Friday, April 11, 2014

MOOCs: Coursera moves towards massive revenues on certification

For all of those who say that MOOCs can’t be monetized, Coursera’s Signature Track is proving them wrong. After 700 years, Universities still struggle with monetization and funding models and most would agree that the current systems in the developed world are in a mess, of not broken. Here’s a system that not only matches demand with supply, but provides a way to match payment to product. Not only that, the cost for the course is free at the point of delivery, and because so many participate, it’s dirt cheap for assessment and certification.
Real revenues
Coursera took one year to hit $1 million on revenues from certification, 3 months to hit $2 million (Feb 14) and now report $4 million (Apr 14), that’s $2 million in the following two months. Impressive compound growth. This has been achieved through their Coursera certificate track, which, at $30-$100 per course, has seen an average 1.2% conversion rate double up to the current average of 2.4%, giving them $4 mlllion, driven by demand from employers. Note this last observation – ‘driven by employers’.
Employer demand
This week also saw some interesting research from Duke on the positive attitudes employers have towards MOOCs. This is important, as this is the sort of demand that seems to be fueling the unending interest in MOOCs. Despite what the nay-sayers say, people keep on taking them and keep on making them.
Coursera’s Signature Track
What makes Coursera’s Signature Track sing, is the cleverness of the software, not human assessment.
Biometric typing
When you register for Signature Track, you do some typing on your keyboard and it records your typing pattern, a sort of ‘fingersprint’. This is smart and it works.
Webcam photo
In addition, you take a picture of yourself on your webcam. Easy.
Photo of ID
You then take a webcam photo of your picture ID (driver's license, passport, national ID card, state or province ID card and international ID documents).These photos are securely stored and deleted once your identity is confirmed.  When you submit coursework you submit a matching typing sample and photograph to confirm your identity. This leads to a verified certificate. You’ve got to admit that this is getting places. In addition, you can also take a proctored exam, online or offline.
Shareable course records
On top of this, there’s Sharable Course Records, where you can share your electronic course records with employers, educational institutions, or anyone else through a unique, secure URL. Note that word ‘employers’ sneaking in.
Financial aid
There’s even some money available if you can show real need.
Sequenced MOOCs
Both Coursera and EdX also offer certification for sequences of MOOCs. This is interesting as it is a direct challenge to the traditional degree. Rather than wait for the system to accept them, they’re creating their own ecosystem of acceptance. Way to go.
MOOCs are proving to be a vast sandbox for real world experiments and research. The fact that they are ‘Massive’ helps, as they have the numbers. The fact that they are driven towards real world success, and not just the publication of paper research gives them the imperative to get things done. Right across the board, MOOCs are showing us some interesting new strategic models, such as ‘free at point of delivery’ and ‘openness’ as well as tactical advances, such as new ways to do video for learning, P2P review and online assessment.

But what is really interesting is the matching of learners with employers. Thrun may have been the first to spot the fact that MOOCs are not about HE but people who want real skills and personal development. Thrun and Norvig, were not academics, and understand what the real world needs in terms of highly skilled people. The fact that Coursera, Udacity and EdX have all been properly capitalised gives them a real advantage in terms of platform development, innovation and marketing. My fear is that Futurelearn didn’t learn that lesson and built what looks like a rather thin platform, while European efforts, like EMMA, seem structured to fail, with too many inexperienced partners in too many countries doing too many pilots.

