Want to Launch an Online Courses Business?

online learningHaving spent so many years in education, the idea of trying to launch an online courses business  has never really been on my mind. What would you need to start an online courses business?

I would assume that almost all your concerns and needs would parallel the ones we have in education. It came to mind when I saw a post meant for someone who did want to "Launch a Successful Online Courses Business and offers podcast episodes collected about some of those concerns.

In academia, we strive to attract students. A business model would want to attract clients. But most concerns are similar. For example, you would need to create or choose a learning management system. You would need to explore all the online pedagogy that has emerged the past digital decades. For example, online educators have moved towards shorter courses using 
smaller units. One of the podcasts is on Ways You Can Shorten Your Course which includes “chunking.” Chunking means dividing information into small pieces and grouping them together so they can be stored and processed more easily by learners. That is the kind of design and pedagogy that has come from studying how online learners process information. The way the brain observes and processes information is limited by our working memory's limited ability to process large amounts of data at the same time.

Having spent twenty years launching online courses in higher education, I don't envy anyone starting an online business, but you can certainly build on the work that has been done and have an easier time of it.

Checking Accesibility

designLast week, I wrote about a ruling against a university by the Department of Justice for not making its free content online fully accessible. I thought that today I should share some resources you can use to evaluate web materials for accessibility.
You might maintain web pages, including things like blogs and online course materials, and if you're not concerned about making sure they’re accessible for everyone, including people with disabilities, you should.
One easy to use accessibility-checking tool is a browser-based one called the WAVE Accessibility Extension. It is available for Firefox and for Chrome at WAVE Chrome Extension. There is also a WAVE Help site.
The ProfHacker blog has done some interesting posts on accessibility topics, from general ones like User-Friendly Advice for Accessible Web Design and How to Evaluate Your Web Pages for Accessibility to one that I think is a good test to try out with students if you're discussing this topic - To Test for Accessibility, Try Navigating Without Your Mouse.   

Why Create and Use Open Educational Resources?

open textbooksI'm currently working on redesigning courses to use only Open Educational Resources (OER). Ever since I have worked in higher ed, whenever I have discussed open resources that are offered for free some faculty will always ask "Why do people create these things for no money?"
Most of us do our work and create our "intellectual property" (some of which is called that isn't really IP) in order to make money, and in academia to gain promotion and tenure too.
Some of the main motivations for creating OER are the same as the reasons for using OER. In my current project at a community college, we are trying to create course that save students money. Ideally, the course has no cost after students pay their tuition. The biggest cost is almost always textbooks, so using free, open textbooks is important.
I feel that too much course design is based on the textbook used, so OER redesign offers an opportunity for real course redesign. 
On the pedagogical side, open textbooks solve the problem of students simply not buying the book and trying to get by without it. I taught in secondary school for years and all the textbooks were free and I will always say that a free book does not solve the problem of students who do not read the books.
We also know through many studies that students who are strapped for money often choose courses when possible based on low or no cost for textbooks.
Students get annoyed when a professor only uses a small part of the textbook. Using open textbooks allows us to select the sections that we really want to use. Many OER courses use portions of several texts - a few chapters from one and a few from another.
If you not totally happy with the content in an truly open textbook, you can edit it yourself. You can add your own content, add your own images. Of course, in most cases those edits also have to be made open to others to use. I think of an open textbook as a starting point.
Which brings us to the point that creating an OER course takes work. Finding resources is very time-consuming. Editing them is work. If you do it, you do it for your students, for education and for a love of learning that you want to share with the world.
OER creators don't usually make money from their efforts, although there are platforms that offer resources in printed formats for a price. But creators can get recognition and exposure for their efforts and that can sometimes help in the job-hunting and promotion and tenure processes.

Moodle Goes MOOC With Academy

Academy home page May 2017

Academy is Moodle's version of a MOOC) platform, It's not that some people and institutions haven't gone done the MOOC road using the Moodle platform that was originally developed in 2002 by Martin Dougiamas to help educators create online courses. The Moodle platform was conceived with a focus on interaction and the collaborative construction of content and it has evolved over the past 15 years quite successfully. But it was not designed with the aim of hosting a course that contained tens of thousands of learners with different (and perhaps more limited) interactions and less emphasis on student-centered content creation.
There was an announcement about Academy in May 2016 and the Academy platform is still a preliminary version. As far as I have read, it is being used by only one institutional partner (Dublin City University) and for seven courses that are currently in the pre-enrollment stage).
At first mention, Moodle Academy was being compared to the Canvas Network because it seemed that Academy would be a centralized MOOC hosting platform run and managed by Moodle. This would be ideal for institutions (or individuals?) who wanted to offer a MOOC but needed not only a platform but the servers and bandwidth to deal with massive users and activity. I taught a meta-MOOC called "Academia and the MOOC" in the spring of 2013 in Canvas Network, and have used Canvas to teach undergraduate courses at a university since then.
I signed up for an Academy account and pre-enrolled for a course to test out the platform. (No start date listed yet.) The course is "21C Learning Design" and described as being for teachers who want to develop 21st Century skills in learning design. There is currently no content, but the platform itself looks very much like a Moodle course. For example, filling in my profile information, photo etc. was the same, and the home page with topics also looks the same as what I have used when I teach in Moodle at NJIT. 
AS with Canvas and Canvas Network, I suspect that Moodle and Academy will differ more behind the scene and screen and feel very comfortably similar for Moodle users.
If you want to try out Academy, go to https://academy.moodle.net/ and register. If you decide to take the 21C class, please message me there. It would be interesting to meet some Serendipity35 readers in a MOOC platform. 

