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MOOCs, Barriers to learning

Do MOOCs Really Break Some Walls?

MOOCs, Barriers to learning

“Only a wall divided him from those happy young contemporaries of his with whom he shared a common mental life; men who had nothing to do from morning till night but to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. Only a wall – but what a wall!” – Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy

Do MOOCs really break those walls?

I think the Internet itself demolishes those walls to a large extent. However, how big is the blow delivered by MOOCs?


Wall 1: Access and Affordability
MOOCs definitely break this barrier for many students across the world.

Non-affiliated, Not For Profits (Like Khan Academy)

Not having a computer and Internet is where the access and affordability block begins in many countries. Several not for profit initiatives provide this basic access to students.

Well Known Universities (Ex. Coursera, EdX etc.)

Having access to good content is one of the biggest gifts of these MOOCs to students across the world.

Connective MOOCs & Task Based MOOCs

These types of MOOCs are conducted by a handful of professors currently. The subjects they cover are few. Since these MOOCs are about taking your learning in your own hands, anything learned from anywhere is a way that these MOOCs promote.


Wall 2: Value of Self-Learning

Value of self-learning* is low, and it forms a big barrier to learning. Shouldn’t the primary task of open education be to increase the value/worth of “self-learning”? (It’s like the health industry trying to make people value healthier habits.)  Let’s see how this has been done through MOOCs.

Non-affiliated, Not For Profits (Like Khan Academy)

Salman Khan of Khan Academy brought the idea of the “flipped classroom” that caught up fast. It brilliantly promotes self-learning as valuable, and reverses the role of the teacher.

Well Known Universities (Ex. Coursera, EdX etc.)

The big, well-known universities, presenting courses on Coursera etc. have not proposed any pedagogical models that promote “self-learning” as valuable.

They believe in star teachers delivering star content and learners learning sequentially following through with teachers. (teacher centric delivery)

Maybe this is one wall they don’t want to touch.

Connective MOOCs & Task Based MOOCs

Connective MOOCs are all about self-learning, learning with peers and utilizing the network.

The importance of “self-learning” is a part of the new pedagogical theories they propose and experiment with.


Wall 3: Ownership of Content
Why is ownership of content important? Because the hand that owns the content rules the learning. 

Non-affiliated, Not For Profits (Like Khan Academy)

The content in Khan Academy is open, and it runs from teacher to student.

With the flipped approach, learners decide their progress and pace, and the classroom helps them cope.

Well Known Universities (Ex. Coursera, EdX etc.)

The content is owned by the universities, and it comes with the individual brand of each professor and university.

They deliver the course, and in many cases after the course is over, the videos are pulled down till the course starts again.

How or why would anyone shut something that is online? Is it to establish ownership?

Connective MOOCs & Task Based MOOCs

The Internet, the people in the network, and the learners themselves own the content.

Learners are encouraged to create more and more content and share it with the network. Content is in the hands of the learner. Support is provided by the network.


Wall 4: World’s Perception of Students’ Learning Efforts
A great wall is other's perception of learning achieved on one’s own, outside of institutions. Most people worry whether what they’re learning on their own will have any value in the real world. Will it get them a job? Will it help them grow in their current job? Will it help them do better at school? How much do MOOCs help break this wall?

Non-affiliated, Not For Profits (Like Khan Academy)

Khan Academy provides a way to test what you have learned. You can view your ipsative scores and your progress through a series of exercises, meticulously created, backed by data and presented to you and your teachers in a gamified platform.

The “gaps in learning” are clearly visible for the student and teacher to work upon.

Well Known Universities (Ex. Coursera, EdX etc.)                     

University MOOCs seem to have the strongest wall here. The differentiation between the “real stuff”, that is, a university education and the video lectures of professors shared via MOOCs seems to amplify the wall.

A common argument given by the owners of these MOOCs is that peer/expert interaction cannot be replicated online.

Not true, if you look at how people are interacting across the Internet (or look at other MOOC types).

Assessments in these MOOCs may cost you something (which may be fair). Or they may have assessments (peer reviewed exercises and scored questions) and provide a certificate to those who complete it.