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Wednesday, April 09, 2014

MOOCs: Research (Duke) shows employers love ‘em

Despite the sneers from a minority of academics, people continue to make and take them. The MOOC phenomenon is clearly driven by demand, and we can now add ‘employer needs’ to that demand.
Positive reactions
Research from Duke University and RTI International, funded by the Gates Foundation, shows that employers are positive about MOOCs for recruitment, hiring and professional development. In ‘The Employer Potential of MOOCs  (A Survey of Human Resource Professionals’ Thinking on MOOCs ) nearly 400  employers were researched from November 2013 and January 2014. Many hadn’t heard of MOOCs but even those who had the idea explained to them for the first time, 57% said they could see themselves using MOOCs for recruitment. When hiring, nearly 75% said they would treat job-related MOOCs positively. This was especially true of businesses, communications organisations and in education. While some were already using MOOCs, 71% could see their organisations using them in the future. This positive reaction was seen across all sectors.
7 indicators for employers
I can see why, as someone who was an employer for many years, they are seen positively. Taking MOOCs says something about you as a person. What takes them beyond the ‘rite of passage’ degree course are several impressive indicators:
1. Motivated learner
2. Self-starter
3. Organised
4. Perseverance
5. Interested in own personal development
6. Wants relevant knowledge & skills
7. Completer
What came through in the responses was a keen eye, not just for the course but what it indicates about a potential or existing employee.
If [an applicant] is trying to educate themselves, it says something about the individual. [It shows that individual wants] to stay on top of what is going on in their field…
[I] see it as someone who wants to further their education and to do more themselves, to develop themselves (to develop) a higher emotional intelligence.”
I can see people who want to advance, who need to advance their education. We have a tuition reimbursement program but it is limited. If someone thought that they could go online and take a course on something or take classes for certification I think people WOULD really jump on it.”
MOOCs tend to be focused, and practical courses, so the employer gets to see a specific set of skills acquired by the potential employee or employee.
Professional development
Some were already using MOOCs for CPD, and 71% could see their organisations using them in the future.
[MOOCs have been] a great opportunity to provide variety and content to staff ... [We] made our staff aware of those opportunities to tailor learning to different topics they are interested in.
 We’re always looking for ways and options for team members to engage in ongoing learning to help the business grow. We have a small internal training and [human resources] staff; we’re only going to be able to deliver so much content. We know we’re not going to be the subject matter experts. We’ve encouraged people to have their own exploratory learning experience.
It could be applicable to everyone. Low level support staff [could take] classes on how to be more organized and have better time management ... all the way up

It’s early days, and even though many hadn’t heard of MOOCs, when they did, they were impressed. MOOCs solve the sort of problems employers have long complained about on recruitment, hiring and professional development. They are one solution to the crisis of relevance in higher education, where a gap between supply and demand has, for many reasons, led to a loss of faith in the traditional degree course. Massively expensive, one intake a year, fixed location, fixed time courses, are seen by many as anachronistic. MOOCs not only bridge that gap, the provide an on-going solution to the skills gaps within organisations. All round this is a win-win–win-win situation, for Higher education, people looking for work, employers and employee looks set to continue.

