Friday, December 21, 2012

mylearningworx - a reflection on the launch event

Last week I was pleased to attend the launch of mylearningworx, a new site that offers individuals the chance to both make a course and take a course. If your passion is to teach people about local history or some craft or hobby, their platform allows you to quickly and easily pull a course together and sell it to others who want to learn.

While most elearning to date has been in either the mass market of formal K-12 education or in custom products for large wealthy companies, there aren't that many folk really addressing the "long tail" of online formal learning. There are a couple of players - Lynda.com is a video based elearning platform focusing largely on software and programming, and there are quite a few in languages (I even wrote about one, JapanesePod101.com for e.learning age some years ago - not much in that in itself but the editor of that magazine is one of the directors of mylearningworx!) but I'm not conscious of any companies going after the individual learning market in quite this way.

Instead, arguably the market leaders in the consumer space are two collossal on-demand informal resources, Wikipedia and YouTube, supplemented by Google's Search to find everything else (actually, usually unearthing the content at these two sites also, hence their predominance).

Undaunted, mylearningwork is aspiring to be an eBay of learning - not the seller itself but the facilitator of a marketplace - for which they will take a cut. And good luck to 'em. They've got a sound product, some great people behind it and they are striking out in a field with, as far as I can tell, few competitors.

Before I bore you with my impressions, let me tell you you can get easier reads from Craig Taylor, who wrote a short summary of his day before most of us got home, and weelearner Gill Chester, who presented a "track" at the worxshop, and has taken a rather creative angle in her summary written/assembled for the mylearningworx.com blog.

So, my thoughts. What I liked about it:

  • It is easy to use and the feature set is developing. They are working on integration with Mozilla's Popcorn Maker video tool and that genuinely has the capacity to amplify the value of video, as well as possibly put something of a "seal" on some of the added value in the educators courses and not leave them open for use on somewhere like YouTube.
  • It already has a small but potentially committed community of course authors - though they will need to get more on there quickly
  • The company clearly "get" that their success rests on how lots of small producers take to it and by running events like the "worxshop" they are showing a commitment to fostering that community. It helps that they are all nice folks too.
  • They don't call it an "LMS" anywhere on their site. Good.

 Of course, I did leave with some things I thought could be worked on:

  • not sure about the name of the site - yeah,I know, it's a small thing, but the other instances I can think of of the use of "my" are My Little Pony and various primary coloured My First [insert item here] neither of which are necessarily aspirational. Come on, www.superlearnr.com is free!
  • The concept of the "mini-MOOC" sounded more like responding to a buzzword than a genuine description of what the courses look like at this point, but I could be wrong. Without Ivy League or Russell Group sized marketing budgets, and sitting behind a paywall, however, I'm not sure courses are ever likely to be that massive and they aren't really that open and the feature set seems more applicable to solo study course than large scale synchronous study and collaboration, but there is time for that to develop I guess.
  • It seems to be pitching in two directions - it wants to be a site used by consumers ("create a course on flyfishing") and they want it to be a low-cost training system for businesses, albeit under a slightly different brand, "the Foundry". This confusion might dilute or confuse their message. But equally it might not.
In my opinion it's this second market where I think they stand the best chance. There are 10s, possibly 100s of thousands of small companies that will never be in a position to set up an LMS or speak to an e-learning company (or even know such things exist) but who will at some point need to develop staff or prove compliance with something or other. "The Foundry" could help them do it. One-man-band training companies have a fair shot at a larger market and transitioning out of expensive, one-at-a-time ILT, and having endured some truly dreadful fire safety compliance training this year I would welcome the chance to avoid it again by doing some short, sharp elearning and an assessment.

The other marketplace I can see is the community education sector, and in some of their suggested course titles I think the mylearningworx team see this too. From my involvement in the local community education partnership I know that local authority funding for these programmes, which used to be quite considerable, have been slashed or, as in the case of the Bristol area one, stopped altogether. Facing restrictions like that it's inevitable that at least some of the education programmes will do the same as the corporate sector and look to elearning as a potentially low-cost alternative. Mylearningworx could deliver on that need.

Will I be authoring a course and selling it? Well, actually that's a distinct possibility. I've run a couple of  courses in the past of which I can be fairly proud and have often wondered if I could re-use those materials again. Mylearningworx is probably the best platform yet for doing something with it, so maybe I will. I look forward with interest to the launch of The Foundry, which I believe should take place at, or in time for, Learning Technologies next month.

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