However, the bigger barrier is the value of the diploma/certificate you earn at the end of the MOOC. Is it of any value? Should this barrier always stay for universities to remain relevant?

Connective MOOCs & Task Based MOOCs

Building your digital footprint and having your efforts out there for everyone to see are the best resume you can create. The more value you generate online, the more value you develop for yourself.

These MOOCs demolish this wall for those who are truly interested.

*Self-learning means to take responsibility for your learning, learning how to learn, owning your curriculum, and owning your content. 

Are Dropout Rates a big Wall for MOOCs? Click here to read more.

Animated Movies, Life-long Learning

Life-long Learning through Four Animated War Films

“It’s only lines on paper, folks!” — R. Crumb

Here are four animated films that celebrate what it is to be human, question what we take for granted, and connect us to the larger picture of the world that we live in. These films can be a part of any grown-up’s life-long learning project.


Marjane, the child protagonist of the film grows up in a left-wing family that struggles to fight the rule of the Shah and then the Islamic revolutionaries. The film is a presentation of the dichotomy between the family’s personal beliefs and the external political environment. 

Questions the Film Evokes

  • What is our personal history? 
  • How is our life’s story, also the story of our society?

A Piece of History
A quick historical bite to put the film in context:


When the Wind Blows

A story of a loving couple that has lived through one war in childhood and prepares for another in old age. As the old couple prepares to face the brunt of the war, the movie depicts how far removed war is from the basic human need for love, comfort and peace. 

Questions the Film Evokes

  • Where does war fit in with basic human nature? 
  • What human need does war fulfil? 

A Piece of History
A picture of the health hazards of the nuclear bombing in Japan:


Waltz with Bashir

The film explores Israel’s mass amnesia (metaphorical and real) related to the 1982 Lebanese war and the massacres in Sabra and Chatila. This intense watch takes you to the minds of people who were a part of the war—and once again this film too contrasts true human compassion with the absolute terror that we’re capable of inflicting on our own species. 

Questions the Film Evokes:

  • What are the collective lies we’re hearing around us?
  • What’s behind our silence when such grave events take place? 

A Piece of History
Noam Chomsky on the Sabra and Chatila massacre:


Grave of the Fireflies

This is a grave story of innocence and resilience in the backdrop of WWII. Two war orphans seek refuge with an aunt who takes advantage of their situation and dislikes their presence. The two run away to live in an abandoned shelter. The story traces their lives of starvation and misery as the war comes to an end.

Questions the Film Evokes:
Does animation make the unbearable, almost watchable?

A Piece of History
Japan’s imperial ambitions:



Collaboration, boat race

The Worst Nightmare: Rolling out Collaboration Platforms that No One Uses

Boat_race_chundanThinking of rolling out a collaboration platform to the entire organization? Think again.

Do you really need to roll it out to everyone at one go? Do you fear that people may not use it? To reduce your risks, here are some points you could follow:

 1. Do Not Roll it Out to Everyone—Create a Plan

 As we plan the creation of a collaborating organization, it’s important to note that a company-wide implementation of a collaboration platform at one go may lead to chaos. It may intimidate users, or people may question the use of it.

Instead of rolling out the platform to the entire organization, it’s best to identify high energy teams and start on a trial and improvisation basis with them. As and when teams or communities successfully collaborate, the network of people and teams on the platform can be increased. Creative methods can be used to get people interested in the platform.

2. Share Success Stories

​If you roll out to a limited audience, there will be a buzz around your platform. Follow up on how this audience is using the platform. Improve it based on their feedback.

And remember to share the success story with the next group to who the platform will be rolled. The more convincing your success stories, the more people you’ll motivate to participate in your organization’s knowledge network.

3. Strategize, Such that People Engage With the Site in the Long Term

As Daniel Pink says, people have an internal drive to learn and to contribute. What the organization needs to provide them is a purpose and some form of autonomy. To provide autonomy, it’s best to allow the collaboration platform to be an initiative that is run by the employees.

Community leaders play a crucial role in defining the purpose, and often times they need to be trained on guiding and running a community.

