Monday, 14 October 2013

Meet the edtech entrepreneurs - An interview with Adam Brimo

Many universities still view courses as content, and teaching as the dissemination of that content. The OpenLearning MOOC platform starts from the premise that a course is a community and if you have a strong community then the course will be more enjoyable and memorable.
The Good MOOC interviews Adam Brimo, OpenLearning Co-Founder.

  • Can you introduce yourself?

I'm the co-founder and CEO of OpenLearning, based in Sydney Australia. I have an Engineering (software) degree and an arts (politics) degree from UNSW. I previously started, a consumer activist campaign in 2010-2011, which resulted in nationwide media coverage, an ACMA inquiry and a $1bn network upgrade for Vodafone’s Australian business. I've also worked at Macquarie Bank and Westpac Institutional Bank and I've been dedicated to OpenLearning for about 2 years now.

We're making education more enjoyable. OpenLearning is an online learning platform that is based around the principles of student autonomy, diversity of learning materials, openness of resources and social interactivity. The platform is flexible, easy to setup and allows universities, teachers and companies to deliver rich and engaging courses online. You can deliver a free public course at no cost or a private course for a per student fee.

  • Can you elaborate on the business model?

Our business model is similar to GitHub. Anyone can teach a free public course for free however if you want to restrict who can take your course then we charge the course creator $10 per student.

We also provide organisations with an educational portal (like a YouTube channel for their courses) that supports custom branding and integration for $50/user/year.

  • Can you explain what you consider as your main differences and similarities with Udemy?

Our business model is similar however our platform is completely different. Udemy focuses on self-paced video courses while OpenLearning focuses on full course delivery (i.e. university courses) and building a community around a course through social engagement and interaction.

  • Where do you see higher education going in the medium to long-term future?

Universities are facing many challenges, in particular they have high fixed costs funded by variable revenue streams. On top of that, most universities are heavily focused on research and don't put enough resources into teaching. Academics are hired for research and do the best they can with few resources and little time for teaching students.

Universities need to change but campus-based education is not going away and I don't believe it should. Going to a university is a life changing experience for most students. University can be a place for students to learn about new topics, make new friends, gain experience organising events and managing students societies. These are valuable skills and when coupled with great courses that involve group work, student interaction and exploration, it is a wonderful experience. I was lucky to have that experience at university and I hope students in the future can too.

It's a good idea and we've integrated with their platform. We haven't see many students synchronise their badges with Mozilla, which is probably because they haven't seen much benefit in doing so. Students are generally more interested in placing their badges or certificates on LinkedIn where they will be seen by others.

  • There's a fair bit of MOOC skepticism out there (particularly when it comes to retention rates)... Do you have anything to say about that?

When 100,000 people signed up for the Stanford machine learning course, I doubt anyone actually believed 100,000 people would complete the full university course. We've found that with most MOOCs there is a large percentage of people who are 'just looking' or have a passing interest and never intend on completing the course. Of those that do intend on completing the course and have enough background knowledge to do so, you'll find the retention rates are much better.

We've seen a lot of success with shorter introductory MOOCs rather than university courses. Most people cannot commit a 12 week course while they are working or raising a family but a shorter 3-5 week course is much more manageable.

  • Which are you favourite MOOCs so far and why?

Entrepreneurship by Prof Mushtak Al-Atabi Taylor's University in Malaysia, which ran on OpenLearning, is my favourite. I was moved to hear the stories of students worldwide who have never had access to higher education and thoroughly enjoyed the course. The course required students to form groups, pitch their ideas and start a business with people they had never met in person. It was incredible to watch the students organise themselves and collaborate and the professor did an amazing job at facilitating the discussion.

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