The New Year got off to a flying start for learning, with the Future of Learning 2019 conference in Bangalore, 4th-5th January. The conference aims to foster innovation by uniting academics, entrepreneurs, regulators and technologists. The theme this year was Learning 4.0: Connecting the Dots; Reaching the Unreached. In the words of FOL:

The educational sector is set for a major and likely disruptive makeover … education is fast evolving toward an open, always available and personalized model


This really struck a chord with the Rhizome team, as this type of open, networked, collaborative learning is the very core of what Rhizome Live is all about.

Unfortunately the Rhizome team were unable to attend in person, but we were able to follow along on Twitter - a very nice example of open, networked learning in action!

The MOOC (Massive, Open, Online Course) was a big area of discussion at the conference. It represents the opportunity to open up education to thousands or even millions of people. Delegates emphasised the importance of holding on to the two core principles of the MOOC: open and free. Set in the context of Indian education, this is a really significant point.

But, as ever, engagement raised its head. We have discussed the problems with engagement here before, and the same problems continue to be resurface. As Lawrie Phipps highlighted, the number enrolled in a MOOC is not the same as the number who actually do the course. MOOCs have a notoriously low completion rate. Here at Rhizome, we have been consciously trying to create something better and more engaging than the MOOC.

However, one speaker, Avishay Friedler from web platform Israel X, argued that this low completion rate was not necessarily a bad thing. Within the context of universities, he suggested that MOOCs:

  • Let learners explore a topic before committing to a university course on it
  • Allow students to drop-out of courses that they don’t find interesting
  • Overcome physical and political barriers to studying at an institution
  • Are not in competition with universities. Rather, universities can offer them as tasters as a form of advertising.

The idea of reimagining the role of the MOOC, rather than abandoning the classic format entirely, is an intriguing one.

Prof. Mangal Sundar reminded delegates that those involved in providing education and training should never assume what ‘learning’ means. It’s an important reminder, and raises some questions about the MOOC.

  • Does the low MOOC completion rate really mean low engagement? Or are learners getting what they need without finishing the course? At Rhizome we have found participation metrics like comments and clicks much more useful measures of engagement. Data lets us see activity, not just the results.
  • For that matter, why does learning need to be shaped as a course? Most of life’s learning doesn’t come from a textbook or a classroom. Maybe a more free-form approach to content is required. L&D often talks of curated resources and just-in-time learning, which moves away from structured courses. Is this enough, and what does this look when it becomes open and free?

FOL2019 really got the Rhizome team thinking. Hopefully next year some of us will be able to attend in person.

Lizzie Evans - Learning Consultant, Rhizome Live

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