay, and confidence in financial literacy. Pacific-Basin Finance Journal, 67,


Iterbeke, K., De Witte, K., Declercq, K., & Schelfhout, W. (2020;2019;). The effect of ability matching and differentiated instruction in financial literacy education. evidence from two randomised control trials. Economics of Education Review, 78,


Kaiser, T., & Menkhoff, L. (2017). Does financial education impact financial literacy and financial behavior, and if so, when? The World Bank Economic Review, 31(3), 611-630.

Lusardi, A., & Mitchell, O. S. (2014). The economic importance of financial literacy: Theory and evidence: Theory and evidence. Journal of Economic Literature, 52(1), 5-44.

Postmus, J. L., Hetling, A., & L. Hoge, G. (2015). Evaluating a financial education curriculum as an intervention to improve financial behaviors and financial well-being of survivors of domestic violence: Results from a longitudinal randomized controlled study. The Journal of Consumer Affairs, 49(1), 250-266.

Wagner, J. (2019). Financial education and financial literacy by income and education groups. Financial Counseling and Planning, 30(1), 132.

Xiao, J. J., & O'Neill, B. (2016). Consumer financial education and financial capability. International Journal of Consumer Studies, 40(6), 712-721.


This work was created for Educational Foundations & Inquiry 6420 Research in Education at Bowling Green State University to fulfill a requirement to construct a literature review of an area of personal interest.

· 10 min read
zach wick

What is IndieHackers, and how does it align with the definition of community of practice?

IndieHackers is an online community of entrepreneurially minded people who are "seeking financial independence, creative freedom, and the ability to work on their own schedule" (Stripe, 2021). Most members of the IndieHackers online platform tend to be the founders or very early employees of tech-forward startups and small businesses. The IndieHackers website ( features:

  • a forum where members can "Talk shop with other indie hackers" (Stripe, 2021)
  • a list of upcoming meetups whereby members can "Meet indie hackers across the globe" (Stripe, 2021)
  • a database of member-created projects where members can "See what everyone's working on" (Stripe, 2021)
  • a store where members can "buy an Indie Hackers t-shirt" (Stripe, 2021)
  • a newsletter by which members can "Stay up-to-date in 5 minutes or less" (Stripe, 2021)
  • a section where members can submit long-form writings with the community to "Share your knowledge and experiences" ( Stripe, 2021)

A community of practice as defined by Etienne and Beverly Wenger-Trayner is a group of people "who share a concern or a passion for something they do and learn how to do it better as they interact regularly" (2015). The IndieHackers website is an archetypal example of an online community of practice.

Members of IndieHackers, who call themselves "indie hackers", are encouraged to share updates on their independent projects regularly and community members provide feedback to these updates that draw on their own areas of expertise and knowledge. Some project updates are celebrating successes, and some are asking for advice from the community. In either case, the community support and feedback is often useful and is always supportive.

In addition to the various web properties, the IndieHackers organization also has a podcast network of podcasts created by and for the community on topics often inspired by the community's discussions and posts.

How does IndieHackers demonstrate the three characteristics of a community of practice?

The Wenger-Trayners explicitly list three characteristics of a community of practice. With regard to the domain characteristic, the membership of a community of practice shares a "shared competence that distinguishes members from other people" (2015). In the IndieHackers community, this shared competence is in creating and executing on a tech-forward, usually software based, startup without going the traditional venture-capital backed route. This means that most of the projects made by members of the IndieHackers community are either self-funded or bootstrapped businesses. This defining characteristic of the financial structure of the project directly influences every aspect of the project and is the main contributor to indie hackers finding their tribe online with other entrepreneurs on similar paths.

As previously described, the members of the IndieHackers community routinely solicit and provide advice on business practices. In addition to this online information sharing via the community forum, there are also self-organizing IndieHacker meetups around the world. As would be expected, these in-person gatherings have diminished in frequency over the last ~two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic. They were replaced with online meetups and live community discussions, and are now beginning to make a reappearance as people become more comfortable meeting in person again in some situations.

The Wenger-Trayners third characteristic of a community of practice is "the practice", which is defined as "a shared repertoire of resources: experiences, stories, tools, ways of addressing recurring problems ..." (2015). In the IndieHackers community, this shared set of information and experiences to draw from is ever present. It is present when an indie hacker asks for advice on how to optimize a sales conversion funnel and a host of other indie hackers reply with what previously worked for them in a similar situation. It is present when an indie hacker is a guest on one of the various podcasts in the community's network and shares an anecdote about the "aha! moment" that led them to start their business. The various tips, tricks, practices, and tools that can be leveraged to help non-venture capital startups succeed are regularly discussed and dissected by the group to reason down to the root of why that particular solution works for the situations where it does and why it doesn't work in the others.

How does IndieHackers adopt the seven principles for cultivating a community of practice?

Wegner lists seven principles for cultivating a community of practice. For each of those principles listed below, IndieHackers provides a clear illustration of how that principle can be put into practice.

