P2PU Course Clean Up: Culling the Herd

Since learning circles began, our community-generated learning circles course database has continuously been one of the most appreciated features that we offer. Rather than turning to Class Central or a search engine to find a course for learning circles, facilitators around the world can come here first to explore courses that have already been used in other learning circles. Sorting this database by popularity and ranking gives a pretty good snapshot of what the most popular topics for learning circles are: basic computer skills, public speaking, English language learning, web design, writing, job readiness skills, etc.

Anybody with a P2PU account can add any online course to this database: since we launched the public course database in 2017 nearly 80% of courses have been added by non-P2PU staff members, and they come from all sort of platforms and cover a wide variety of topics and languages.

We do regular database maintenance, deleting spam and courses that we find out are no longer available. Recently, we decided to take a comprehensive across all the courses in our database, and we ended up deleting about 94 courses (about 30% of the total), bringing our English-language course total down from over 300 to 220. (Thanks to Steve Foerster for helping out ;)!)

The courses we deleted fell into three categories: about 20 of the courses were duplicates or spam. Another 19 courses required a license to a proprietary database like Lynda.com or GALE in order to access. While we don’t prohibit learning circles from being run with these courses so long as the learning circle remains free for participants, we’ve written before that we are skeptical of this trend as we don’t view what are effectively rental payments to large information clearinghouses as a sustainable long-term destination for public funding. However, the reality today is that a lot of proprietary courses are simply better than their OER counterparts, and we don’t want to prevent learners from accessing these materials if their library systems are already subscribers. So what we plan to do with these courses is unlist them: facilitators can still add these courses to our database to be visible by other people who are part of their organization (e.g. people who also can access that course), but we won’t publicize the courses on our general search page.

Finally, and most alarmingly, we deleted 55 courses that used to be free and/or open access and are either now behind a paywall or have been removed from the internet.

The most alarming once-free-now-pay courses is edX’s Resume, Networking, and Interview Skills course, developed with Fullbridge, a Boston-based technology company. This course was available for free for a number of years, and it was used in more than 20 learning circles in Chicago, Detroit, Charlotte, Salt Lake City, San Jose, Topeka, Toronto, Nairobi, and Embu, Kenya. It now costs $150.

Anybody who has ever applied for a job knows that there is only so much that generic feedback about resumes, networking, cover letters, and interviewing can do to help secure a job. Applying for a job is a very personal process that relies heavily on personal relationships; something an online course can never provide. So it’s particularly egregious to see such an expensive price tag for a course that *at best* will be a supplemental resource to the work that that job applicant has to do on their own in their community. We’ll be working with some of our partner libraries in early 2020 to develop an open access alternative to this course.

And then there are the other courses, many of which were previously hosted on edX and FutureLearn which are simply no longer available. 62 learning circles had been run using courses like User Innovation and Entrepreneurship and Journalism for Social Change which are now offline. We’ll be reaching out to the professors who put these materials together to see if we can host an open access archive version of their course.

This process validated some of our hunches about the direction that MOOCs have been heading for a while: a lot of the providers of “open education” are still scrambling for a business model and language of “openness” can’t be taken in good faith. Looking forward to next year, we’ll be working more directly with the content developers at universities and non-profit organizations to ensure that we can host low-bandwidth, high-quality, open-access learning circle course materials into the distant future.

Cover photo is Winterlandschaft mit verfallenem Tor by Carl Gustav Carus (1789-1869). From Wikimedia Commons.

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