Committed learners wanted

Networked public by Anne-Lise Heinrichs

Networked public by Anne-Lise Heinrichs

How do you measure the success of an innovative learning experience? One of the key indicators is the degree of commitment from learners.

This is obviously true in the classroom and the number of school dropouts reminds us that this is not easy to achieve. This is also true online, and at least as difficult to achieve as the availability of interactive tools doesn’t mean that they are fully used for this purpose.

A lot has already been written about student disengagement from MOOCs, for instance. If we accept the idea that 95% of students registered for an online course won’t reach the end of the it, this will simply mean that the dropout phenomenon is not only linked to the willingness to go to school, but a characteristic of the learning process as a whole. Say, in other words, a person that will fail to complete a MOOC or any online course will just be… another dropout. This conclusion is unacceptable for an edtech entrepreneur convinced that technology brings new opportunities to learners.

How do we escape the dropout syndrome? Many of the innovative solutions proposed by the Open Education Challenge entrepreneurs include a social learning component, i.e. the opportunity to work in a group, re-use knowledge and resources, comment, share, co-create…

The success and the business sustainability of these solutions rely on the capacity to engage individuals in a continuous way, over a course period or over a school year. More committed people means more interactions, more knowledge. It also means larger databases of users, better data analytics…larger market value.

How do you measure commitment? Commitment can be both quantitative (number of hours spent, number of videos watched, number of interactions…) and qualitative (intensity of interaction, quality of contribution to dialogue…).

Is it easy to commit online? You first need to be at ease with a digital environment. In the words of Prensky, author of ‘Digital Natives, Digital Immigrants’; these digital natives, i.e. those who are entirely at ease within a digital environment, are the most likely to engage. The problem is that many teachers, parents and learners still recognise themselves as digital immigrants. Are they unable to commit?

As made clear in a recent article by White and le Cornu, the main issue is not so much in being a digital native or not but in being an online resident or a mere visitor.

“Visitors are anonymous, their activity invisible and see the Web as primarily a set of tools. (…) Residents see the Web as a place, perhaps like a park or a building in which there are clusters of friends and colleagues whom they can approach and with whom they can share information about their life and work.”

The metaphor of place will be crucial for future analysis of online commitment. Danah Boyd, in her book ‘It’s Complicated’, insists on how social media has become an important public space where teens can gather and socialise broadly with peers. She explains how social media has enabled youth to participate in and help create what she calls networked publics.

David Weinberger, author of ‘Too Big to Know’, argues that a network of people connected in discussion and argument know more than the sum of what the individual knows. This means that the value of a network will grow in an exponential way.

How do we apply these concepts to edtech entrepreneurship? For an education entrepreneur, success will depend on his/her capacity to commit the targeted audience as ‘residents’ and not ‘visitors’, which means creating a network of connected people: a networked public.

If we consider an innovative learning solution as a ‘place’ – virtual classroom, platform… – questions such as: “What am I going there for?”, “What am I hoping to achieve?”, and “How long do I intend to stay?” are key questions the user will ask and the entrepreneur should be ready to answer.

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