MOOCs, Motivation, and the Mass Movement toward Open Education

Curtis Bonk led a session about MOOCs at Learning 2012. His slides are available at TrainingShare (this is the direct link). His presentation must have been one of the most insanely paced sessions I have ever been to. That is a compliment by the way.

What is a MOOC? Start here:

Curtis’ presentation consisted of four parts.

Part I. Past Year Recap of MOOC and MOOC Leadership

MOOCs are very much in the news nowadays. For example the conversation with Bill Gates or the Holy Apostles. The Chronicle of Higher Education has a nice timeline and even Newt Gingrich has one. The MOOC that probably got the most attention was Stanford’s class on Artificial Intelligence. Something that I hadn’t heard of before earlier this week is the Floating University.

Daphne Koller’s TED talk was probably the thing about MOOCs that got the most play:

Curtis runs his own MOOCs too. He uses tools like Piazza and Course networking.

If you want to be a leader in the MOOC space then there are a few things you could do. Each of the following points was backed up by some news item or article:

  1. Be first
  2. Offer something novel
  3. Define brand
  4. Take risks
  5. Rethink your classes
  6. Inspire your team
  7. Form partnerships
  8. Offer incentives
  9. Set bold audacious goals
  10. Create media attention
  11. Build on strengths and niche areas
  12. Do not make rash decisions
  13. Be pro-active in addressing concerns
  14. Give something away
  15. Look way ahead
  16. Expanding marketss
  17. Ask questions

Part II. MOOC Instructor Guidelines

Next Bonk discussed a few guidelines for instructors of MOOCs:

  1. Plan and Prepare
  2. Designate Feedback Providers and Tasks
  3. Offer Ample Feedback in Week One
  4. Use Peer, Machine, Volunteer and Self-assessment
  5. Gather geographic data
  6. Use a Warm and Friendly Tone
  7. Form Groups and Social Supports
  8. Arrive early for Sync Session
  9. Allocata Ample time for Questions and Feedback
  10. Share Resources
  11. Personalize
  12. Use Polling Questions
  13. Check Chat Window for Comments and Questions
  14. Reflect After Each Session
  15. Offer Weekly Recaps and Podcasts

Part III. Type of MOOCs

We are alreading seeing a whole set of different MOOCs. His attempt at a typology is here:

  1. Alternative Admissions Systems or Hiring System MOOC
  2. Just-in-Tme Skills and Competencies MOOC
  3. Theory- or Trend-Driven MOOC
  4. Professional Development (practical) MOOC
  5. Loss Leader (dip toe in water) MOOC
  6. Experimental MOOC
  7. Have to look it up
  8. Personality MOOC
  9. Name Branding MOOC
  10. Rotating MOOC
  11. Repeatable MOOC
  12. Reusable MOOC

Part IV. Business models

This was a part that I was interested in. What are the business models behind MOOCs? How can they be sustainable? Bonk has come up with the following (incomplete list):

  1. Advertisements
  2. Small and flexible application/enrollment fee
  3. Course assessment fee
  4. Certificate fee
  5. Enhanced Course Fee
  6. Option for full university credit
  7. Company sponsored
  8. Percent of first year salary (sell companies names and contact details of high performers)
  9. Sell or Lease Courses (for example to community colleges)
  10. Share Revenues

I think he missed an important value driver: the (aggregated) data of all the participants. We already see that university are not calling MOOC participants “students” because they don’t want to have to account to FERPA and I can see universities monetizing that data quite easily as a consequence.

Some more things from Curtis

Curtis has created a set of Creative Commons licensed videos about how to teach online. Well worth a look.

