What’s the Difference b/t MOOCs and AllLearn?

Read an interesting article today (from 2006) on the demise of AllLearn, an online learning initiative designed by Oxford, Yale and Stanford back during the dot com boom.  The article focuses on AllLearn, though it looks at the end of other similar initiatives during the same time period, seeing AllLearn as a marked failure of non-degreed online learning at that time period.

I wonder how many people on the MOOC bandwagon had not heard of AllLearn.  In the 50+ readings I have encountered (just during my dissertation lit review), only one has made mention of AllLearn, or any similar higher ed online ventures.  With none of the research lit or pop lit on MOOCs discussing the failures of prior attempts by higher education, this seems like a place needing some dissection and research. Until then, a few initial thoughts:

  • The article mentions a press release where the universities state that they will continue to offer free continuing ed courses for the general public, with lessons learned integrated into their style.   What happened between AllLearn/DotCom courses and MOOCs?  There’s six years to account for.
  • The scope of AllLearn was miniscule compared to something like Udacity.  AllLearn offered 110 courses, with over 10,000 enrolled.  Sebastian Thrun’s first MOOC had over 100,000 enrolled students.  Perhaps the massive element is a unique element.
  • If we are going to look at the Massive in MOOC as a new variable, we need to do the same with Open (#oped12).  AllLearn first was designed for alumni, and charged tuition for the proper course (though there is mention of free resources through a network of websites).
  • There was no way to turn AllLearn courses into any sort of credit; xMOOCs have seen a branch of their brethren get credit offered for the course (after taking a Pearson test).  So far the press on xMOOCs has focused on opportunity rather than credit, but how is that different than generations of various distance education models?  To be fair, how is a cMOOC different in regards to credit?
  • The article gets snippy when labeling online education in this manner as “edutainment.”  For 2006, the article says the problem is in quality of Internet-based modules, where lectures were recorded as audio rather than video, and perhaps video with a higher production value would make the difference.  In the last six years we have seen broadband rates rise as well as the availability and cost of HD recording plummet, so that could be a variable to consider.
  • Why was press on the end of AllLearn muted?  This is most likely based on concerns over the potential impact on institutional reputations, particularly on public perceptions of the partner universities’ online learning capabilities. However, AllLearn’s closure could offer an unprecedented opportunity to step back and discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the business model…  I would be interested in seeing how the business model was, and what has changed, as is echoed at the end of the article:  Oxford, Yale, and Stanford might wish to consider being as open as possible about AllLearn’s progress to date and the decision to close, and put forth observations and recommendations on how a more sustainable and informed approach to the e-learning market might have been achieved. Further research into the series of collapsed online ventures may shed some light on what makes a successful distance education program, and enable some of the surviving online providers to redefine their business models and marketing strategies accordingly.

2 thoughts on “What’s the Difference b/t MOOCs and AllLearn?

  1. MOOC skeptic/groupie

    Rolin, I work in distance education at one of the institutions originally part of AllLearn and I must say, when we entered into our latest MOOC adventure, I wondered just as you did how many people–but this time at our own institution–had not heard of AllLearn. Yes, that was a lifetime ago and much of the landscape has changed, but there are lessons to learn and there just didn’t seem to be any historical/institutional memory of it. (And it was shocking how little recollecting was done in the press, too.) About three months in to this latest venture, I remarked to a colleague that there was a dissertation in the making here. Glad to see you are on the job.

    1. Rolin Moe Post author

      Thanks for the read and the comment! The ahistoricism (new word) of the MOOC developers is troubling…people like Sal Khan see no need for research in pedagogy and theory but yet want to track every data point a student musters on an LMS in an effort to boost scores. All the while there are historical precedents in how this tried and failed before…except now the stakes are higher yet we are doing the same troubled trials over again.


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