Learning from empty shopping carts

Inside the excited micro-world of education online, there’s an orgy of imperfect messages. It strives to get people to listen to the messages and be more willing to abandon the truth.

If you were to travel back in time, to the late 1980s, the way the todays edtech reality is presented mirrors the way retail marketing went from “local” to “mega-stores”, such as Athena, Tower Records, HMV and so on. Students learn locally (a truth) and yet so much effort and attention is paid to out of town mega-malls which are un-reachable by the vast majority of people who want to learn. The fact we have phones and computers, which connect to the internet does not create a new reality that online learning is accessible. I am amazed that people obsess over ‘abandonment’ rates in MOOCs – completely ignorant of how little engagement there is with the piled high shelves of ‘proper’ information (and systems).

The truth is, that our hand held glass screens do not give us the same presence, they do not make the truth more findable, but building mega-stores to entice in new-shoppers has been a resounding success (for now). The web is a grave-yard of abandoned carts.

People have rushed to become ‘brands’ where high ‘footfall’ no longer matters, just clicks and followers. The online eduworld entices, engages, informs, teases and invites. It’s shop front presents enticing offers that this new futures is available and affordable.

What’s more, because ‘everyone’ is (or should) be doing it – then it provides the social-proof needed to get others to behave similarly.

Next we needed events – and edumedia provides on  daily basis. Even better, as these are rarely local, we don’t need to worry at all about building and permanent spaces at all. Edulandia is full of singage and signposting, it has shelves full of stock piles of information, carefully presented to create flow-behaviour from first sight to next purchase.

The problem is local-availability. Is what is being sold ‘close enough’ to the truth, and close enough to our-truth – or is it on the opposite side of town, too far to get to and too difficult to return.

My argument is this, while a privileged few in education seem to spend most of their days at conferences and debating the future and endlessly shopping around the pixel-mega-stores self-styled gurus have concocted – these people will not improve educational spaces or outcomes for students one iota tomorrow than they have in the last ten years.

The smarter people inside learning communities are learning from abandoned shopping carts – they are looking at powerful online tools, which provide a great deal of intelligence as to these flows of information, as used by real people, not sales-people. However, this is not the purpose of the PLN at all, a PLN is a shopping mall.

Sadly, there are millions of educational-websites (stores) which have been packed full of information (shelf-stocking). I am sure all this information is quality and relevant in some context. The truth is that while 95% of educational effort goes into to making ‘stock’, 95% of it also never leaves the shelf because it lacks “flow”. Few store owners appear to understand localised SEO, market intelligence and user-flows sufficiently to realize that their mega-store has no customers and plenty of abandoned shopping carts. The best solution – don’t look at the data.

Consider this, the action of one person or a group pushing information online around a ‘new’ initiative almost always succeeds in burying the visibility of another. Even worse, they probably won’t even know it. It’s mind blowing how little effort goes into managing this – and now much goes into one group trying to dominate others for that ‘home-page’ spot – believing that Google pays more attention to Home-pages than anything else (the 90’s called, they want their meta-tags back).

Working out where learners stop (or don’t even start) online cannot reasonably be measured in “likes”, “clicks” or “follows” – this is the measurement of the attention-economy. It serves those building edu-mega-stores well, as you’ll buy into the idioms – but the truth is, these are yet to be proven to make any significant difference to learners. But I suspect that’s not the point anymore. Commercialization of education was necessary to sell brands (and products) and it seems few are willing to abandon their addiction.

Enjoy the ISTE Mega-Mall. I’m sure the shelves will be piled higher and deeper this year.