His next book is is about a learning framework that he has titled: TEC-Variety:

TEC-Variety Model

TEC-Variety Model

Finally check out his book: The World is Open:

The World is Open

The World is Open

Notes on the Monday Morning General Session at Masie’s Learning 2012

The first general session at Learning 2012 on Monday started with the two writers of the Webinar Manifesto (which is available for free as a Kindle e-book for the next two days and is a project by FranklinCovey). They discussed some of the seven principles of the manifesto:

  1. Connect or Die
  2. Don’t Default
  3. Shut Down the Ugly
  4. Captivate or Alienate
  5. Humanize the Screen
  6. Crack the Feedback Code
  7. Cage the Monsters
Webinar Manifesto

The Webinar Manifesto

These statements sound quite cryptic and will probably require reading the book to understand them better. Masie added that we should stop fixating on the one hour length of the webinar. If there is less content to discuss, then why not make it much shorter?

I recently tried out my own innovative way of doing an in-house webinar with 25-40 people attending. I turned it into what I termed a socratic webinar. Instead of showing slides and telling a story I created a set of rules for interaction, had four well-prepared questions and used the LiveMeeting feedback status to allow people to tell me they wanted to speak. For the first time ever I had the majorty of the participants engage in some real thinking and conversation. I am convinced most of them where not reading their email at the same time. Let me know if you are interested to hear more.

Next up was Ken Davenport. He is an innovative Broadway producer and marketeer. He sees storytelling as something that actually gets a physical response from people. The most interesting topic he and Elliott talked about was the level of detail that is put into a Broadway show. Every single part of those worlds is designed. This is something that I have advocated should also apply to the learning experiences we design. The new en-vogue term for this is that we need to become Learning Producers rather than Learning Designers. I don’t think I agree, I would probably prefer Learning Directors or Learning Architects. Davenport sees a “YouTube-ization” of American entertainment: we want our entertainment in bite-sized chunks. He is trying to get his industry to adapt to that.

Cindy D’Aoust is from the Meeting Professionals International (MPI). She talked with Elliott about the changes in the world of meetings. Meetings have a much shorter lead time than they used to have in the past. There is less focus on executional logistics (food, temperature, location) and more on what it can do for people.

Susan Cain has written the book Quiet about introverts. She has done a TED talks about the topic:

Most people think that they are more extroverted than they really are. This is because we live in a society that tells us we should be extroverts. She thinks that introverts make up about one third to a half of the US population. To do good creative work you don’t just need to be collaborative, you also need to cultivate solitude. This is something we barely ever still do. In her book she talks about the “cult of openness” and she has a chapter on the problems with things like open office spaces. The most effective teams are a mix of introverts and extroverts. She believes that this is the next great diversity issue of our time. We are at the dawn of the quiet revolution: introverts are where women were in the fifties. We innately focus on the people who are the good talkers rather than look at the substance. There is some evidence that introverts are better at leading pro-active people than extroverts. This is because introverts can let pro-active people run with their ideas. Laptops and mobile phones are great devices for introverts because they allows us to communicate with hundreds or thousands of people without having to get on stage. There is a cultural dimension to this question. In Confucian societies “group harmony” is an important concept (so people “humble themselves”). This means that we sometimes get misunderstanding between people from a Confucian culture when they have to interact with people from an extrovert society. It was refreshing to have a speaker who actually likes to talk on the basis of research rather than on their own opinion. Interesting book, it is on my wishlist now.

The final speaker for the morning was Curtis Bonk who has written a book that I would have like to have written myself: The World Is Open: How Web Technology Is Revolutionizing Education (he also rocks a hairstyle from a different decade). Their main topic was MOOCs: Massive Open Online Courses. I have written about these quite often before, so a lot of this wasn’t new to me. An interesting part of their discussion had to do with assessment. Curtis thinks our CVs will consist of two parts in the future: one that reflects your formal and certified education, but also with a part that reflects the things you have done outside of the formal system. MOOCs have not really taken off in corporations yet. Curtis will talk about different business models around MOOCs in a session later in the day. Elliott encourages us to think of Open Learning not as something that only the weirdos do. It is not just a countercultural term.

Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012 – Opening Night

I am one of the masses

I am one of the masses

These few days I (and 1600 others) will be attending Elliott Masie’s Learning 2012. I will be hosting a session with Marcel de Leeuwe and will be blogging about what I see.

