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The future of social learning

October 22, 2013

Education delivered via the web has the potential to reach broad audiences inexpensively and quickly. Technology has progressed to the point where it is easy for individuals and organizations to make education available, and easy for students of all kinds to consume it. Providers such as Khan Academy, Coursera, edX, and Udacity take online education to a new level, coordinating quality offerings from a variety of reputable sources to build libraries of courses, as well as amassing treasure troves of data about the offerings and the people who participate.

I appreciate the innovation, in technical delivery as well as in the business model of making learning available to a wider audience. But the innovation can’t stop here. The learning model is still largely one of “one to many”, that is, an expert delivering expertise to an audience. The goal should be true social learning, involving networks of experts who share expertise and learn from each other.

I’m enrolled in a free online course via Coursera this fall, getting educated on a new topic, but mostly wanting to experience first hand what the learning environment is like. I have a lot of experience designing instruction for online delivery, delivering instruction in person and online, and in managing online communities. Midway through the semester-long course, I’m satisfied with the delivery from the experts – they’re knowledgeable, clear, and engaging (even funny at times). The modules are designed well, with frequent breaks for validation and retention, and the production quality delivered over my high-speed internet is very good. The forums are lively and the community is encouraged to form study groups online (Google Hangouts, QQ, etc) as well as off line, using meetups.

But I’m not all that engaged. I’m missing what I love about learning and collaborating and sharing expertise: a connection with the people who are also learning. I have participated in thousands of hours of online group learning and the active engagement of people during the learning matters to me. And I suspect to others too; 44% of those who sign up for massive open online courses (MOOCs) do not finish (source).

I will finish the course, and take other courses too. There’s too much promise here to ignore. The initial results of educational reach are promising, and the ability to collect data to improve the offerings can make a real difference in delivery. To be a truly game changing innovation, though, massive online education must continue to iterate toward the goal of creating networks of experts who can share knowledge in their own communities.

From → Social Learning

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