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Sunday, April 06, 2014

Anders Ericsson: practice, practice, practice

Anders Ericsson is a Swedish psychologist and expert on memory, expertise and the role of ‘deliberate’ practice. He is regarded as the father of a model of expertise in which experts are shaped, not by talent but the amount and type of practice, typically 10,000 hours, they employ in becoming experts.
Memory and retrieval cues
Ericsson’s work on memory, specifically the role of working memory, and practice, has led to the training of students to remember an astonishing 100 digits. In particular he explored the role of role of working memory in experts and high performers. He proposes a model of memory where experts use ‘retrieval cues’ in working memory that give access to long-term memory. This skilled memory theory has been tested in domains such as mental calculation, medical diagnosis, and chess.
Classic study on practice
Anders Ericsson’s study on musicians at the Berlin Academy of Music is a classic. He put the violinists into three groups:
Best -  word-class soloists
Good – professional musicians
OK – music teachers
Then he asked them about how often they had practiced. All started at around age five and had a similar pattern of practice in those first few years of about 2-3 hours a week.  Thereafter differences arose, so that by age twenty:
Best -  word-class soloists – 10,000 hours
Good – professional musicians – 8,000 hours
OK – music teachers – 4,000 hours
He then looked at amateur pianists and found that they practiced around 3 hours a week, clocking up around 2000 hours by age twenty. How do you get to Carnegie hall? Practice, practice, practice.
Another interesting aspect of his study was the complete absence of ‘natural talent’. There were no professionals who hadn’t practiced to the higher level and, just as interesting, none that had practiced this amount and failed. Talent seemed almost absent, hard work produced results.
Deliberate practice
Ericsson has explored the role of practice, not only in sport and music but also in areas where different cognitive skills are employed, such as chess and medicine. Several dimensions have been identified as characterising ‘deliberate’ practice, as opposed to simple repeated practice.
1. Concentration
Psychological attention and focus is vital, as deliberate practice has to move beyond repetition to pushing oneself incrementally beyond what has been achieved.
2. Chunk skills
It is not that practice alone matters but that a certain type of practice matters. More rapid improvement occurs if the learner breaks tasks down into chunked skills and focuses on improve on each component.
3. Feedback & error
It is also important to focus on feedback, either from the learner’s own observations or from a coach. Feedback matters, as it is from errors that one learns the most. Overcoming observed errors is the means of increasing skills. Failure, therefore lies at the heart of deliberate practice.
4. Increase challenge
Fourthlyly, learners must increase the level of challenge to accelerate the power of practice. This can be achieved by getting faster, going for longer and simply making the task incrementally more difficult, beyond your comfort zone.
Experts bred not born
Education, training and e-learning have an emphasis on knowledge that, on the whole, ignores deliberate practice. Opportunities for deliberate practice are largely absent from learning delivery, except where spaced-practice, simulations or opportunities for practice in the real world are built in to the process.
Talent management myth
Despite the evidence that ‘deliberate practice’ is the real cause behind success, the ‘talent’ model is still common, in teaching, the perception that learners’ progress through talent and not effort. This, many argue, holds back learners and results in many giving up prematurely. Too many parents and teachers still praise the child and not the work. This problem is compounded by the language of ‘talented and gifted’ backed up with unreliable evidence, selective recall, false memories and biases. Research is the answer to bad reporting and Ericsson has been instrumental in providing that evidence.
A welcome antidote to social constructivist theories, Ericsson focuses on the mind, memory and deliberate practice as the road to successful learning. Far from being an advocate of rote learning, he is an advocate of sophisticated, incremental steps in learning, with feedback and challenge, that lead to increased performance. This is all too often absent in learning, whether in the acquisition of knowledge or skills.
Ericsson, K. Anders, Krampe, Ralf Th. and Tesch-Romer. Clemens (1993) The Role of Deliberate Practice in the Acquisition of Expert Performance. Psychological Review, Vol. 100. No. 3, 363-406
Ericsson, Anders K.; Kintsch, W. (1995). "Long-term working memory". Psychological Review 102 (2): 211–245.
Ericsson, Anders K.; Charness, Neil; Feltovich, Paul; Hoffman, Robert R. (2006). Cambridge handbook on expertise and expert performance. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press
Ericsson, Anders K.; Prietula, Michael J.; Cokely, Edward T. (2007). "The Making of an Expert". Harvard Business Review (July–August 2007).

Ericsson, Anders K.; Roring, Roy W.; Nandagopal, Kiruthiga (2007). "Giftedness and evidence for reproducibly superior performance". High Ability Studies.

