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Weekly Briefing: Pivots, MOOCs and the Difficulties of Change

Watching companies pivot or change their business models can be fascinating.

As an example, Flipboard announced this week that, after four years as a mobile solution, it was finally releasing a web-based product for access via laptops and desktops. The company that redefined the possibilities for mobile news, came to the realization that today's Web is sophisticated enough to support visual and functional complexity without the need for dedicated apps. The result is a larger market of users for Flipboard and, more important, a better and more useful product for those of us who do our research on a variety of computing platforms.

In the world of educational technology, evolving business models seem to be necessary, or at least de rigueur. And whether this is because the education landscape is changing so rapidly, or simply because the process of obtaining funding necessitates business models that are not necessarily meaningful solutions for the current market, the end result is constant evolution. To paraphrase the anti-war protest song "War" by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong:

_____ (your product name), huh yeah
What is it good for?
It used to be _____, oh hoh, oh, but now it's _______

Naturally, these pivots are generally motivated by business opportunity. That's certainly the driving force behind Flat World Knowledge's change from a revolutionary open textbook publisher to a promising CBE platform.

It's also the force behind Coursera's growing partnerships with large companies to create capstone courses, or microdegrees related to Coursera programs.The hope is that having big-brand companies "sponsor" or add their "seal of approval" to Coursera courses will attract learners whose primary motivation is more immediate employment. This is similar to the nanodegree credentials that Udacity offers in alliance with AT&T and Google, and is an attempt by MOOC providers to grow market share by showing the practical relevance of their content.

Of course, it may also be that MOOC companies like Coursera and Udacity have simply realized that is will be difficult to scale their business models through higher education partnerships in the U.S. As the recent Babson report shows, traditional university courses may not be best or the most receptive market opportunity for MOOC companies. With specific regards to MOOCs, the report reveals:

  • The adoption of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) is reaching a plateau, only 8.0% of higher education institutions currently offer one, another 5.6% report MOOCs are in the planning stages.
  • The proportion of academic leaders who believe that MOOCs represent a sustainable method for offering online courses dropped to 16.3%.

Notice, I say "traditional university courses" because these are the core of each institution's teaching mission and are the focus of growing institutional mandates for improving learner engagement and outcomes. Other programs -- graduate, professional, and adult -- continue to show promise as an appropriate fit for a scaled online course model. A good example of such a program is Harvard Business School's online business basics or CORe Readiness program.

The program — which lasts two months at a cost of $1,500 — will be open to applicants around the world, including adult learners out of school up to 10 years and admitted MBA students who want a "boot camp experience."

Yes, our colleges and universities are also evolving and pivoting, in large part because their market is more competitive and their users are more discerning. But changing teaching and learning models is easier said than done. Not surprisingly, since the vast majority of today's professors and instructors "learned" by attending lectures, this remains the predominant form of instruction, in spite of its known limitations and inefficiencies. And, regardless of its pedagogical shortcomings, studies like this one from Harvard Initiative for Teaching and Learning (HILT), show that the model really misses the mark when it comes to student engagement.

10 courses were studied:

  • Only 60% (average) of students attended any given lecture
  • Attendance declined over the semester, from 79% to 43%.
  • Attendance declined over week

If this is such common knowledge, you might ask, why don't we make some changes, mix things up? Why don't we flip more classroom, bring in more blended learning? A recent survey from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation may shed some light on that. While 40 percent of the professors surveyed showed interest in using new teaching techniques or technologies, only half of that group—or 20 percent of the overall survey sample—have actually used them.

And, as Doug Johnson points out, even when we do use new techniques or technology in our instruction, it is not always with the best understanding or outcomes.

I recently walked by a classroom where the teacher was demonstrating how to solve an algebraic equation by writing it out and talking through the steps. On a piece of paper with a pen.


  • Under a $500 document camera
  • Connected to an $800 computer
  • Wired to a mounted $900 projector
  • Displayed on a $1200 interactive white board.
If my math skills are right, that teacher is using $3400 worth of technology to do what could be done using a piece of chalk on an existing chalkboard.