Design for evolution

IndieHackers originally began as nothing more than a series of ten interviews with business founders whose creating narratives resonated with the original creator of IndieHackers. The early dialogs and responses to these interviews caused a well-known Silicon Valley venture-backed startup, the antithesis of what an indie hacker would aspire to build, Stripe, to acquire IndieHackers. This acquisition was fueled by Stripe's desire to see more tech-forward online businesses in the world since that demographic is Stripe's ideal customer segment. Because Stripe views IndieHackers as a "top of the funnel" customer acquisition mechanism, Stripe provides IndieHackers with a budget and some general guidance but otherwise lets the community self-organize with the gentle nudges from the core IndieHackers staff. This has allowed areas of the community to develop such as written interviews turning into podcast interviews turning into a network of related but distinct podcast shows.

Open a dialogue between inside and outside perspectives

Because the IndieHackers community focuses on non-venture capital backed startups, which are the minority of tech startups, much of the discussion is through that lens. Occasionally, the IndieHackers podcast will have a guest who is not a self-identifying indie hacker. On those occasions, there is often informational discussion, both in the podcast episode and then in the community forum, about the advantages and disadvantages of applying the guest's provide information to indie hacker projects. While this isn't a clear two-way dialog and mixing of perspectives, it is almost always insightful and inspiring.

Invite different levels of participation

Because IndieHackers is in essence a customer acquisition strategy for Stripe with some ancillary benefits to members of the community who usually end up becoming Stripe customers, there is a wide variety of how members participate. Some members draw a salary from Stripe and their day job is to build the infrastructure that powers the IndieHackers web properties and serve as lead decision makers in the community. Other community members serve as volunteer moderators and help steward useful and respectful community interactions. The largest group of IndieHackers members are peripheral members who tend to consume more of the community's content than create it. Regardless of ones previous level of participation in the IndieHackers community, the community itself is encouraging and empowering of indie hackers however they choose to participate on any one topic/event/item.

Develop both public and private community spaces

While the IndieHackers community forum can be read by non-members, only members (i.e. someone who has created an account) can write in the forum. This allows the community to attract new members who find value in consuming the content and chose to move into the community and become a participant.

Additionally, the IndieHacker in-person meetups are private events that are only attended by community members. These private events share the same ethos as the online properties, but enable forming more personal connections within the community than the online properties do.

Focus on value

Usually when people find the IndieHackers community, they join it because they found some initial value in their interactions with the community. The exceptions to this rule are mostly people who Stripe has employed to enable IndieHackers and it is assumed that some of those employees only join the community initially because doing so is a prerequisite for doing their job functions. However, community members often quickly find value in the learnings that are gleaned from the various content and ensuing discussion put out by other community members. This is evidenced in the default ordering of forum posts by popularity as judged by the voting and engagement by the community. Presumably, a post would only be engaged with and then up-voted by a community member if they either received some value from it themselves or if they thought that the post would likely be of value to someone else in the community. This default ordering allows the most potentially valuable content to a community member to be presented first and foremost in the IndieHackers homepage.

Combine familiarity and excitement

While every business faces the same general shape of problem along its lifecycle, each business has their own unique nuance to their version of the particular general business problem. For members of the IndieHackers community, many of these business problems cannot be solved by simply "throwing money at the problem" as a venture capital backed business can because the companies that are created by indie hackers usually do not have extra cash on hand to spend. (As a member of the IndieHackers community myself, I cannot write that sentence without adding an aside that it is my belief that a VC backed business "throwing money at a problem" usually only solves the problem in the short-term as the solution to the problem becomes its own problem of being an often ongoing and often large cost).

Because of this nature of the problems faced by indie hackers, and because of the shared ethos that values clever non-monetary solutions to business problems that drive indie hackers to join the IndieHackers community, many times the community is able to discuss the issue in such a way as to unblock the stuck indie hacker in a way that allows all discussion participants to view their role and efforts in the community in a positive light. This "excitement" comes in the form of a dopamine hit by solving a problem within the bounds implied by the IndieHackers community ethos.

Create a rhythm for the community

The IndieHackers community rhythm is present, but is often imperceptible until after-the-fact. Because of the nature of the community, tech-forward startups, the projects and people involved in the IndieHackers community tend to be early adopters and advocates of new technology. This means that the IndieHackers community tends to be at the forefront of startups entering a new space. Currently, this is "web3" and cryptocurrency protocol backed projects, but only a year ago, the "new big thing" that many IndieHackers where building for were podcasts (Me included - see for an example of a project that was created during the previous tech hype cycle and has since been placed on the back burner).

The community does have regular rhythmic events such as a Black Friday deal sharing event where community members share their project's seasonal deals with the community, and many of the in-person meetups have their own regular cadence.


Stripe. (n.d.).Start a Profitable Side Project in 2020. Indie Hackers. Retrieved November 25, 2021, from

Wenger-Traynor, E. and Wenger-Traynor, B. (2015). Introduction to communities of practice. Retrieved from

Wenger, et al. (2002). Chapter 3. Seven Principles for Cultivating Communities of Practice.Cultivating Communities of Practice: A Guide to Managing Knowledge.


This work was created for Instructional Design 6740 Digital Learning Theories at Bowling Green State University.