As I started to discuss last week, new hot product categories getting lots of investor attention (such as EdTech) tend to attract entrepreneurs ready to play a mediating role between consumers and new technology products (such as MOOCs).
And one of the pleasures of being a writer/researcher working in a trendy field is that I get to hear from a number of people trying to carve out a niche for themselves by finding creative ways to fill holes in the current MOOC ecosystem.
The new companies that have been sprouting up tend to fall into distinct BEFORE, DURING and AFTER categories.
The BEFORE space is becoming the most crowded, with different new sites designed to help students locate and make sense of new educational resources. For instance, companies such as Redhoop, Mindboot, Get Educated and MOOC Advisor are acting as portals or aggregators, providing a single location where learners can go to find courses on particular topics that cut across educational vendors.
These sites also try to provide students with information about individual courses. While some of the descriptive information they include is simply cut and pasted from the originating course website, bulletin board functionality can open the way to crowdsourced reviews of individual courses. And while we wait for crowdsourced input to add up to something useful, sites like MOOC News and Reviews provide formal course reviews written by students who have participated in a class (including me).
Recently, I’ve seen a number of services crop up designed to add additional support to students or groups of students thinking of enrolling in an online class. For example, Coursepods recruits tutors that can support individuals or learning groups enrolled in a specific course. Pathgather, a new site still in beta, tries to create socially networked communities around courses that can give students their own learning cohort, outside the overcrowded course discussion boards. And MOOC Campus is actually providing a physical location where students using free learning tools can live and study together.
In the DURING category, two student activities crying out for support are note taking and discussion.
Udemy already has simple note-taking functionality built into their systems, and I recently saw a MyNotes option appear in my edX dashboard (meaning it’s just a matter of time before this capability is standard on all MOOC platforms).
And for those looking for something more sophisticated (or something available now), products such as Evernote can be leveraged for note-taking during an online class (as could any text-editing program such as Google Docs or even Microsoft Word). Meanwhile, my favorite example of a note tracking application is something a fellow MOOC enthusiast built for himself which you can check out at his Learn Tracker site.
Discussion is another area crying out for innovation. As I’ve commented previously, the discussion forums within my MOOC courses can be valuable components of the learning experience, but their sheer size means it’s difficult for thoughtful comments to rise above the general din.
I’ve been in touch with one group that has an innovative discussion application in the works. And the aforementioned sites designed to allow students to join a class as an independent learning cohort might provide a platform to allow smaller group discussion among students with comparable levels of interest and commitment to a specific class (helping to generate some of the intimacy everyone admits is a missing factor in massive open classes).
As for what happens AFTER a class has been completed, the learning portfolio companies I mentioned earlier (Accredible and Degreed) provide different ways students can aggregate evidence of what they’ve learned using non-traditional learning methods. I’m planning to put what I’ve been studying into both of these platforms over the summer, which should give me a chance to kick the tires on each system, as well as provide a means to signal my learning when this Degree of Freedom project is completed.
Meanwhile, Kaplan University has created its own “mini-MOOC” designed to educate students as to how they can create a learning portfolio that can potentially be evaluated for college credit equivalency.
What all of these innovations have in common is that they have identified a gap in the alternative-learning continuum which technology and innovation allows them to fill. But like MOOCs themselves, many of these projects have been undertaken by companies in search of a sustainable business model. And since businesses tend to succeed or fail based on numerical information, “the numbers” is a subject to which I’ll be turning to tomorrow.