MOOCs are fine, but what if you don’t want M or the C? Google Helpouts

The underlying goals of MOOCs are admirable, regardless of how well particular MOOCs are executed. Using technology to bring a course to people on a massive scale, open for anyone to enroll in (free for many). Massiveness, though, comes at a cost. More numbers in a class makes it that much harder to give specialized attention to each learner.  So there’s a tricky give and take being played between the goal of massiveness and the goal of a creating provocative learning experiences.  MOOCs are worth pursuing and I’m certain people will make them more creative, dynamic, and special as years go by. That being said, there are other pedagogical goals besides those addressed by MOOCtopia, like working with a learner in a one-to-one session, giving full attention to that learner’s needs, interests, strengths, and weaknesses. Computers are getting good at this, but people are yet the gold standard for this kind of work. It is a luxurious kind of work, but can be an important and highly impactful one. Technology can help here, too. The internet will not just make us rethink the delivery of large courses; it is beginning to transform the 1 on 1 tutoring industry in some interesting ways. With all the attention given to MOOCs, it is easy to overlook some of the other ways technology can facilitate learning experiences.

So, forget the massive, and forget the course.  Teachers are also finding ways to use the internet to offer discrete, one on one learning sessions on topics chosen by learners.  I picture grand things in the future, with learners able to browse around for the teacher/tutor that suits them, regardless of where that teacher is geographically. The online marketplace of pedagogical prowess will keep prices down, far lower than the piratical rates that many private tutors charge these days for one on one sessions.

Maybe someone wants to learn about Sophocles over a span of four sessions, but doesn’t want to take a course on anything. Maybe a high schooler wants to learn more about ancient Egypt, but doesn’t want to take a History course, since she’s already in one.  Maybe a learner of Chinese wants one on one conversation with a native speaker a few sessions a month, but doesn’t want to be enrolled in any course or institution.

I want to look at one tool in particular that looks to be a big player in this space of one-to-one tech-mediated learning environments: Google Helpouts. My attention was refocused on this tool recently because I finally got my invite code to offer my own “Helpouts”.  Browsing around the Helpouts webpage got me thinking about what the space might look like in a few years, hence my grandiose picture of the future in paragraph two, above. Google Helpouts uses Google Hangouts as the medium between learner and teacher. If you haven’t used Google Hangouts in a while, do so. Screen sharing, google doc integration, and loads of other goodies await you. I imagine that those affordances in particular will be helpful for learning environments. 

One thing that popped out to me there is one category for “Education and Careers”.  I guess those things are related? Except then I see the other sections for “Music & Art” and “Computers & Electronics”.  Wait – isn’t everything that goes on here Education? Even when someone is teaching someone else how to make a pancake (see Cooking section), isn’t that education? Isn’t teaching someone how to code also education? Music can be a career, too. So now I’m wondering what Google’s definition of “education” is here, when used in the “Education and Careers” category label.

Click on Education and Careers to check it out. Notice that you can sort them by reputation (based on reviews), price, soonest offered, or best match. I presume “best match” means most closely matching your search terms, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Google was feeding in the data it knows about users based on their other Google account information.   I love the idea of being able to sort the teachers by their organic, crowd-sourced reputation.  I suspect the crowd will do a decent job of establishing credibility, although I bet many students will grade-inflate their reviews to avoid hurting teachers’ feelings.  The ability to search by price is also interesting, and as mentioned before this should eventually drive down the rate of in person, one on one tutoring, which has reached somewhat exorbitant levels.  The $50 an hour standard could, for starters, probably use a haircut to $30 or $35.

I sort by best reputation.  Up comes a math teacher that charges nothing. All of his available sessions are booked. He has almost 80 positive reviews at the time I write this. That = cool.

Three Helpouts below, though, is another Math service that charges $25 for a half hour. I see a Writing Helpout, and then a “One-on-One Career Counseling” that is charging 40 bucks for a half hour! Wowzers.  Loads of positive reviews. Quality will continue to demand a higher premium for their services, I guess.

Since I love Latin and want to help people learn Latin, I search for Latin Helpouts.  Some look okay. I think I can do better, if not in quality then at least in price (heh).

I encourage you to explore, though. Lots of disciplines are represented here: history, literature, language, you name it.  High school learners are looking for people outside of their regular classrooms. Some because they need additional help outside of school hours.  Others because people online are doing better jobs than their in-class teachers. Loads of potential reasons why Google Helpouts makes a lot of sense and looks ready to shake things up a bit.

Yes, even things that aren’t MOOCs can shake things up.


P.S.  The next non-MOOC shake-up? Oculus Rift is coming. It’s going to change the world of digital interaction, and education won’t be left out of the party.





3 thoughts on “MOOCs are fine, but what if you don’t want M or the C? Google Helpouts

  1. I actually really like this idea of using google hang outs for teaching and tutoring. It’s like a craigslist for education 🙂 I had no idea the tutoring was this pricey. I think the great thing about new markets are new opportunities for work exchange. My anarchist leanings get piqued when I hear about people freely exchanging services that are not regulated by any larger organization. I think this is why craigslist is so successful actually. This medium is also really empowering for students at all levels. I am more reluctant now to commit to a course but I would love to a few sessions on feminism or literature.

  2. Some intriguing ideas here. While I understand the reason for the M (in MOOC), I’ve always been skeptical of masses of anonymous learners actually sticking with and finishing an entire course, and the data are bearing this out. As for reasons for C (courses), it seems to me that tutoring on demand could end up with a lot of “hit or miss” situations or learning about small bits of a particular subject or topic but not deep and extensive knowledge or understanding. Let’s take the specific example of learning a language (since that’s what I know most about): if you had a conversation in Chinese (or any other language) a few times a month, it could take years before you would be “fluent.” And as we all know, if you don’t use a language (or many other things for that matter) regularly, you forget so much in between the times you use/speak it. I guess what I’m saying is that “random dabbling,” intense or otherwise, might also result it the same kinds of attrition rates that MOOCs experience.

    I will admit that I haven’t checked out Google Helpouts yet, but I will :).

  3. I just want to say I’d never realized this was available, and I think it’s pretty cool. I agree with Dorothy though, that it may simply be another way to dabble for particular people. And the high schooler who wants to learn more about Egypt? A few hours of interested clicking on Wikipedia helps that.

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