The opening evening started with Lisa Nicole Wilkerson singing Defying Gravity, one of the themes of the conference.

Masie then made a comparison between how we watch television nowadays (everything on-demand and personalized) and how we do learning today (not quite there yet). So one of the themes is personalized learning. Another challenge that he sees is what he calls the Learning Mix: mixing live events with on-demand events. One more theme is Learning Together (he doesn’t like the term “Social Learning”). In this domain Masie touched my heart by talking about SharePoint “as a technology without a methodology”. A final theme will be Learning Everywhere.

The first keynote speaker was Richard Culatta. I first met him at this conference in 2008 when he was still at the CIA and presenting in the “trenches” of the conference. His career has progressed and he was now on the main stage. A lot of the conversation was quite obvious (at least for me), but I liked the short discussion about how learners will necessarily become designers. Richard also made a plea for there to be more “edupreneurs” and has started a MOOC, Ed Startup 101, to help this process. I’d be curious to hear his thoughts about the debatable role of VC capital in the educational world (see here and here).

Elizabeth Bryant from Southwest Airlines came to pick up a “Spotlight” award. Elizabeth talked about the learning centralization journey at Southwest.

Masie has started a program titled 30 under Thirty. All 32 of them (don’t ask) came on stage and talked a little bit about what drives them. They will be doing “reverse mentoring” at the event. Interesting concept!

Jenny Zhu of ChinesePod fame came to talk about the Masie Asia Project. This seems to be Masie’s attempt at getting a foothold in the fast-growing learning market in the East. I like Zhu’s post on 10 Chinese words that don’t have an English equivalent.

Lisa Pedrogo from CNN got a Masie award a few years back for her work with video in the learning space. Elliott shot a little video of her. He apparently did not get the memo about how to shoot video with a phone (from here, with a thank you to Marcel de Leeuwe for sharing it with me):

How to shoot video with your phone

How to shoot video with your phone

Lisa discussed how we shouldn’t make video more difficult than it really is. You shouldn’t be scared of using it and you should just have fun.

The final speaker of the night was Rahul Varma, the Chief Learning Officer of Accenture. It is interesting to see that Accenture has chosen somebody based in the East to head up learning for them. This probably has to do with the fact that the country with the most of their employees is India. He also talked about what he termed the talent challenge: how the rate of talent development will not keep pace with the growth of the emerging markets.

Finally, one interesting element of the conference is the Real-Time track comprising 15% of the scheduled content at the conference. This is explicit time and space for people to organize their own events. I will try to visit at least one of these events to see if and how they are working.

Werken = Leren & Leren ≠ Werken

Today I keynoted the Dutch Moodlemoot (mootnl12). I talked about how current times force us to let go of curricula, why it is more important than anything else to teach students how to learn, what it means to work in a knowledge society (work becomes synonymous with learning) and what this might mean for a virtual learning environment like Moodle. Unfortunately this talk was in Dutch and so will be the accompanying blogpost.

De slides van het praatje staan op Slideshare, maar zijn ook als PDF te downloaden.

Hieronder, ongeveer op volgorde van de presentatie, links naar achtergrond informatie:

De organisaties waar ik als vrijwilliger voor werk zijn Bits of Freedom, helden en strijders voor digitale burgerrechten en de Nederlandse chapter van de Internet Society.

Mijn leesgedrag is te volgen via Goodreads en Daytum.

Al mijn blogposts die met Moodle te maken hebben zijn via deze link te bekijken. Eerdere presentaties staan allemaal online bij Slideshare.

Het fantastische boek Teaching as a Subversive Activity staat in zijn geheel online.

De Open Schoolgemeenschap Bijlmer is een school waar een aantal van de jaren zeventig onderwijs-idealen nog hoog in het vaandel staan.