There is also plenty to learn about our apparent resistance to teaching technologies, as well as our possible education futures, by looking at our history. Along those lines, I have really enjoyed Audrey Watters series on the history of teaching machines. Her latest installment, Education Technology and Skinner's Box, is another fascinating look at the hype and reality of technology in education. On a related note, Simon Buckingham Shum has an informative post on the possibilities and hype related to learning analytics, that certainly merits a read.

Finally, I would like to close this week's briefing with a shout out to Lumen Learning's OER Adoption Impact Explorer. As David Wiley explains:

This interactive tool lets users adjust a range of Institutional Settings to match their local context and estimate what the impact of adopting OER would be on their students and campus. Users can also tinker with a group of Research-based Settings to make the estimates more conservative or more aggressive. The goal of the Explorer is to provide OER advocates with rigorously modeled, data-based arguments that they can use in conversations with a wide range of stakeholders (faculty, administration, students, policy makers, etc.).
I think this is technology evolution that almost everyone can agree has tremendous potential benefit for education.


Briefing Resources

After 4 Long Years, Fipboard Conquers the Web -- http://the-digital-reader.com/2015/02/11/5-long-years-flipboard-conquers-web/

Looking Beyond Ebooks, Scribd Bulks up -- http://www.digitalbookworld.com/2015/looking-beyond-ebooks-scribd-bulks-up/

Flat World and CBE: Self-paced does not imply isolation -- http://mfeldstein.com/flatworld-cbe-self-paced-does-not-imply-isolation/

Meet the New, Self-Appointed MOOC Accreditors: Google and Instagram -- http://chronicle.com/blogs/wiredcampus/meet-the-new-self-appointed-mooc-accreditors-google-and-instagram/55807

Coursera sets sights on universities -- http://www.afr.com/p/national/education/coursera_sets_sights_on_universities_YoYzesiG11p0QtnEsDV8pI

Becoming a Mooc -- http://halfanhour.blogspot.com/2015/02/becoming-mooc.html

2014 Survey of Online Teaching -- http://onlinelearningconsortium.org/read/survey-reports-2014/

Babson Study of Online Learning Released -- http://mfeldstein.com/babson-study-online-learning-released/

The current state of online learning: the Babson report -- http://bryanalexander.org/2015/02/09/the-current-state-of-online-learning-the-babson-report/

Harvard Business School takes online basics program wordwide -- http://www.educationdive.com/news/harvard-business-school-takes-online-basics-program-worldwide/362819/

U.S. Postsecondary Faculty in 2015 -- http://postsecondary.gatesfoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/US-Postsecondary-Faculty-in-2015.pdf

Doug Johnson and classroom technology -- http://doug-johnson.squarespace.com/blue-skunk-blog/2015/2/11/the-3400-piece-of-chalk.htm

Education Technology and Skinner's Box -- http://hackeducation.com/2015/02/10/skinners-box/

Learning Analytics: On Silver Bullets and White Rabbits -- https://medium.com/@sbskmi/learning-analytics-on-silver-bullets-and-white-rabbits-a92d202dc7e3?lang=en&uid=0&china_variant=False

What Are the Impacts of Adopting OER? -- http://impact.lumenlearning.com/

The OER Aoption Impact Explorer -- http://opencontent.org/blog/archives/3791

NextThought Studios Staff
About the Author NextThought Studios Staff

The NextThought Studio team offers high-quality post-production services that create positive learning experiences for students, trainees, employees and more. Our varied video production services can help you create solutions that provide optimal information retention and skill acquisition. With expertise in everything from corporate video production to producing educational and learning videos, NextThought Studios can create a video experience to meet any client's needs.


Weekly Briefing: Pivots, MOOCs and the Difficulties of Change

Watching companies pivot or change their business models can be fascinating.

Weekly Briefing: Pivots, MOOCs and the Difficulties of Change

Watching companies pivot or change their business models can be fascinating.

Weekly Briefing: Pivots, MOOCs and the Difficulties of Change

Watching companies pivot or change their business models can be fascinating.