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People Who Use Online Learning Websites
This article was originally published in CNN Opinion.
Let’s call it the Facebookization of the internet. Companies like Dymo and Digits, which were once site-centric—they had a great product, and drove traffic to their site—are now delivering over 90 percent of their traffic to Facebook, Foursquare, and Snapchat. As people spend more time on Facebook, and companies offer apps to connect directly to Facebook, that’s going to continue to happen.
But it’s not just about Facebook—Foursquare used to be a huge name, but has been overtaken by Facebook and Instagram. Sites like GroupMe have grown up over the past few years in response to Facebook.
Online learning has always been about community. Netflix and Hulu are revenue generators, but I don’t think you could say they’re the greatest spaces. In some ways, it has something in common with stock videos, where the critical question is: Is this entertaining?
Yet, over time, they’ve been evolving, too. Netflix started out as something people streamed from their televisions. As that market waned, they went from being people’s first stop to a service used when people were moving, or had incomplete projects. They didn’t have a card catalog, they could stream to your phone, and they were becoming more of a company that enabled you to find movies.
At first, we wouldn’t have said “Hulu is the future of TV.” It didn’t look like television to us. Then along came Netflix, and suddenly we were watching a dime-a-dozen movie premieres, with no ads. Eventually, Hulu brought us the future of TV, with ads. Now they’re competing with Amazon, and YouTube, and Facebook.
In online learning, what we can observe is that people are increasingly finding classes they like, or they’re using the platform to build up portfolio. Why do I use online learning? It’s because I like to go to classes I’m interested in. I like to learn something, and I can access that.
The beauty of online learning is that you can quickly move on to a new topic. You’re not learning your CAPTCHA problem in a geography class, or anything like that. You can focus on that topic, or learn something else in their class. Online learning doesn’t lead to that static, I-have-a-class-next-week experience of the past. It goes away when you’re halfway through a class, and then you pick something else.
Online learning is also a gateway drug into learning a skill. At the beginning of school, when teachers set high expectations on you for a class, I don’t think many people go and get your learning. In order to support people who were behind, you used to have to teach hard courses, like calculus. But there’s been a shift to looking at different ways to support people. You still have to support people in the class in order to take it, but there are other ways to help people.
Online learning also brings another aspect: socialization. I could take college classes online, like language classes, but I don’t think I was interested in them. A lot of people have taken online courses, and they’ve expressed feelings of frustration.
So we’re now looking at online classes that specifically catered to people of different ages, abilities, and interests. Maybe you can take a Spanish class online, and then a medical class and a CPR course. There are interactive, virtual, fun ways to play all of these different classes.
Online learning can be a great way to learn a skill, but it can also be a path towards a new career. Just think of how VH1 taught people how to use computers with blackjack games. It didn’t start with real videos, and it didn’t start out like Facebook. People learn online because it’s convenient, and they love it.
This article is part of our Next America: Higher Education project, which is supported by grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and Lumina Foundation.