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Wednesday, April 02, 2014

10 curiosity tasters in marketing: create sense of URGENCY

1. Create sense of urgency
You’re reading this because something in your head said – this matters. Kotter, the great expert on change management, says that before you write vision documents, project plans and Gantt charts, ‘create a sense of urgency’, the first in his famous 8 steps in change management. That may be a threat, new initiative, new product, the promise of something new for them– use a trigger to excite people.
2. Tasters
Good movies have good tasters. Good courses should also have good tasters. Tailor the taster to the needs of your learners based on the 7 key questions you’ve used in your market research. What do they want to get out of this? If the main barrier to use is the perception of compliance training as a ‘lose the will to live’ experience, spice it up. Remember that a good taster needs to stimulate curiosity. It needs to be short, relevant and intriguing.
3. Title tricks
Something that often receives cursory attention is the title. Yet this is the tip of your marketing spear. You can live with a boring old teacher-speak title such as ‘Introduction to marketing’. That’s OK if you want it to be literal (there may be good reasons for this). Alternatively, if you’re appealing to people who want to acquire a skill it may be better to say ‘Practical marketing’. If you need to create a sense of urgency then up the stakes to ‘7 things you need to know about marketing’. You get the idea.
4. Email
Whatever people say about social media, email is still the hub in the centre of many people’s communication wheel, with spokes coming in from social media and other sources. Short emails, when cleverly written, with links to tasters and a clear call to action are still an effective marketing tool. Tasters can be sent as attachments or embedded so that they appear in the email when it is opened. The email, in itself, should be seen as a taster.
5. Tasty tweets
Internally, perhaps on yammer, or externally on twitter/Facebook, Tweets, posts and messages will get to people through that little portable, powerful and personal gadget in their pocket – their mobile. I, personally think mobile learning is more about the mobile marketing of learning, and tasters, spaced practice and so on, than the delivery of courses.
6. Trigger txts
Your learners almost certainly have a mobile, so why not text them. Whatsapp also allows you to send images, even videos. Snapchat is fun – why not. Make sure your txt is short, sharp and sweet.
7. Curiosity question
Ask a fascinating question from the course. one that will puzzle or surprise. Along the lines of Why do men have nipples? Make them think. This can be around a surprising statistic, counterintuitive fact or technique, anything that makes them curious. Every learning experience should have this cognitive ‘apercu’, something that makes your eyebrows rise.
8. Infographic
Infographics summarise a course. They are single graphics that encapsulate al of the main learning points using a graphic style. This has become a well known graphic genre on the web and can also be used as an aide-memoire screen for the course as a whole.
9. Trigger video
Create a short, snappy taster video and upload it to YouTube or wherever it can be retrieved. It may even be a short ‘talking head’ message from someone who really matters in the organisation – Principal, Expert, CEO etc. If you can’t get a video done, record a short audio piece and send out as a podcast – may be easier if you don’t have time and budget.
10. Calls to action
Links, registration, email addresses – whatever you’re after, you will need a call to action. This is the time you say, come forward and sign here. Without this you’re still in the word of awareness marketing. You need to grab them, get them through the door and get them to commit. So work on this – the call, link….. if you have any suggestions please leave a comment on this blog (it will be much appreciated).

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Tuesday, April 01, 2014

7 vital marketing questions to stop EPIC fails in online learning

I’ve seen more than a few online learning projects fail because the company, organisation or institution has misjudged the audience, need or context. Before you start, ask the right questions. This is harder than you think. Good marketing demands deep and relevant questions before you hare off and print those awful clip art posters or even start to design your course or learning experience. These are classic marketing process questions but few learning projects even attempt to ask them at the start, as that’s the only point where the answers are relevant in terms of shaping the process and design.
1. Who exactly are my learners?
This is more than just attributes such as age, educational background, assumed computer skills. Just as important are attitudes, perceived relevance, possible scepticism and contextual issues that make it difficult, such as time available. Some like to build ideal character profiles.
2. What do they really want out of this?
Often missed, this key, probing question is the route to your key messages. Is it a job, promotion, qualification, status? Ask them, don’t assume you know.
3. How do we reach these people?
Where are they? What do they read? Are they online? Is there an email list? Do they use social media? It’s not easy getting to new audiences but it helps if you go to where they are, rather than hoping they will come to you.
4. What are the key messages that will grab attention and interest?
Think carefully about this and sell benefits, not features and facts. Think carefully about the title of the course, emails, tweets, Facebook page, blog posts, even a YouTube video. I’d start with a Tweet – can you excite them in 140 characters? If you can, widen it out bit by bit.
5. What’s the optimal blend of marketing techniques and channels,?
As with blended learning, marketing is a blend, so choose the right and appropriate techniques and channels for your learners and your learning, given your limited resources.
6. When should I plan, launch and communicate?
Keep this simple, with before, during and after dates over a defined period, with key dates in that schedule for clear deliverables.
7. What do I give them to excite interest?
You’ve got to create a sense of urgency, not give them a list of learning objectives. A course or learning experience is a product and people want to see, feel and try the product before they buy or buy-in to the product. Think about something from within the learning experience that will excite learners.

Questions are easy, answers are hard. Nothing beats asking experts and a sample of the audience themselves. And don’t be scared to get help from your marketing department or from outside your organisation. And here's the litmus test question. Do you have a marketing budget? If not, you should. More detail later.

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