A Lesson in Learning from Mark Zuckerberg

In: BlogDate: Jul 01, 2011By: Henry Stewart

I’ve been reading the excellent What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis. Among many great ideas on how to be more responsive is the story of how Mark Zuckerberg passed his art history exam at Harvard.

Hi, we are Happy

We are leading a movement to create happy, empowered and productive workplaces.

How can we help you and your people to find joy in at least 80% of your work?

More about Happy

Being a little distracted by setting up Facebook, Mark had not attended any classes or done any study.

“Zuckerberg did what comes naturally to a native of the web. He went to the internet and downloaded images of all the pieces of art he knew would be covered in the exam. He put them on a web page and added blank boxes under each. Then he emailed the address to his classmates, telling them he’d just put up a study guide. Think Tom Sawyer’s fence. The class dutifully came along and filled in the blanks with the essential knowledge about each piece of art, editing each other as they went, collaborating to get it just right.”

You won’t be surprised to know that Zuckerberg aced the exam. But even more interesting is that “the professor said the class as a whole got better grades than usual.” (You can read more in Zuckerberg’s interview with Business Insider.)

I find this example inspirational. Too much learning, whether at school, university or the workplace is one way – based on the expert telling or informing the students. Learning from Zuckerberg, can we set up forums where learners debate and collaborate on what they are learning?

Here’s an example I’ve already suggested in the school where I’m a governor: For A level History, let’s set up a Wikipedia page. The class teacher can enter the titles of all the subjects covered in the syllabus, then get the students to go online and – adding to and editing each other’s work – complete the information on each subject. That is just one example – there are a whole range of subjects where it could be used.

Where can you combine online tools and learner collaboration to improve the learning experience?

Related blogs

Keep informed about happy workplaces

Sign up to Henry's monthly Happy Manifesto newsletter, full of tips and inspiration to help you to create a happy, engaged workplace.

Sign up here

Learn the 10 core principles to create a happy and productive workplace in Henry Stewart's book, The Happy Manifesto.

Download for free


Henry Stewart, Founder and Chief Happiness Officer

Henry is founder and Chief Happiness Officer of Happy Ltd, originally set up as Happy Computers in 1987. Inspired by Ricardo Semler’s book Maverick, he has built a company which has won multiple awards for some of the best customer service in the country and being one of the UK’s best places to work.

Henry was listed in the Guru Radar of the Thinkers 50 list of the most influential management thinkers in the world. "He is one of the thinkers who we believe will shape the future of business," explained list compiler Stuart Crainer.

His first book, Relax, was published in 2009. His second book, the Happy Manifesto, was published in 2013 and was short-listed for Business Book of the Year.

You can find Henry on LinkedIn and follow @happyhenry on Twitter.

More by Henry

Want to learn more?

Enabling Social and Collective Learning is a highly interactive one-day workshop that equips managers with the principles of social learning and how they can be applied successfully within teams. Contact us for availability and pricing.