Responses to Personalization and Monopolies

There are several things I’ve read / heard recently that have provoked a response in me but I’ve been negligent in responding publicly. Dumping some of those thoughts out here.


Audrey Watters provides the best summary of a recent conversation on personalization in education. A lot of the conversation is around what personalization means and, given any specific definition, should we even be attempting to personalize learning. Obviously, the answer to the latter question depends on how you address the former.

For me, personalization comes down to being interesting. You have successfully personalized learning when a learner finds it genuinely interesting. Providing me with an adaptive, customized pathway through educational materials that bore me out of my mind is not personalized learning. It may be better than forcing me through the same pathway that everyone else takes, but I wouldn’t call it personalized.

In my imagination I have this notion of “Netflix Hell” related to personalized learning (did I hear this example from someone else?). Imagine if your only option for watching movies was to login to Netflix and watch the movies it recommended to you, in the order it recommend them. Who wants that? Who would pay for that? This is essentially where the current “vision” of personalization is taking us. But that vision aims too low – we need to help students find their learning interesting. If making learning interesting is what we mean by personalizing learning, we should absolutely be doing that.


On a different note, Fred Wilson wrote a great post recently about Platform Monopolies that does a terrific job of making an argument for OER. You should read the whole post, but this quote summarizes it nicely:

So, as an investor, when you see a dominant market power emerge, you should start asking yourself “what will undo that market power?” And you should start investing in that.

If higher education textbook publishers have not emerged as a dominant market power, I don’t know who has. And of course I think OER are what will undo that market power. As high quality OER continue to expand into additional subject matter areas, and as efficacy research continues to show that learners using OER learn just as much or more than students using publisher materials, this will likely mean trouble for publishers. Very quickly, what today are their competitive advantages – their huge authoring, publishing, and sales machineries – will transform into gigantic liabilities.

4 thoughts on “Responses to Personalization and Monopolies”

  1. I find it really difficult to think about the concept that ‘you’ personalise learning. I like the idea that ‘we need to help students find their learning interesting’. The learning is theirs (students/ learners) – we (whoever we are) would do well to share possibly interesting resources, be responsive, be supportive, help them find their pathways. OERs provide a comfortable context for this.

  2. That vision of personalization sounds like something done to (or perhaps for) the student, rather than something done by the student. And that kinda makes me cringe. But “Netflix Hell” is an awesome expression and needs to be a song title.

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