I'm going to be moderating a CalTech MIT Enterprise Forum that looks at Entrepreneurial Opportunities in eLearning - basically where do we mutually see a good opportunity to create a successful eLearning Startup.
I've talked a bit about this in eLearning startups:
the startups in eLearning sit in smaller niches or by attacking tangential opportunities in eLearning. They are going after things like:
- specialized tools and content that meet particular industry or audience needs
- games and simulations
- web 2.0 approaches that leverage distributed content creation, social aspects as part of learning, collaborative learning and editing.
and in Business of Learning, Future of Business of Learning, Future of Learning and the #LCBQ : What will the workplace learning technology look like in 2015, there are a lot more thoughts around where learning is heading from a business perspective.
In the case of the CalTech MIT session, the attendees are mostly interested in where there's opportunity to do an eLearning Startup. I'm very much looking forward to hearing from the speakers and panelists, but I thought I would use this as an opportunity to both respond to this month's #LCBQ (2011 Predictions) and to prepare for the session.
Technology's Impact on Learning and Education is Greatly Underestimated
We tend to overestimate the effect of a technology in the short run and underestimate the effect in the long run.
Roy Amara, Institute for the Future.
We are collectively underestimating the incredible impact that technology is going to have on education. I've talked before about a world in which the Best Lecture is available to us anywhere. This already is available. Distance is really dead.
If we are going to force students to sit through lectures, shouldn't they be the absolute best lecture? Tell me how you are going to compete with Physics Lectures by Professor Lewin? People will argue that Dr. Lewin's is not appropriate for all students or in all situations. Agreed, but you can't tell me that the high school and college lectures going on around the world is the best way to educate students.
Of course, should it even be a lecture? How about if it was an interactive experience instead?
With the death of distance, what does this mean for universities? Should we all be taking online courses from the very best we can access? How does a local university with a limited brand compare to an online degree from a much bigger brand? Or compare to someone who aggregates content from various online sources?
What does this mean for high schools? My daughter last year took an online summer school course taught by her high school teacher. This year we are trying to find an online high school course (US history but not AP US history) taught by someone else. It's hard to find that today, but there are dollars there ready to be spent.
If you doubt this impact, make sure you take a look at what's happening in things like SAT prep, Driver's Ed, Tutoring. In places that are not controlled by government, there's incredible adoption of technology that has greatly shifted things online.
I'm excited to Rob Angarita co-founder of Cramster that is now part of Chegg on the panel. Cramster helps students with homework by providing answers to textbook questions and interactive support - think little pieces of eLearning for helping students figure out those problems. It also wires into an online community and tutoring services. Chegg is basically Netflix for textbooks. Rather than buy a textbook, you rent it for the semester. It will make college bookstores obsolete - think Blockbuster - actually they just won't be called bookstores - they will be called a campus store - they will sell all sorts of other things and handle local fulfillment to the college market.
Of course, just like Netflix, Chegg is going to face a really interesting battle as books go digital. Textbooks are going to go digital as well. And when they go digital, there are going to be eLearning Startup successes like Cramster that can address specific needs.
In fact, more broadly publishers will need help to find ways to make their materials relevant in a digital world. I'm working right now with two eLearning startups doing exactly that. They are partnering with publishers to make their books come to life as interactive content and tools.
There are also a ton of smaller startups emerging that essentially focus on niche topics. These can be one person shops that selling training to particular audiences. I recently heard a podcast from a one-person operation that had a list of people in the world of real estate. He would put out offers for an upcoming course that he would teach online. If he got enough interest in the course, then he would actually make it happen. If he didn't get enough interest he wouldn't offer it. He was doing $400K per year as a one man shop with virtually no overhead.
For more about this: Long Tail Learning - Size and Shape
Aggregation, Curation and Social Signals
Of course, this also suggests that there are going to be big time opportunities for an eLearning Startup that aggregates offerings for particular audiences. For example, my daughter wants to take that online high school course. It can be from anyone as long as it gets her credit from her high school. We'd like it to be a great experience from a well known brand. What are my options? As the number of options grow, the need for directories grows. This is an eLearning Startup that someone should do immediately.
More broadly, addressing the issue of information overload for particular audiences is going to provide big time opportunity. Aggregage does this for particular topics - allowing curators to bring in appropriate content and the wisdom of the crowd through social signals to filter to the best content. This kind of approach (using curation and social signals) is big time opportunity for dealing with the increasing flow of information. We'll see startups providing rating systems, filtering systems, etc.
With the death of distance, that also means that you have immediate access to people across the globe. This greatly changes things like tutoring and language teaching. You can now be working with a tutor or teacher from anywhere in the world. We've seen quite a few successful eLearning Startups doing these.
But there will be a lot more in things like mentoring, matching, getting quick help, micro-consulting. Look at the success of eLance and Amazon's mechanical turk. Quora (Q&A) is getting a lot of buzz - I'm still not sold, but it points out the continued interest in connecting people around questions, help, content.
Of course, during any gold rush the people who have the sure thing are the ones supplying the gold miners (shovels and jeans). There are likely going to be lots of opportunities to be an eLearning startup providing tools. Incumbents will definitely be tougher here. But we still don't have a really good solution for niche content providers. The real estate training company has cobbled together a solution. Lot's of people have tried the marketplace, but white label has not been done well.
There also will likely be tools around:
- Creating performance support - Learning meets action. See: Performance Support in 2015
- Augmented reality
- Communication (leverage platforms, but in a learning context)
- Virtual environments
- Integration with Google Docs
Now it's your turn. If you were going to do an eLearning Startup - where would you focus? Or if you are doing an eLearning Startup - what is it?