Het Peter Drucker Institure is een goed beginpunt om wat meer over de grote business denker te weten te komen. Probeer ook zijn Wikipedia pagina. Alle quotes in de presentatie komen uit het boek Management.

De Wikipedia pagina over het Cynefin framework legt goed uit wat het is. Harold Jarche heeft een ijzersterke blogpost geschreven waarin hij dat framework toepast op leren en daar vergaande conclusies voor organisaties uit trekt. Lees ook zijn drie principes voor “net work”.

Ben Goertzel is de “transhumanist” die in A Cosmist Manifesto erg ver vooruitblikt (naar een post-singularity wereld).

Meer informatie over de pedagogiek van Moodle staat in de Moodle Docs.

Het artikel over Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) is een goede inleiding. Zelf heb ik actief meegedaan aan de Learning Analytics MOOC. De Moodle discussie over corporate use-cases van analytics vind je hier.

Twee voorbeelden van mijn eigen leer-experimenten zijn de grassroot leesgroep over het Learning in 3D boek en de workshop op de Online Educa over Learning Scenarios. Allebei deze sites zijn gemaakt met WordPress.

Scott Jenson had jaren zijn eigen design consultancy and werkt nu als Lead UI Designer for Mobile bij Google. Hij weet dus waar hij het over heeft. Zijn boek The Simplicity Shift staat integraal als PDF online.

Drupal kent al een tijdje het concept van distributions. Moodle heeft misschien met de Flavours plugin al een beetje hetzelfde in huis.

Reflecting on South by Southwest (SxSW) 2012

SxSW: The Place to Be (photo CC-licensed by Debbs)

SxSW: The Place to Be (photo CC-licensed by Debbs)

It has been a few months since I attended SxSW in Austin. Time to do a bit of reflection and see which things have stuck with me as major takeaways and trends to remember.

Let me start by saying that going there has changed the way I think about learning and technology in many tacit ways that are hard to describe. That must have something to do with the techno-optimism, the incredible scale/breadth and the inclusive atmosphere. I will definitely make it a priority to go there again. The following things made me think:

Teaching at scale

One thing that we are now slowly starting to understand is how to do things at scale. Virtualized technology allows us to cooperate and collaborate in groups that are orders of magnitude larger than groups coming together in a physical space. The ways of working inside these massive groups are different too.

Wikipedia was probably one of the first sites that showed the power of doing things at this new scale (or was it Craigslist?). Now we have semi-commercial platforms like or hyper-commercial platforms like Facebook that are leveraging the same type of affordances.

The teaching profession is now catching on too. From non-commercial efforts like MOOCs and the Peer 2 Peer university to initiatives springing from major universities: Stanford’s AI course, Udacity, Coursera, MITx to the now heavily endowed Khan Academy: all have found ways to scale a pedagogical process from a classroom full of students to audiences of tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands. They have now even become mainstream news with Thom Friedman writing about them in the New York Times (conveniently forgetting to mention the truly free alternatives).

I don’t see any of this in Corporate Learning Functions yet. The only way we currently help thousands of staff learn is through non-facilitated e-learning modules. That paradigm is now 15-20 years old and has not taken on board any of the lessons that the net has taught us. Soon we will all agree that this type of e-learning is mostly ineffectual and thus ultimately also non-efficient. The imperative for change is there. Events like the Jams that IBM organize are just the beginning of new ways of learning at the scale of the web.

Small companies creating new/innovative practices

The future of how we will soon all work is already on view in many small companies around the world. Automattic blew my mind with their global fully distributed workforce of slightly over a hundred people. This allows them to truly only hire the best people for the job (rather than the people who live conveniently close to an office location). All these people need to start being productive is a laptop with an Internet connection.

Automattic has also found a way to make sure that people feel connected to the company and stay productive: they ask people to share as much as possible what it is they are doing (they called it “oversharing”, I would call it narrating your work). There are some great lessons there for small global virtual teams in large companies.

