Category: online course marketplace

Are cohort-based course platforms “universities of the future?”

The edtech industry includes numerous learning providers and platforms providing tools, technologies, and resources for course creators to create and sell online courses. These platforms are interesting for very many reasons. What roles do they play in the learning and development ecosystem? How do they measure effectiveness and learning outcomes? What kinds of pedagogical and instructional design practices do they support and advocate for? What education-related claims do they make?

two people working on five laptops. They sit at a table littered with other devices, like phones, headset, and ipads. Photo by Marvin Meyer on Unsplash

In a paper we published a few months ago, we examined one such platform because it describes itself as building ‘the university of the future’ and has recently received significant attention and funding. This makes it a compelling case study to better understand the potential roles and risks associated with education platforms operating outside of and alongside more traditional higher education institutions.

We highlight specific concerns about cohort-based platforms. These include lack of transparency, risk of surveillance, lack of adequate financial support for learners, and over-reliance on social media networks as signifiers of educator/instructor qualification (this last one is a big one). Suggested benefits include adaptability, suitability to changing skills needs, and responsiveness to changing environmental scenarios.

The published version of the paper is here, but here’s a pre-print pdf: Veletsianos, G., & Houlden, S. (in press). On the “university of the future”: A critical analysis of cohort-based course platform Maven. Learning, Media, & Technology. 


The online course marketplace and online courses as side hustle

This post is a rough patchwork of resources and notes. It’s aiming to explore the intersection of online learning, online course marketplaces, education entrepreneurship, course creator economies/economics, side hustling, digital products, education-as-commodity, and digital learning platforms.

In describing education/learning models other than MOOCs, in 2014 Tannis Morgan identifies 3 models:

  • Affinity Group Learning:  MOOC-like without the course
  • Subscription-based learning sites
  • Micro-content affinity sites

(Aside: These could be mapped to the social learning typology of groups, networks, sets, and collectives described by Dron and Anderson, as well as the dimensions of formal-informal learning they identify here)

In 2019, Tannis re-examines these models and brings them together under the umbrella of “course content marketplace.” The focus is pretty much learning experience platforms (LXPs).

What I’d like to specifically focus on here is the online course marketplace and course creators (outside of higher ed).

Focusing on the LXPs, Tannis writes that back in 2014 course creators were (mostly) using “WordPress and Woo commerce, and it took some determination and persistence to get things going for the average non expert.” Fast forward to 2019: “So no surprise that a new marketplace for Online Course Platforms (different from the LMS) has sprung up, with affordable subscription models to get the side hustler with no instructional design skills and few multimedia skills up and running in a few days with their online course.”

What’s it like in 2021?

DIY-solutions using WordPress, or outsourcing the WordPress-based design and development is still going strong.

Platforms that make it easy to quickly set up and sell asynchronous courses

Some of these include memberships and communities.

  • Examples: some of the platforms above, plus Kajabi

And, most-recently, cohort-based course-selling platforms a la Section4:

The products developed from these are often called courses, but they’re also described as institutes or academies.

Right now these platforms seem to be selling tools to course creators to launch their courses, and aren’t quite marketplaces just yet, i.e. spaces where users can browse and buy courses from various providers a la Udemy.

Most of these platforms

  • create groups (rather than networks or collectives, per Dron & Anderson),
  • are a radical departure from the ethos and aspirations of the open learning community,

I’ll pause here. More connecting threads hopefully soon. If you’ve come this far, I’d love to hear your thoughts on any of these.


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