What the MOOC should become

What the MOOC should become

Note: This post originally appeared on DigitalJournal.com. It has been re-posted here with permission from the author.

The end of the MOOC is significantly closer than more people realize or care to believe. It has been, charitably, a failed experiment, one at which some people threw a lot of money and to which were pinned far too many hopes.

It’s worth reminding ourselves that MOOC is the acronym for Massive Open Online Course, and that—all of that—is precisely what’s wrong with it. Massive hasn’t worked because it never should have been about scope and size. The best path to massive in education is local. Through local, things can be more actively nurtured and grow from small to large if they have the right stuff to gain traction. That’s how movements in education are formed. What will replace the M of Massive is the P of Personal, mass being overwritten and overridden by humanity in the form of the user.

The first O in MOOC is for Open. Open is seriously overrated, and always has been. Open is a softer version of free and both of them will spend a lifetime trying and failing to clear the essential hurdle of brand perception. Yes, open and free are both, fundamentally, brands, and, worse, they’re brands of very low net value. The first O in POOL is for Outstanding. What we all want are things that are curated and bespoke, and what we don’t want are things that are generic. The idea that I can get online for the same MOOC class as tens of thousands of others around the world and consume the same content doesn’t appeal to me at all. What I want is, well, what I want. And when I don’t know what I want, I want it to be presented to me in a package that at least feels personal. While the MOOC is impersonal, the POOL is truly outstanding personalized content. It’s what I want.

The second O in MOOC is Online, and that remains, but with a twist. The notion of the O MOOC was online in isolation. The O in POOL is also online but as a vehicle rather than as the end point. As I wrote a year ago in a piece about how Starbucks could and should have won the MOOC game, the secret sauce is about community. So the POOL will be online but part of the P is actually community. Like the kind of community where you can physically sit down and discuss what you’re doing a coffee, maybe have a couple bowls of pho and talk about what you’re struggling with in your reading (yes, actual reading, not simply sitting in front of an asynchronous lecture), what you really appreciate, and what simply doesn’t resonate. Like that.

Aron Solomon, senior advisor of education technology at MaRS.

The C in MOOC is for Courses. We don’t care about courses. We care about Learning, the final letter in POOL. A course is a shell. Into said shell, you can dump content. But the day that content was king is so long gone you can’t even see it in the rear view mirror. Content is beyond ubiquitous and most of it is deeply awful. I’ve built bad content and I’ve build good content. Trust me – there’s a tangible difference. One assumes that the goal of a MOOC was for learners to learn, but that thread was lost ages ago. It fell prey to openness and a race to recoup many x-es of returns on investments that more than likely won’t ever break even. It became an educational sausage making-machine, with a need to keep pushing virtual human meat into the top end of the funnel, and you honestly can’t do this with a focus on real, actual, learning.

The real difference between the Massive Open Online Course and Personal Outstanding Online Learning is actually you. One is focused on the process of taking something that was personal and making it ubiquitous. And one will pride itself on coupling the unbelievable evolution of technology with the opportunity to make learning more real and relevant for many more people—people like you—so that they will be incented to complete the learning they were so open about being excited to begin.

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