Two weeks ago, in my “Make your own online course” post, I mentioned a site named Pathwright. Over the weekend I got the chance to talk with Mark Johnson, one of the folks who created the site. He was interested in integrating some components from edX into their system. I, having worked with edX, was making some suggestions as to what components might be useful. Mark had some good ideas right off the bat, going for the pieces that made edX more modular and expandable.
It was also interesting to hear about their particular strategy. Pathwright definitely has a specific niche in mind. Let the big players gather their tens of thousands of students – these folks have a different approach. They’re specifically after the custom-learning market in a way that would be difficult to reach with automated learning systems.
Mark’s example for me was how he and his brother (also on the team) were both homeschooled, and how their mother saw them really getting into HTML at age 12 or so. She recognized that they were interested in it, saw that it might be useful in their futures, and let them do it as part of their science curriculum.
That’s the sort of decision that is very, very hard to automate. That’s like a Strong AI kind of decision right there, not the simpler machine learning that people are talking about incorporating into learning systems in the next 10 years. Don’t get me wrong, machine learning has the potential to absolutely revolutionize online learning, and I should talk about that some more on another day. But saying “Hey, let’s change up the curriculum because of what you’re interested in” is a whole other level. That takes not only a bit of courage, but a bit of foresight as well, and a willingness to take risks. I don’t know of anyone who is trying to build risk-taking into their machine learning.
Pathwright’s approach is to make every course adjustable, at the level of giving different assignments to individual students. It’s incredibly time-consuming compared to running a MOOC, so you can’t scale it easily, but scaling isn’t what they’re going for. It’s nice to see folks who are really going after a particular niche.