Developing a Learning Culture

No Thanks to MOOC: Google Helpouts Shutting Down April 20th, 2015

It was supposed to be the future of online learning: Google Helpouts promised to match experts with students in topics from fixing your brakes to shopping your closet. But, as of April 20th, 2015, Google Helpouts goes the way of the dinosaur—or at least, wherever they put Google Buzz.

So, what was the problem? It’s simple, really: There were other sites offering the same service for free. And, if there’s anything we know about online activity, it’s that free trumps just about anything. While there were free Helpouts, most were for a fee. Sure, you could talk to an expert about making pastries, but it’d cost you.

A quick evaluation of the eLearning industry proves that Google Helpouts didn’t grow or succeed because, by the time it was launched in 2013, the industry had already moved on. It’s a case of too little too late, and can serve as a cautionary tale for anyone testing the online learning waters.

Google’s Folly

Hey, they can’t all be winners. And unfortunately, Google Helpouts is just a causality of better ideas and execution. And, if you want to blame the demise of Helpouts on something, turn your glare to MOOCs and Youtube.

Thanks to free sites offering great (and perhaps better?) content, the idea of paying for advice and expertise is less than attractive for truth-seekers. Why pay a yogi to show you the perfect downward dog when you can find everything from entire yoga courses to instruction certification for free?

Even the caliber of Helpouts’ experts couldn’t grow the feature like Google had hoped. For every great expert on Helpouts (for the low, low price of $15 per 30-minute session) there are literally hundreds of experts willing to dole out answers on YouTube, via MOOCs, or other online courses.

Google also struggled with a lack of advertising. Some eLearning experts—the very people with their pulse on all things eLearning—hadn’t even heard of Helpouts until the news broke that it would become officially defunct in a matter of months.

But What About eLearning?

Let’s be honest: Google’s loss is the eLearning industry’s gain. While we definitely support innovation in the eLearning industry, Google Helpouts probably wasn’t the way to go, especially with hefty competition. But the mistake doesn’t end without a few lessons for the industry as a whole. Take the idea of face-to-face learning, for example: Seeking out the opinion of an expert makes for better information sharing and networking. The idea of utilizing multimedia as a teaching tool is also attractive.

The bottom line is that Google was beaten at its own game. It was definitely an attractive idea, and we’re sad to see it go. But don’t worry: There’s always something better on the eLearning horizon.