4. Involve the Leaders of the Organization

As organizations spread across the world, and interaction amongst culturally diverse teams becomes indispensable, leaders need to positively promote collaboration. They can do this by setting an example and contributing regularly to the knowledge network.

5. Train to Activate the Right Brain

As Daniel Pink points out, a collaboration platform should be the right brain of an organization, promoting the capacity to, “synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.”

It’s crucial to make people see the purpose of the platform and to help them actively understand how collaboration plays a role in their work. This can be done through training.


Image Reference: Image Reference: Challiyan at ml.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

MOOC Dropout

MOOC Dropout Rates

MOOCS are criticized for high dropout rates. Are dropout rates a barrier to learning? Should we be worried about low completion rates? We think it's incorrect to use dropout rates to gauge the success of MOOCs. We should NOT be worried about completion rates. Here’s why:


The Medium is the Message

If we take a deep, realistic look at the medium, we won’t consider dropout rates for assessing the success of MOOCs. As Marshal McLuhan tells us—"Technology shapes our behaviour." We step into the online medium (which is like an ocean with no beginning and no end) and we’re automatically drawn to what’s interesting. Our purpose is not to read the Internet or its resources like a book from beginning to end.

“People don't actually read newspapers. They step into them every morning like a hot bath.”  - Marshal McLuhan 
It doesn’t matter from where you enter the hot water bath or from where you exit it.

Internet Audience

We all know the 1% rule:

Isn’t that how it goes for almost everything on the Internet? We can again look at Marshal McLuhan’s thoughts on media and how it determines behaviour. 

Many MOOCs ask questions to study dropout rates. Ideally, if people go out of any MOOC knowing even a wee bit more than they came in with, the MOOC has served its purpose (even if they go out with the realization that this topic isn’t for them).

Different Strokes for Different Folks 

Many students don’t have access to great education across the world. If a student enters a MOOC with the purpose of learning those three principles of physics that s/he had problem understanding, a MOOC is helping the student. S/he need not “complete” the MOOC.

Physical world and the online world are two different spaces that evoke different behaviour and have different benefits. While completing a course book may be top priority for many students, no one bothers to read every single blogpost that even their most well-liked professor may have written. The metrics to measure success in the two media should be different.

The illusion that we ought to control learning leads us to misguided metrics like completion rates. When we let go control, this particular metric becomes meaningless.

What different success criteria can be used to study the success of online courseware? Read here.

How open is open education? Read here


References: Image 1: By Michael Kellen (Own work) [CC BY-SA 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Pie Chart: By Life of Riley (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons





Meditation at the Workplace

300024933_9aedf3f9b1_zIt would be incorrect if we looked at meditation as a means to increasing productivity. Because that’s what meditation is NOT. It’s the exact opposite of doing. It’s a state of not doing, and not seeking. And ironically, meditation may yet be a way to increase your employees’ productivity, to reduce their stress levels, and to prepare them to take on the world.

What is Meditation?

There’s no right answer to that question. It’s perhaps a state of absolute harmony through the end of conflict or the end of duality. Many people attempt to answer that question, and the most beautiful description, in my knowledge, has been given by J. Krishnamurthy:

In this 57 minute video, Krishnamurthy very cogently describes the meaning of meditation, and says that there’s no prescribed “technique” to achieving a meditative state.

After listening to this lecture, it seems incorrect to suggest that we should “use” meditation to “achieve” any results. That in itself is the beauty of meditation at the workplace. Empowering employees with the skill of meditation could mean coming together without a purpose. The by-product of which is—an understanding of ourselves, and observation of all situations that we’re in, as they exist in the present. 

Here’s how meditation can be introduced at the workplace:

Meditation in Training Sessions

People get drawn to things they perceive as beneficial. Unfortunately, urgent and important work almost always seems more beneficial to people than soft-skills training. And trainers wish for a magic wand that could grab their audience’s attention and could get them involved in a training session.

We discovered through a series of training sessions conducted for over 6000 employees of a client that meditation can be that magic wand. It brought people in the present moment, and held them there for a good amount of time. Not just that, it also brought in “commitment” and “seriousness” for the rest of the session. Of course the session too needs to live up to the audience’s expectations to keep them involved. 