Autonomous Vehicles and Autonomous Learning

autonomous car

One of the newer categories on this blog is for VR, AR and AI. They were not topics of much concern in education when I started writing here in 2006. They are topics of interest now. 

The same may be true of autonomous vehicles and it is definitely true of what I'm calling autonomous learning

You are more likely to hear news about "autonomous vehicles" rather than "driverless cars" these days. They are pretty much interchangeable, but the former doesn't sound as scary. In the way that "global warming" was replaced with "climate change," the newer terms are not only better in public relations terms but also are more accurate.

An autonomous vehicle (AKA driverless, auto, self-driving, robotic) is one that is capable of sensing its environment and navigating without human input. Many such vehicles are being developed, but as of this writing vehicles on public roads are not yet fully autonomous.

Many of the experimental cars and trucks you might see on the road (or, more likely, on the news) have a human along for the ride and ready to take over if needed. Initially we all heard about this future where you would get in a car, tell it your destination and sit back and relax. It was a taxicab without a driver. But more and more we are hearing about the autonomous vehicle with no human in it that might be delivering packages to locations. (No word on how they are unloaded. I guess you meet the vehicle at the curb.)

I was talking to a friend who has no involvement in education about an online course I was teaching and how MOOCs are being used. He said, "So, it's like an autonomous vehicle."

My first response was "No, its not," but when I gave the idea a few moments, I saw his point.

You set up a good online course. It has AI elements and guided learning, predictive analytics and all the other tools. The student enters and goes along on their own. Autonomously. Teacherless.

Some archived MOOCs are already somewhat like this - though probably minus the AI and guidance systems.

I call this autonomous learning. If you search on that term today you are more likely to find articles about learner autonomy. This refers to a student's ability to set appropriate learning goals and take charge of his or her own learning. However, autonomous learners are dependent upon teachers to create and maintain learning environments that support the development of learner autonomy.

My friend and I took the vehicles:learner comparison further. The mixed or hybrid car will probably be with us for a few more decades. By hybrid I mean not only with its fuel but also with driver-assist features. Part of the redundancy there includes the passenger as backup driver - a guide on the side. The car can park itself, but you might need to help in some situations.

Hybrid or blended courses are also going to continue to be around for awhile. Like the vehicles, the fully-automated course will be the experimental exception for a decade or two. But those kids in the college Class of 2037 have a very good chance of taking autonomous classes.

I will feel safe on the road with autonomous vehicles when ALL the vehicles are autonomous. Throw a few human drivers in there and the reliability drops. Do I feel the same about autonomous learning? Too early to say.


Neuro Gaming and Our Distracted Minds


Neurogaming is a new form of gaming that involves the use of brain–computer interfaces (such as EEG) so that users can interact with the game without use of a traditional controller.

You probably have seen stories in the past decade about people controlling computers with their brain. This was particularly true in working with people who have handicaps or disabilities from injuries and were unable to use a keyboard, mouse or traditional input device. Neurogaming can have applications in treating brain disorders like PTSD and ADHD.

But the field has moved beyond health industry neurogaming technologies and now sectors like defense, sports and education are working with these technologies.

An early neurogame is the racing game NeuroRacer. Though it looks very much like a traditional single-player game, it was designed to improve the cognitive functioning of aging adults. It looks like a simple driving game that we saw in the earliest days of home and arcade videogaming, but because it is controlled by your thought processes, it is at an entirely different level of gaming.

Neurogames allow users to pick up and move objects by mentally blocking distractions. This requires brain-computer interface algorithms, GPU computing and special hardware like virtual reality headsets, motion capture and mobile EEG to create personalized closed loop systems. 

Adam Gazzaley, who created Neuroracer, and his Neuroscape lab at UCSF are focusing on improving brain function and bridging neuroscience and consumer-friendly technologies.This means games to support treatment of brain disorders such as ADHD, Autism, Depression, Multiple Sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease. 

All this may be beyond our technical skills, and the medical uses may be beyond our own needs, but Gazzaley also has simpler results from their research that apply to all of us. He co-wrote a book, The Distracted Mind: Ancient Brains in a High-Tech World, that explains that our brains are limited in their ability to pay attention, and attention is required for neurogaming. We don't really multitask but rather switch rapidly between tasks.

Distractions and interruptions - "interference" - divert us from completing goals.

Do you admit to not being able to finish reading an article or writing one because your phone rings or a text arrives or a social media notification pops up?

From their research, the authors offer strategies to fight distraction. Neuro games are part of that along with meditation, physical exercise and planning accessibility. They realize we are unlikely to give up our devices, but that we need to use them in more balanced way.

The video below is a talk Gazzaley gave in which he describes an approach developed in his lab that uses custom-designed video games to achieve cognitive enhancement. It is more of his own story through this research than a jargon-laden lecture. He shares his basic science research that inspired these translational efforts, to the founding of Akili Interactive Labs, to their latest quest for the first FDA-approved action video game.