TL;DR: We built an online learning service and now we are open sourcing it.
A couple of days ago I decided to open source The Courseware Project. I must say I’m both happy and sad about doing this. Probably because I should have done it long a time ago or I could have done it better.
I’m writing this because, first of all I would like to thank everyone who followed us, subscribed to our newsletter and sent us feedback during all this time. We felt very lucky and special to have all your support and the fact that you were in such a great number is definitely a confirmation that we were following the right mission: build a better, social e-learning environment.
This project was exciting in every way: the people I had the chance to work with, the timing, the challenges and the results we’ve been discovering.
I started alone back in summer 2012. In autumn David joined me. By winter we were already 3 including Călin. Earlier this summer, finally Oana joined us.
I’m thankful to every person in our team we’ve managed to put together, and it is amazing that somehow, driven only by passion, we’ve managed to build what I really hope someday will inspire (at least a tiny bit of) the creators of the next generation of teaching tools.
By the time Courseware v.1.0 was almost ready, I could see the huge interest in this market (it was before Coursera, Udacity… and such,it was OCW MIT era) and in the same time, I could see the limitations of my work on it.
I was also extremely frustrated by the way education was served to me too. Honestly, I’m still surprised by the poor quality of most of the tools out there in the e-learning market, and I really hope people will start taking seriously the way knowledge is shipped. The process of learning should be at least as exciting as the process of sharing the knowledge, period!
Courseware v1.0 gave us a lot of traction, a community and some sort of ecosystem (us and teachers/e-learning enthusiasts). In the end, I was hoping I could play that card the way others did it — DHH on Basecamp with Rails, Matt on Automattic with WordPress. Even though all we were actually looking for, was to make sure we can continue bootstrapping the project by getting some potential clients and advisors.
The challenges and the results
Courseware changed its catch phrase a couple of times: Social Teaching, WordPress for Education, finally Social Coursera. Getting close to any of these is an immense challenge. I really don’t think we’ve had enough time and resources to do it. But I‘m pretty sure we’ve achieved some interesting results in some of our Courseware design and workflow:
It was as easy to start a class as starting a blog
The class was easy to build and collaborate on
The class was socially friendly, private and secure for any of its users
During the time of its existence, we had a chance to raise interest for Courseware from: educational projects looking for a platform, Helen Dowling Instituut, Accel. For various reasons, some partnerships succeeded, some failed. Some of the major reasons why things didn’t work out, include the lack of clarity and of the maturity of the project and its team or the lack of freedom in what clients wanted and we were looking for.
We found we are not getting anywhere huge with Courseware after a couple of such failures. We failed at getting a CEO. We failed at sales and at some other decisions. We ignored customer development and we did no growth hacking at all! I guess at some point little was happening and we could not keep ignoring that fact.
Looking back, the decision of closing the project was a natural one despite all the broken hopes. I was happy to have the support from all the members in our team when the question was raised.
If wondering what’s next: Oana moved to Belgium where she’s working hard on her new career of a Rails girl; Călin is finishing his high school and working on all sorts of Google contests; David took a break from startups at least for a while; as for me, I cofounded DOERS — we are reinventing the forums.
More than this, I’m still excited to see what is going to happen in the market of e-learning products in the next years. Also, I guess I will be curious at some point to try a Courseware v3.0.
Today we open sourced all the code that powered coursewa.re domain name. Before this, we already open sourced a basic FirefoxOS app and an Android app. You can find all the code on Github at github.com/Courseware.
I also set up a page with some screens from the project at open.coursewa.re.