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Edu Lead Gen Long Term

Often I write about how EDU lead gen is being battered by the current administration and the stock market. Today, I wanted to take a slightly different perspective which is more of a long term view.

For the past 10 years for-profit EDU companies have had to fight against some major issues to validate what they were doing was real. They had to fight against people not having broadband at home, no computers at home, and not understanding what studying online was. Why was I supposed to pay $30k for an education where I never got to meet the professor or my other classmates?

Broadband is almost in every home in the US, computers are everywhere and more importantly people are connected via mobile devices.

But people are still unsure about the quality of an education online and if the for-profit schools are “real.”

One of the greatest things to happen this year was a major initiative by the Obama Administration to actually spur more innovation in the Education sector. This has lead to a series of education start ups and new learning models which are introducing online education to gigantic numbers of people much quicker than any online school.

Sites like Udemy, Udacity, Coursera, KhanAcademy, and Skillshare are all introducing online learning to people who were not in the core demographic of for-profit schools.

What is this important?

First, mass acceptance is vital to legitimize any industry.

Second, these sites are attacking the spectrum of online learners from two ends, the young folks and the older folks who went to traditional schools in the past.

The fact that kids are getting more involved in online learning is great. The folks who are over 28-30 years old who are now trying online learning just happen to be the same people who are hiring these days.

The biggest outcome of the boom in online learning is that employers are now starting to see more of this in the workplace, see the quality of education and experience it for themselves.

This is a major boost for the for-profit sector. If more employers are willing to hire graduates of the online schools this will help them reduce their loan default rates and hopefully increase their graduation rates.

What happens now?

In the coming months you will see many of these free and pay for courses platforms continue to explode. This will lead to a short term erosion in the for-profit sector’s target pool of candidates. Long term there are many potential outcomes.

1) The for-profit schools use these platforms as lead gen tools. The people on these sites self identify that they are life long learners. Perfect candidates for long term degrees.

2) The for-profit schools offer lower cost single course offerings and make their degree a-la-carte oriented. This may face some accreditation issues but this maybe more in line with what the students/customers want.

3) The continued increase in technology penetration into the home will invariably increase the target market for the for-profit schools.

Personally I think 2012 will be a flat year for the online schools but going into the next 24 months, I think you are going to see massive growth, acceptance and product offering changes from the for-profit sector.

I think this view point is further bolstered by the comments made by Mr. Andreesen of Andreesen Horowitz which can be found here and here.

 

 

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.