Learning the Netflix way

I’ve just read the post by Donald Clark called ‘What does ‘learning’ have to learn from Netflix?’ which has resonated with much of my own thinking from recent work and discussions I’ve been having on Twitter.

I signed up for one of the free 1 month trials of Netflix when it was first available in the UK. I enjoyed it, then cancelled it. I’d got what I wanted. Then I realised I wanted access to the binge-watching phenomenons like House of Cards, Breaking Bad, and the one that started them all, 24. But more than this, as Donald mentions in his post, I wanted access to the kind of programmes I like and at my convenience. I am not always available at 9PM every Thursday to watch the latest instalment of my favourite show(s), just like I don’t actually want to wait a full week for the next episode. I first watched 24 on DVD, not Sky, so I did binge-watch the show, usually 4 full episodes a night (or 1 DVD) and went to bed wired for the next marathon 24-fest.

So, if we’re changing our viewing habits, are we changing our learning habits (as pointed out by Donald)?

Yes. Consider Donald’s points: 

  • Timeshift. We want to watch what we want, when it’s convenient to us. In education MOOCs have enabled some of this to happen, but what is on offer is quite thin on the ground and only available at certain periods, which still mean we’re locked down to the information provider (note: not platform provider) to offer the course.
  • Delivery. If data is able to drive delivery of streaming video services like Netflix then why not use our knowledge of students and their learning habits to enable a system (or institution) to deliver fully flexible learning course (degrees, etc.) in a more flexible manner. Do they really have to start in September? With more students dropping out at 18 years old for a gap year, or more people taking distance learning degrees while they work, these courses could theoretically start any time.
  • Content. By being more flexible in delivery methods and start times, the content can be more flexible and more up to date. They could and should be more relevant, more in-depth, and more appropriate to the specific learning outcomes and learning journeys.
  • Multi-device. Like Donald I watch Netflix via various different modes, depending on where I am and who I’m with. The same goes for how I learn and interact online, whether it’s a formal course or MOOC. If this is what we do, then it stands to reason current students are also using their devices like this, not to mention what the next few cohorts of students will be doing. Flexibility to watch what we want, not just how, is key to the success of Netflix and other streaming services. The same will be true of the first truly flexible learning experiences students have.
  • Global. Back to the MOOCs again, but it’s a no-brainer that in times of global connectivity we live and work in, that we’re also learning globally too. Courses have to reflect not only the reach of the learning resources to a global audience, but also reflect the subtle (and not so subtle) differences a global community and the different cultures will and can bring to the learning experience.

For me the comparison between streaming video services like Netflix and education is too far apart to be relevant. But it wont be that way for long. Talk of making MOOCs ‘aligned’ and ‘meaningful’ for a participatory institution are all around us.

“Of course, young people are watching way less TV these days, TV is dying, and when they do watch stuff, it’s streamed, at a time that suits them. Education has to learn from this. I’m not saying that we need to replace all of our existing structures but moving towards understanding what the technology can deliver and what learners want (they shape each other) is worth investigation.” Donald Clark

We are very close to a cross-road where traditional learning institutions will need to make a choice, just like traditional broadcasters are now. The likes of the BBC have not only an immense back catalogue of programmes it could drop into it’s online iPlayer, and be in a position to run with the up-and-coming streaming video services, but it could also start developing high quality online/streaming first options. Other broadcasters may not have the opportunities of the BBC, just like  many universities may not be in a position to offer online courses in a more flexible or bite-sized chunks.

But those universities that take on board lessons being learned in other industries may just get ahead of the curve and be stronger in the market place? By breaking away from the boundaries set many years ago for the traditional 18 year-old-school-leaver, and offering more flexible and dynamic course options, learning and degree schemes could actually see a resurgence in interest?

I’ll let you make your own mind up about why I chose the image for this post … !

Image source: Dave Dugdale (CC BY-SA 2.0)