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Why the MOOC is redefining online education

The MOOC for the past year or so has been evolving very quickly. It really took off when the Stanford AI class shot past 250,000 students.

Since then the model itself has been refined and several startups have aligned themselves around the methodology. A few months ago if you asked me who the leader would be in this space, I would have said Udacity. I thought they had the organic growth and quality that you need early on when building a brand.

Today, my answer would be Coursera. I think they have a few things that are really creating a competitive advantage over Udacity and even sites like EdX.

First, they have quite a bit of money behind them, $22 million to date. That amount is not that significant, but the people putting it in is. Kleiner Perkins and John Doer put in $16 million alone. John Doer is considered one of the most influential investors in the Valley. He is also a master of PR pushing his start ups to the front page of major news outlets and leveraging his connections for strategic deals.

Coursera announced that top schools like Duke and University of Virginia have signed on to be part of their offering. Not only are they attracting major traditional school brands but they are asking them to adapt their teaching to the MOOC model.

The ability to change their viewpoint on how online education should be delivered is a massive step forward. We are no longer just watching videos of a lecture, there is true interactivity, peer to peer learning and instantly updated materials to learn from.

Coursera is making the right moves, and getting rave reviews from students. If they keep the quality high they will make a massive dent into online education.  Some of the courses even offer a certificate. This is a huge step forward for employers. Now employers can verify completion and potentially create better HR paths based on this info.

Lastly, I think Coursera is engaging an audience who wants more education but doesn’t want a full degree. This a la carte option is attractive since it is low cost, but more importantly low commitment. Just a few weeks and you are done. No need to rework your whole life.  Now you have exposed a lot of new people to online education and I think this will potentially impact the for profit education sector faster than the publicly traded schools realize.

For profit EDU has been growing for the past 10 – 12 years, but has only scratched the surface of potential students. Coursera is exploding given the higher broadband penetration and higher number of connected devices. I can see their growth trajectory being much faster. Keep an eye on them, they could impact your stock portfolio very soon….


The Rise of Micro-Education

Recently lots of folks have been talking about online education and where traditional schools will go long run with all the new technology available.

I personally struggle daily to keep up with all the new online learning platforms like MITx, OpenUniversity, iTunes University, KhanAcademy, Udacity, Udemy, Skillshare, Coursera etc. They are all evolving so rapidly, and all of them have great content in my opinion.

The fragmentation in the Education market is just part of the overall disruption that Peter Thiel called for last year.

If we look at the current technology market we see a major shift towards mobile as the primary interface. These new all in one devices like iPads are creating tons of new opportunities in how we consume information.

The list of sites above covers the following needs in the market:

  • Cost – most of the sites are free or low cost.
  • There are no entrance exams or exclusivity.
  • They are high quality original content.

What I don’t see in the current education disruption is the following:

  • A true mobile learning platform – are the sites above able to be viewed on a phone or tablet? Yes. But is the content optimized for a tablet’s features? No. There is no Path or Instagram in the Education industry.
  • A way for this education to turn into employer value.  Someone who can provide a standardized certification for employers will be a massive boost to the online learning industry.
  • The current crop of content quality is good, but there are no standards in place to keep quality high as people find ways to monetize this content.
  • There are no effective ways to test knowledge retention.
  • The formats are too long. Why does it take 10 weeks to learn something a particular subject? Can the content be on demand and still provide the same experience? Why are we sticking to the concept of credit hours in the online world?

With the steady decline of attention span in the US, wouldn’t it make sense to make education available on a mobile device, anytime and in tiny chunks?

Imagine for a moment if you could learn one function in excel as part of a larger curriculum in 2 minutes via mobile video. If you had questions you could ask the group or have someone walk you through it on your screen. Think of a mobile MOOC and Google hangouts. Now lets say that this 2 min course is part of a 2 hour block of curriculum that certifies you have learned the basic functions of excel. Once you get the certification it gets posted to your linked in profile so that employers know you have achieved a certain level of education.

Simple right? Digestable and best of all cheap. Here is the kicker, if you could charge 99 cents per 2 hour course, how many people would start to buy education? Especially if employers could verify that you completed each course?

The other version of this is actually broadcasting education on TV. Stations like PBS and Discovery were massively successful in the past for producing educational content. Imagine if there was a Harvard channel on-demand? Or a marketing class channel on TV? Ted Turner would support this. Why aren’t we able to produce content online and push it to TV? We are spending too much time trying to figure out how to get TV onto the computer.

The greatest thing about the TV format is that we are essentially sponges during the time we are watching. Education is the perfect thing to deliver via TV.

I am looking forward to the era of micro-education which employers can verify.