Meditation as an Employee Engagement Tool

In our experience, those who attended workshops that started with a meditation, wanted to take up meditation as a daily habit. They formed meditation groups within office and started attending these regularly. 
Meditation is a life skill that helps people cope with the stresses of daily life. While other forms of entertainment (like watching television, playing games online) tire people out, meditation rejuvenates them. Even if you do it regularly, meditation disrupts routine, since each day is a new journey to your inner self.
Many big corporates like Google, Apple, Cisco offer meditation classes to employees. The trend is growing and even psychiatrists are prescribing meditation as a means to control several psychosomatic diseases and to manage stress. 

Methods of Meditation and Resources

“The World Health Organization estimates that stress causes American organizations approximately $ 300 bn a year.” Is higher productivity really a by-product of meditation? In this video, Arianna Huffington, Matthieu Ricard (a Buddhist monk), and other practitioners discuss how meditation can cause a change in the mind of leaders and make them more effective.

If you’re convinced you wish to begin meditation practice in your organization or wish to add to your leaders’ life skills, help is just around the corner. Several organizations, including Design Storm, offer meditation practice services to get employees engaged in meditation.
Remember there’s no right way to meditate, and individuals can explore texts and develop their own way. So, get your yoga mats out and start off a meditation group at office. All you need is a music system, speakers and some good music / guided meditation CD.
If you wish us to help your employees get started, you can contact us at: We will answer basic questions on meditation and provide support in getting started. 


Image of Meditating Man:




The Expert

As learning experts, we can surely relate with this video. We often find ourselves caught up in situations where:

  1. The customer knows what they want.
  2. They know it all wrong.
  3. You’re pressurized internally by your organization to simply execute what the customer wants.
  4. And you better get it right.

What is the way out? How can we generate awesome learning experiences, and keep our customers happy? 

Five ways to handle these situations:


I Begin at Home

Lead up and educate your teams. Customers may not always be right, and the sales people / project managers need to be educated about what is wrong with the customer’s demand. Experts rarely communicate with this end of the spectrum.


II Educate the Customer

Each time you find yourself cribbing about a customer’s understanding, ask yourself these questions—

  1. Did I make an effort to educate the customer? 
  2. Did I simplify things enough? 
  3. Did I show them the implications of what they’re asking to be delivered?


III Say No

If your answers to the questions above are “Yes”, refuse to do the project. Saying a “No” means you’re honest. Explain why you’re refusing. It may not win you the goodwill of your customer in the short-term, but in the long-term they’ll know you were right.


IV Position Yourself Well

Most great experts don’t pay enough attention to how they position themselves. You’re not here to take orders, but to understand a problem and to arrive at solutions. Take a hint from the way doctors have positioned themselves. 


V Involve and Collaborate with Customers

Learning is not an exact science, and designs will evolve as you ask more and more questions, and collaborate with your clients. The more you involve them, the more they’ll understand your point of view.


We’re all guilty of being the ill-informed, confused customer. We’re this way to interior designers, architects, lawyers, accountants and to almost everyone we deal with. So, while you educate, resist, question, push back—be nice to your customers. Nothing works better than that. 

Google University Consortium

Google’s Treasure Trove for Educators – Part II

In an earlier post we shared some exciting tools and apps from Google for educators:  In this part II of the same post we’re back with some more jewels. These Google tools transport us in space and time. They connect us with people from across the world, and give us a first-hand experience in global collaboration. Read on to explore.

VII Google Cultural Institute:
Take a trip through museums from across the world, and become a curator of your own gallery. This is a rich resource that covers art, history, and culture under one space.

Google Cultural Institute

You can visit these online museums anytime, as many times as you like. Your students can even create their own galleries, and that is how they may end up knowing more than they would from a physical visit to a museum. However, would these reduce the excitement of visiting a physical museum? Doubt it. In fact, the experience is almost better than a book (apologies book lovers), and lesser than an actual visit.

VIII Google Tour Builder:

Your students can become explorers, navigators or army generals making strategic decisions. Get them to tell stories using the Google Tour Builder, and they’ll connect with history, geography or culture, like never before.