The smallest company possible is a company of one. A few sessions at SxSW focused on “free radicals”. These are people who work in ever-shifting small project groups and often aren’t very bounded to a particular location. These people live what Charles Handy, in The Elephant and The Flea, called a portfolio lifestyle. They are obviously not on a career track with promotions, instead they get their feedback, discipline and refinement from the meritocratic communities and co-working spaces they work in.

Personally I am wondering whether it is possible to become a free radical in a large multinational. Would that be the first step towards a flatter, less hierarchical and more expertise-based organization? I for one wouldn’t mind stepping outside of my line (and out of my silo) and finding my own work on the basis of where I can add the most value for the company. I know this is already possible in smaller companies (see the Valve handbook for an example). It will be hard for big enterprises to start doing this, but I am quite sure we will all end up there eventually.


One trend that is very recognizable for me is hyperspecialization. When I made my first website around 2000, I was able to quickly learn everything there was to know about building websites. There were a few technologies and their scope was limited. Now the level of specialization in the creation of websites is incredible. There is absolutely no way anybody can be an expert in a substantial part of the total field. The modern-day renaissance man just can’t exist.

Transaction costs are going down everywhere. This means that integrated solutions and companies/people who can deliver things end-to-end are losing their competitive edge. As a client I prefer to buy each element of what I need from a niche specialist, rather then get it in one go from somebody who does an average job. Topcoder has made this a core part of their business model: each project that they get is split up into as many pieces as possible and individuals (free radicals again) bid on the work.

Let’s assume that this trends towards specialization will continue. What would that mean for the Learning Function? One thing that would become critical is your ability to quickly assess expertise. How do you know that somebody who calls themselves and expert really is one? What does this mean for competency management? How will this affect the way you build up teams for projects?

Evolution of the interface

Everybody was completely focused on mobile technology at SxSW. I couldn’t keep track of the number of new apps I’ve seen presented. Smartphones and tablets have created a completely new paradigm for interacting with our computers. We have all become enamoured with touch-interfaces right now and have bought into the idea that a mobile operating system contains apps and an appstore (with what I like to call the matching “update hell”).

Some visionaries were already talking about what lies beyond the touch-based interface and apps (e.g. Scott Jenson and Amber Case. More than one person talked about how location and other context creating attributes of the world will allow our computers to be much smarter in what they present to us. Rather than us starting an app to get something done, it will be the world that will push its apps on to us. You don’t have to start the app with the public transport schedule anymore, instead you will be shown the schedule as soon as you arrive at the bus stop. You don’t start Shazam to capture a piece of music, but your phone will just notify you of what music is playing around you (and probably what you could be listening to if you were willing to switch channel). Social cues will become even stronger and this means that cities become the places for what someone called “coindensity” (a place with more serendipity than other places).

This is likely to have profound consequences for the way we deliver learning. Physical objects and location will have learning attached to them and this will get pushed to people’s devices (especially when the systems knows that your certification is expired or that you haven’t dealt with this object before). You can see vendors of Electronic Performance Support Systems slowly moving into this direction. They are waiting for the mobile infrastructure to be there. The one thing we can start doing from today is to make sure we geotag absolutely everything.

One step further are brain-computer interfaces (commanding computers with pure thought). Many prototypes already exist and the first real products are now coming to market. There are many open questions, but it is fascinating to start playing with the conceptual design of how these tools would work.


Every time I go to any learning-related conference I come back with the same thought: I should really focus more on storytelling. At SxSW there was a psychologist making this point again. She talked about our tripartite brain and how the only way to engage with the “older” (I guess she meant Limbic) parts of our brain is through stories. Her memorable quote for me was: “You design for people. So the psychology matters.”

Just before SxSW I had the opportunity to spend two days at the amazing Applied Minds. They solve tough engineering problems, bringing ideas from concept to working prototype (focusing on the really tough things that other companies are not capable of doing). What was surprising is that about half of their staff has an artistic background. They realise the value of story. I’m convinced there is a lot to be gained if large engineering companies would start to take their diversity statements seriously and started hiring writers, architects, sculptors and cineasts.

