A Ton Has Changed in Online Learning
Phase One – When the first online courses were produced, I'm talking about the ones we heard about, they were Universities that were pushing course content online. I remember being amazed at what was happening in public while I was working on online courseware for Berkeley Lab. But that's not where online courses stayed. There's been a shift in eLearning.
Phase Two – We then saw the platforms that were created for course creators. You know them all:
Phase Two B – Followed by the second wave of platforms like:
And of course all the WordPress products we know:
The Shift in eLearning
Across all of phase two we saw powerful tools for course creators.
But we also discovered new problems.
We were no longer asking course instructors to be domain experts (like in phase one). Instead, we were also asking them to take on at least four other roles:
- Price Expert
- Technical Support
And all of that work still created some challenges.
Yes, course creators enjoyed the reality of generating revenue (which wasn't really a part of phase one platforms), but the work-all-day-and-night wasn't delivering the “earn money while you sleep” dynamic they'd hoped for.
The shift in eLearning went from professional educators to any course creator with a specialty, and from platforms that weren't designed to earn money to ones that were.
But the other shift was from courses that were getting completed to courses that had horrible completion rates.
Note: I don't necessarily believe that completion rates are the holy grail. But I know that it will be very hard to get someone to buy anything else from you if they never took the first course they paid for.
And then, over the last year, another shift in eLearning started happening…
Have You Been Watching the edtech Headlines?
Here are four announcements you might have already seen that are hailing the shift in eLearning:
- Nov 2020: As edtech crowds up, Campuswire bets big on real-time learning
- Feb 2021: Virtually: All-in-One Program for Conducting Online Classes
- Mar 2021: Disco, the pioneering platform for creators to build live virtual learning experiences closes oversubscribed $4.75M round
- May 2021: a16z bets millions on Maven, a platform for cohort-based courses
Everybody is getting into live virtual learning. Not watching a set of video lessons. Live, cohort-based courses.
Why are these cohort-based courses better?
Let Me Tell You a Story
Years ago I signed up for a blogging course by Chris Brogan. I already knew who Chris was and had been a member of the Third Tribe (with Brian Clark and Sonia Simone).
But this blogging course was interesting because Chris promised to read, review, and critique every homework assignment from each student.
I thought, “That's insane and will never scale. I can't believe he's going to do this, I need to sign up just to see how he does it.”
Not shockingly, after a week the program changed and everyone was peer reviewing everyone's work.
Why? Because there just wasn't enough hours in Chris' day to do what he had offered. At least not at the Chris Brogan level.
So instead he taught people how to review each other's work and the course went on. And it was a great course that drove me to start writing daily, which is something I'll always attribute back to Chris.
Why is that story important?
It's critical because the only way people learn is with feedback. It's not watching videos that makes you smarter. It's having someone check your work. And if online learning is going to succeed, it requires feedback loops.
And that's why this shift in eLearning to include time-based, cohort-driven courses is so critical.
We're entering the third phase of Online Courses.
What Does This Mean For Us?
I just finished a week-long training with people (live and in-person) at my newest conference. While it's not exactly the same thing, I came away with three observations that I think apply here and predict what we all need to be focused on as we create courses in this new world.
First, it's critical that we invite course students to not only be the learner but also someone who provides feedback to everyone else.
Second, success will require commitment – which will be different because unlike publishing a group of videos that anyone can watch at anytime, this is more like the old classrooms that we were moving away from. There's a time and a place to meet. And students have to make a commitment to that.
Lastly, I think we'll see a higher rate of course completion. While everyone at my event did their own homework, and helped everyone else, no one failed. Because it really wasn't an option. The nature of cohort-based courses is that if you're there, you're working. And that means you can't really NOT make progress.
I'm excited to see how this all plays out….I hope you are too!