Come up with your own creative uses. For example, take up a journalistic assignment of documenting changes in your local area since the new government took over. Or allow employees to explore your organization’s growth story using this tool. The possibilities are endless. 

“Teaching history is about teaching stories.” Watch how this teacher uses Google Tour Builder to bring stories to life.

IX Google Historical Voyages and Events:

Much along the lines of the resources listed above, this Google Certified teacher is trying to get schools from across the world to create voyages of the great travellers to explore your culture and history.

X  Google Skymap:

“I can find in my undergraduate classes, bright students who do not know that the stars rise and set at night, or even that the Sun is a star.”—Carl Sagan

Source: [CC-BY-SA-3.0-usvia Wikimedia Commons

Enlighten your students with this open source mobile app, which is Google’s “window on the sky”. To have some fun learning, you could organize a star gazing party around this app.

XI Developers University Consortium:

Google University Consortium

And here is another hidden treasure: Free online courses on Android Mobile App Development, Interactive Web Development, and Programming.

Use technology to facilitate wonders, and share your stories below. We're all eager to learn. 

Google scholar

Google’s Treasure Trove for Educators

Google has a treasure trove of tools for educators and learners. We've listed out some exciting ones that are being used extensively for online education. Let's take a look: 

I Google Scholar:

This handy tool goes searching specifically for scholarly articles for your research, classroom activity, or personal interest.

More Information Here are some excellent tips to optimize your search:


Click the image above to enlarge.


II Google Helpouts:

“Real help from real people in real time.” This is the most amazing, recently launched, Google space for educators and learners. In this space everyone can be a teacher. And anyone can be a learner. People collaborate in real time to learn new things. 

Those who want to teach a subject can do so online. Share the per session rate you’d like to charge, or give out knowledge for free. Learners have a plethora of subjects and teachers to choose from. They can see the top rated teachers, take a course, and provide feedback. It would be interesting to follow how this space is used.


Click the image above to go to the site.


III Google Sites:

Google Sites are an easy way to set up a collaboration space for groups. These sites are easy to set up, and intuitive to use. They also have an exciting range of templates to cater to your specific needs.

You can use Google Sites for:

  • Classrooms / Online Learning Events: Learners can use them as editable “wikis” to collaborate and create a repository of knowledge that groups can utilize even after a course is over. Incorporating a wiki in your learning solutions can help people learn forever, and Google Sites is a cool tool to help you do just that. 
  • Projects: Project teams can easily use Google Sites to share documents, create visibility of progress, share a calendar, get project updates, and to collaborate on the project.

A sample project site made using Google Sites 


Click the image above to go to the site.

More Information: You can get very creative with Google Sites. Here are some links to begin:


IV Google Apps for Education:


Click the image above to go to the site.

These include the common range of products by Google:

  • Gmail
  • Calendar
  • Drive
  • Docs
  • Sheets
  • Slides
  • Sites
  • Vault

While these products are available to a personal Google account holder, using them via apps has some differences. With Google apps for education you can: 

  • Create a school/organizational domain, and learners will be able to access the tools via the school/organizational domain only. So these apps are a part of one umbrella, available only to the members of your domain. 
  • Have administrators who create the accounts for your school / organization. Individual students or teachers cannot create their own account. This helps you keep this space personal and private. 
  • Give a clear message to people to differentiate between a personal account (for sharing anything they like) and a school / professional account. 

More Information
Some free courses from Educators on how to find your way around Google products for education:


V Google Forms:

Google forms can be used to send invites, to ask quizzes and to take surveys. This touching video elaborates how a teacher broke barriers in the physical space by using Google forms to connect with her students. The possibilities are truly endless: 


VI Google In Education:
This resource provides all that Google is doing to help teachers grow and connect better with their students. There are stories, programs, and resources for teachers, trainers, and administrators. They also have an exciting set of programs for students.

So that's the list from us. Which Google tools have you found most useful for education? How have you used them to facilitate learning in your organization or school?

