Gregor Gimmy, Founder and CEO of Sclipo wrote an interesting piece on social features in online education recently and asked me for my two cents on it.
His point is that just by adding social features to a classic LMS it is actually not getting more social as it still is a walled garden, only open for members of the university, academy etc. and that social would mean that you need to tear down those walls and enable everyone to connect with everyone no matter on which campus.
Let me start by stating that I agree with Gregor. Just because you add like buttons, forums, profiles, blogs and all that to a classic LMS does not catapult you into the social media era. On the other hand, I don’t see that walled gardens come out of fashion, the opposite seems to be true.
Now why is that? One factor is for sure Facebook. Remember how it all started? It was a walled garden, a closed network only accessible for Harvard University students.
Somewhere along the way Mark Zuckerberg then decided to open it to the world, it became the biggest social network on the planet with now over 500 million members. But there were also a lot of issues attached to this growth, cyber bullying and privacy infringements to name only two of them.
So, it is a staircase wit of modern history that THE social network that was born on a campus is one of the main reasons why closed educational networks spring up like mushrooms. The newest on the meadow is a service called enrolled.in and it has a particularly interesting story. Jason Calacanis, Founder and CEO of Mahalo, angel investor and host of This Week in Startups invested $25k USD in this startup live on his webcast.
And a couple of weeks before Schoology.com raised over $1m USD in funding. Then we have Edmodo.com, OpenStudy.com, Piazzza.com just to name the biggest and I am sure there are more in the making.
All of those networks are more or less attached to a university or college because they were most likely invented on the campus by students and / or professors. This has of course the advantage that the network has its basic userbase directly at hand.
And here comes the problem. If anyone can build a social network on a campus these days why should the MIT use the network of Stanford? You would naturally support your own network as it is built by your alumni. It will also be tailored to your needs which might very likely be the same as for any other university but still, it is yours.
What we have now is not only a landscape of walled gardens based on the same technology but walled gardens built on multiple platforms.
Let’s now think about why we want / need walled gardens in our life. First of all a walled garden gives us a micro climate where our plants grow protected from the outside world. Or in other words: Don’t p*ss on our flower beds. Education is attached to business. In Gregor’s post he suggests that any student can sign up for any course on any campus with any teacher. From an educational and social point of view a perfect situation for the student but from the education providers side an absolute nightmare, at least for a good part.
I don’t want to heat up old stories about student poaching teachers on language learning platforms but basically no one wants to offer his / her services on a free market if there is no need for it.
In an ideal world, and that’s what Gregor is aiming for with the Social Learning Revolution, it would work out like in his blog post. In the world we are living in today the economic bondage is too strong to have a really open and social learning environment. The vision is however valid and who knows, maybe I am just too pessimistic. I wish I was.