Old Wines in New Bottles: New frontiers in Learning

I just visited StraighterLine, got a demo login and went to the course demo. The name StraighterLine suggests that it is a more direct, efficient, economical way to get to what you need – a degree credit. The website has great messaging, good graphics and a slew of the mandatory big brand names as partners, and an impressive array of subject coverage. Do not miss the money back guarantees.

But take a look at the content, please. Take a look at the learning experience. Do people, in this age, really think that good packaging is more important than learning outcomes? When do we wake up and realize that we need to evolve learning experiences so people actually learn effectively online? And build a business plan around that.

It is the same with the (now boring and regular) announcements in the xMOOC space. Every new announcement (witness the last one on student verification/credentialing services by Coursera), seems to be extending the state of art in a revolutionary manner. All it is, is an extension of business models for revenue making opportunities. When was the last (or first) time you heard the xMOOCs making an important pedagogical announcements – “we have built an ABC engine/technique/interaction that ensures XYZ learning skills are encouraged in students”?

The trends for monetization in this “industry” are so boring to watch evolve, that I am tempted to write my own list and watch it pan out over the next two years. There are 7 players – student, teacher, institution, government, employer, providers and for profit company. These 7 players each need a variety of services based on the interactions between them.

A large part of the services are entrenched in offline ways in the existing system and need to be converted online (for a fee mostly). Some of the services that are monetizable are because they exist as part of the new online space itself (i.e. they would not have existed if the medium was offline).

It does not need a rocket scientist to figure out what services can be digitally automated or created anew, and it does not require more than a board room confabulation (with accompanying opportunistic or trial and error based thinking) to figure out which service to monetize first in a disaggregated (and later consolidated) fashion.

Yeah, right. Learning innovation will be counted in terms of business metrics – on how many students placed, on how many dollars made and saved by universities, of how many numbers of people you aggregated on your site so you could monetize irrespective of whether you contributed to learning (apparently Facebook is now charging to send targeted messages, so may be the xMOOCs should learn from them). No wonder the universities are frightened and want part of the bull-rush.

And as Joshua Kim states, providing a more holistic perspective, “Simply grafting a MOOC or an online program or online course on to the existing structure of course development and delivery will prove to be an inadequate an ineffective response to the changing higher ed market.” Like this post on Adjunct Faculty.

I am swiftly coming to the conclusion we are creating a monster. This is our second monster, the first being the current industrial age education system. Except that this new monster will reach a phenomenally large number of people (some of who, from less advantaged groups and countries will have no choice but to accept a lower quality alternative) because of the same reasons it will be made powerful – open-ness, cost efficiency and accessibility. Even in India, we seem to moving policy towards (ahem) institutionalizing this new monster.

3 thoughts on “Old Wines in New Bottles: New frontiers in Learning

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  1. It is not immediately evident what it is that you are trying to convey. I have taken some MOOC courses myself and found that I have benefited by them. I think MOOCs have allowed (at the least in my case) a way to educate oneself and one’s own pace out of interest for learning. This definitely goes against our outdated education system’s tradition of forcing students to sit through classes set to suit the instructor or the institution.

    I may have missed your point entirely!

    On a different note I appreciate your articles on this blog and have blogrolled you for future reference.


    1. Thanks for you appreciation.

      Actually there is a distinction between the much-hyped initiatives being called MOOCs or xMOOCs (like Coursera) and the original ideas of George Siemens, Stephen Downes and Dave Cormier (cMOOCs) and the theory of Connectivism (read more at http://www.elearnspace.org/blog/2012/06/03/what-is-the-theory-that-underpins-our-moocs/).

      I don’t if you experienced it, but CCK08 (Connectivism and Connective Knowledge, 2008) was really the first MOOC. It, and subsequent MOOCs run by George, Stephen and Dave, exemplified a radically different and revolutionary approach to learning.

      When initiatives like Coursera and Udacity happened, they essentially extended the traditional format to the online space, keeping the pedagogy essentially the same as in traditional elearning, except that they accounted for “free”, “open” and “networked”, and also were backed by venture money and effective marketing.

      My post rants against the usurpation of the MOOC moniker by these xMOOC initiatives and is a mark of continuing protest :). MOOCs, as originally conceptualized, do accomplish part of what you are saying (at least the institutional independence piece). What the cMOOCs exemplified was the power of networks in learning (learning as the process of making connections) more than exemplify traditional elearning (learn anywhere, anytime, at your own pace).

      I hope that clarifies the distinction. Do let me know.



  2. Hi Viplav,

    Yes I do understand your point. I think the creators of Coursera are still attempting this networking aspect of MOOCs through their forums and through google hangouts that they schedule. I am not sure this happens with all courses though.

    I am not related to Coursera in any way, except for being a user myself. I am not trying to take sides. I do understand your frustration even if it is over the use of a term for something slightly different from what it should have been.

    Well, I learned something new! Thanks


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