Friday, June 14, 2013

Bubbles

Bubbles by Stellajo1976, on Flickr
Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License  by Stellajo1976

Day 2 of the conference ended in a euphoric high with the closing keynotes. However I would like to take a step or two back and reflect on a remark from a session I attended. There's been a lot of talk about tsunamis, revolution, disruption and other radical terms of major upheaval in education. But let's just remember that we've been here before several times.

At the end of the 1990s the dotcom boom was in full flight and e-learning was on everyone's lips. It was going to completely change the education system and large scale online universities started springing up all over the world and established universities rushed to start offering online courses and degree programmes. Then came the crash and online learning got more integrated into the traditional system and we returned to business as usual, though with a few new elements and a few lessons learned. The system got a fright but then the innovations were absorbed and the threat of revolution was averted.

Don't get me wrong, I believe that we are in a period of exciting change and see the promise of a new focus on learning with technology as a powerful tool. But I also think it's dangerous to underestimate the power of tradition and that we're challenging established business models that will fight back. Already the openness of the mainstream MOOC market is being diluted as they develop into franchising deals for digital course material with full copyright on everything. The truly open and innovative initiatives such as OER University, Peer 2 Peer University and the original connectivist MOOCs are virtually never mentioned though they all continue to operate within a limited but enthusiastic and creative community.

We need to feel inspired and euphoric as we did yesterday but we also need to question and test our ideas critically. We need to remember not to put too much trust in big name companies whose aim is of course to provide return on investment. Coursera and all the others are still evolving and the model is clearly that of freemium, not free. You give away a bit for free to persuade people to buy the premium version. Let's remember the past and beware of bubbles.

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