Open wins again

Call it confirmation bias (my regular readers know I always prefer “open”), but I kept seeing examples at SxSW where open technology beats closed solutions. My favourite example was around OpenStreetMap: companies have been relying on Google Maps to help them out with their mapping needs. Many of them are now starting to realise how limiting Google’s functionality is and what kind of dependence it creates for them. Many companies are switching to Open Street Map. Examples include Yahoo (Flickr), Apple and Foursquare.

Maybe it is because Google is straddling the line between creating more value than they capture and not doing that: I heartily agree with Tim O’Reilly and Doc Searl‘s statements at SxSW that free customers will always create more value than captured ones.

There is one place where open doesn’t seem to be winning currently and that is in the enterprise SaaS market. I’ve been quite amazed with the mafia like way in which Yammer has managed to acquire its customers: it gives away free accounts and puts people in a single network with other people in their domain. Yammer maximizes the virality and tells people they will get more value out of Yammer if they invite their colleagues. Once a few thousand users are in the network large companies have three options:

  1. Don’t engage with Yammer and let people just keep using it without paying for it. This creates unacceptable information risks and liability. Not an option.
  2. Tell people that they are not allowed to use Yammer. This is possible in theory, but would most likely enrage users, plus any network blocks would need to be very advanced (blocking Yammer emails so that people can’t use their own technology to access Yammer). Not a feasible option.
  3. Bite the bullet and pay for the network. Companies are doing this in droves. Yammer is acquiring customers straight into a locked-in position.

SaaS-based solutions are outperforming traditional IT solutions. Rather than four releases a year (if you are lucky), these SaaS based offerings release multiple times a day. They keep adding new functionality based on their customers demands. I have an example of where a SaaS based solution was a factor 2000 faster in implementation (2 hours instead of 6 months) and a factor 5000 cheaper ($100 instead of $500,000) than the enterprise IT way of doing things. The solution was likely better too. Companies like Salesforce are trying very hard to obsolete the traditional IT department. I am not sure how companies could leverage SaaS without falling in another lock-in trap though.

Resource constraints as an innovation catalyst

One lesson that I learned during my trip through the US is that affluence is not a good situation to innovate from. Creativity comes from constraints (this is why Arjen Vrielink and I kept constraining ourselves in different ways for our Parallax series). The African Maker “Safari” at SxSW showed what can become possible when you combine severe resource constraints with regulatory whitespace. Make sure to subscribe to Makeshift Magazine if you are interested to see more of these type of inventions and innovations.

I believe that many large corporations have too much budget in their teams to be really innovative. What would it mean if you wouldn’t cut the budget with 10% every year, but cut it with 90% instead? Wouldn’t you save a lot of money and force people to be more creative? In a world of abundance we will need to limit ourselves artificially to be able to deliver to our best potential.

Education ≠ Content

There is precious few people in the world who have a deep understanding of education. My encounter with Venture Capitalists at SxSW talking about how to fix education did not end well. George Siemens was much more eloquent in the way that he described his unease with the VCs. Reflecting back I see one thing that is most probably at the root of the problem: most people still equate education/learning to content. I see this fallacy all around me: It is the layperson’s view on learning. It is what drives people to buy Learning Content Management Systems that can deliver to mobile. It is why we think that different Virtual Learning Environments are interchangeable. This is why we think that creating a full curriculum of great teachers explaining things on video will solve our educational woes. Wrong!

My recommendation would be to stop focusing on content all together (as an exercise in constraining yourself). Who will create the first contentless course? Maybe Dean Kamen is already doing this. He wanted more children with engineering mindsets. Rather than creating lesson plans for teacher he decided to organise a sport- and entertainment based competition (I don’t how successful he is in creating more engineers with this method by the way).

That’s all

So far for my reflections. A blow-by-blow description of all the sessions I attended at SxSW is available here.