It’s been exactly a year since I first put pen to paper on a side project that I call Open Learn. I have talked to many of my friends about this project and it’s time to actually do something about it! :)
There’s a growing realization of the fact that education is broken, globally. The last few years have seen a lot of interesting developments – from Khan Academy, to Self Organized Learning Environments (SOLE). Most of these efforts are directed towards K12 education which is a great place to start. In fact, there is a study by the Annie E. Casey Foundation that shows the huge importance of early childhood education (3rd grade and below). Performance at the end of 3rd grade is highly correlated to high school graduation.
I believe we are on the right track when it comes to K12 education. Awareness, funding, and effort – all seem to be coming together well to tackle this problem. At least in the more advanced economies – the developing world is a different problem altogether (more on that in a future post).
But, what about learning after high school or, for that matter, even after graduating from college. It’s not like learning stops then. Most of our learning after that point comes naturally from our work. Sometimes, we are pushed to pick up a new skill either because life just demands us to do that (e.g. starting a business, or managing family finances). However, there are several times when we truly want to learn a new skill or topic but don’t have the structured environment (like college) to do so successfully. Some sort of structure can be helpful.
This is where the next group of developments in ed comes in. Platforms like Coursera, Udemy, Skillshare have all sprung up to capitalize on the opportunity the web provides for learning. Some of these platforms end up creating marketplaces for skills, connecting people who can teach a skill and those want to acquire them. Some others are meant for massive open online courses, where anyone can listen in on a university course from anywhere in the world.
Both the marketplaces and the MOOCs have tremendous potential and I hope they continue to change higher/continuous ed for good, but they certainly leave me unsatisfied and even disappointed. Here’s why:
- MOOCs seem to be just supplanting the existing college course experience to an online format, without rethinking the format and structure in which education can be delivered through this new medium. I am still stuck with a 10 week course structure that I must follow along with assignment deadlines, and final exams! No wonder the completion rate on MOOCs is lower than 7% (successful completion rates are likely much lower than that).
- Marketplaces seem to be focused on commercially appealing skills, and with a focus on profit are likely never going to be exhaustive in the kinds of topics they cover.
This is where Open Learn comes along. I believe that we need a much more radical approach to continuous learning:
- Breaking down courses into more manageable pieces. Course structures in college or MOOCs attempt to do this by breaking down content into 1 hour blocks, because that’s the length of a lecture. These arbitrary structures seem counter-productive to me. Yes, there is a natural order in which learning may happen, but it definitely doesn’t need to happen in such a rigid fashion. Why can’t we have 10 minute topics and 2 hour work blocks…?
- Content delivery and timing needs to be more personalized. Colleges and MOOCs still prescribe a 10 to 12 week timeline for a course. Now, I understand that they do so to build a system that scales, but frankly what’s the point of scale when only 7% of the cohort actually completes the course. The benefit of the web is that things can be asynchronous. People can learn at their own pace, so why not let that happen.
- Bringing the best content together. Content comes in many forms – books, videos, blogs, articles, podcasts. Why not use all of those to build a course rather than stick to the typical slides and lecture notes combination?
So, with this set of ideas, I and a couple of friends, have started building OpenLearn – a web based continuous learning platform. We’ll start off with some basic business topics (excel, building a presentation, marketing) and then graduate on to more complicated topics like pricing, valuation, etc. Here’s a sneak peek of what we’re starting off with:
If you like (or dislike) what you see or read here, please do me the favor of writing to me about it – either in the comments below or email me! All three of us are new to building an end-to-end application, so its not going to be easy, but certainly a lot of fun. More on this in the weeks to come.