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Google Helpouts shuts down: Are live video tutorials viable?

Google has announced that it will be shutting down Helpouts on 20 April 2015.
Image credit:
Image credit: Helpouts by Google
Helpouts, a Google service that connects users with experts on topics (health, home improvement, beauty, academic, etc.), went live in 2013. It allows users to get real-time video advice and solutions from experts who actually know the subject content for free or at a fee. Real-time video streaming provides a tutoring solution that is personalised and is closest to physical human contact.

In the announcement, Google stated that the Helpouts community had not grown at the pace they had expected.

With the Gauteng MEC for Education, Panyaza Lesufi pushing for paperless classrooms it is important to reflect on the risks and challenges faced by Helpouts to understand the online learning space so as to mitigate them optimally for the South African context. History has witnessed big corporations and startups like Skype and Tutorspree shut down live tutoring services as a result of low viability. In the cases of Helpouts, Tutorspree and Skype it was never a shortage of money but the low appetite for the service that has led to shutdowns.

South Africans need "real" teachers

The general sentiment amongst South Africans is that data costs are too high and they need a "real person" to teach, making these the major drivers for lack of interest in live video tutoring and streaming in general.

It is necessary and sufficient that government and other educational technology service providers diligently measure the return on investment of the different technologies being deployed into schools. Critical questions ought to be addressed on the optimal usage of these technologies and infrastructure:
  • Are the technology solutions a correct fit for the intended beneficiaries?
  • How does the economic status of learners affect their usage of these technologies?
  • Are teachers and learners fully utilising them?
  • Is the curriculum being aligned with the technological improvements?
  • Is there sufficient support to significantly perpetuate this technological revolution beyond the classroom?

Online tutoring

According to Educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom, "The average student who has been tutored one-to-one performed significantly better than students taught solely by conventional classroom methods. Tutoring is an important part of education, particularly for students who don't learn well in large classrooms or lecture environments."

MathsGenius Leadership Institute (MGLI) strongly advocates for Individual Social Responsibility (ISR) as a major component of the education solution, whereby every resident of South Africa reinvests their knowledge into the educational system through tutoring or otherwise and real-time video tutoring has always been a promising channel to achieve this.

Now with major corporations showing that it's not as viable a business then it is paramount that South African startups and government find ways to enhance knowledge sharing in a way that is attractive to the public and is economically viable for sustainability. Worksheet-based learning management systems are the next best solutions to providing seamless online tutoring at a low cost across technology platforms.

The technology space is an ever rapidly evolving ecosystem with constantly shifting challenges. It is highly beneficial for policy makers and entrepreneurs to take this into consideration as replacement costs have to be factored in the initial costing of technology solutions. What is useful and popular today might be outdated in a year's time, thus it is vital that technological evolution considerations be fully embedded in the deployment plans. Millennials are fast changing human beings who will not hesitate to ditch outdated and irrelevant technologies.

Educational technology solutions ought to be attractive to the users, cost-effective whilst flexible to keep up with the evolving ecosystem to remain relevant.

About Edzai Conilias Zvobwo

Edzai is at TEDSF. Its mission is to contribute to poverty alleviation through improving employability and entrepreneurship in Africa through research, thought leadership, news, sustainable interventions and partnership activities

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