View Part II of this post here:

Timeline of MOOCs

Historical Timeline of Virtual Learning Environments

At every stage of human history, societies have built elaborate mechanisms and institutions to guard knowledge. Learning has always been available only to a certain few who have had the means and access to these institutions. Technology, however, has been a great leveler. By altering the process of production and distribution, technology has made knowledge more available and accessible. Beginning with the invention of the printing press all the way up to Google books and the open courseware movement, technology has freed learning and knowledge.

Here is a timeline that traces the key events in the development and adoption of technology in learning. It also places the evolution of Virtual Learning Environments (VLEs) in a historical perspective.

(Please click the image below to enlarge.)


Image References


Analogy, Flight

“Active Use of Analogy” in the Manager’s Toolkit

Analogy, Flight

“I hit the television and it started working. Let me hit the toaster. That might work too.”

“We set up an online store for our range of jewelry, and it started selling well. Can we do the same for apparel?”

Analogies play a bigger role in our thought process than we give them credit for. Anytime we’re faced with unprecedented situations we look for solutions by running to an unrelated experience we’ve had in the past. We may do this overtly, but most of the times it’s a hidden process. We don’t actively know the fact that we’re drawing analogies with a past situation.
Well, many masters say that being actively aware of our thought process can help us harness the power of analogy, and it can also help us avoid the traps that poor analogies may lead us into.

So, what is an analogy?

According to Douglas Hoftstadter, an analogy is – “Perception of common essence between two things.” Hofstadter goes on to say that analogies happen inside our head. It is the connections we make between two mental representations that we project on the outside world.

We compare the essence of one situation/person/place to another, and that is how analogies help us connect the dots to make meaning of our world. 

How can it help decision makers and creative thinkers at work?

Analogies for Creative Thinking

Analogies have the power to facilitate creative thought. You take one concept and project it to another, and so forth. This helps us think more fluidly, which in turn leads to newer ways of looking at things.

In this video, Douglas Hofstadter (the author of Gödel, Escher, Bach) describes what analogies are, and how they can facilitate creative thought:

(The introductions are lengthy. You can watch the video from 13 minutes onward.)

Example of a creative analogy: The author of this post uses Sesame Street to draw lessons for breakthrough blogging.

Analogies for Reasoning and Strategic Thinking

Although Hofstadter doesn’t really associate “reasoning” with analogies, many management gurus propose that analogies do play a big role in the way decision makers and strategists operate. When we are faced with incomplete information, and unpredictable situations we make use of examples that we feel are similar to the problem at hand.

For example, in the learning design space, companies often follow the analogy of IT companies for project management and development models.

At Design Storm, we sometimes use the analogy of an advertising campaign to receive the brief of a problem – convert the brief to a design idea – start the creative process – promote the creative output to generate a pull with the learners.

Sometimes we also use the analogy of marketers to measure the success of our courses. Our blog-post brought out one such analogy in comparing Amazon’s marketing success criteria to online learning:

When faced with more complex situations, such as a company trying to expand into newer markets, or setting up a facility at a new location, people often look for analogous situations that will help them prepare. This Harvard Business Review article brings out several examples of how strategists have leveraged analogies in the past to solve novel problems:

While analogies are a great tool, they can also be extremely misleading. A, now hilarious, example is our first attempts to fly. We used the analogies of birds to learn to fly, and it failed us miserably:

Why did these people fail so miserably? Although they drew an analogy, they never paid attention to a lot of details. 

How can we avoid the pitfalls of an erroneous analogy?

We can use analogies more fruitfully by:

  1. Becoming aware of our thought process, and recognizing the fact that we’re using analogies to resolve a particular issue. That would be half the battle won. 
  2. Analyzing the source of the analogy deeply, and understanding the key reasons behind why things worked in a particular situation.
  3. Analyzing the differences from the source of analogy. This should help us know whether the situation we are handling is fundamentally the same, or radically different from the analogy we’re drawing. (This is what the winged flyers of the past missed.)
  4. Not following the analogy blindly. Using other methods like deductive reasoning to arrive at conclusions. 

Design Storm runs an intensive one day program designed specifically to help senior management learn to use analogies for good decision making. For more information about the program, please contact us.