In the late 1990s, I got some of my initial experience in online education working for a start-up that planned to capture content from top 25 business schools and channel it into community colleges. Those were heady days. We were out to change the world, and like many dotcom companies, we raised – and spent – a lot of money trying to build a successful business.
You can probably guess how it ended: the money the company spent vastly exceeded the money it actually made and, like so many of our dotcom peers, we eventually sold off what was left of our efforts and moved on.
When I hear news today about Harvard and MIT launching a high profile – and free – e-learning initiative, or start-ups like Udacity targeting a massive global student base, it’s tempting to think things will turn out much the same.
But they won’t.
And it is because I am convinced they won’t that I wrote Leading the Learning Revolution.
What’s so different this time around?
A huge amount, but here are a few items to consider for starters:
- The technology has gotten dramatically cheaper, faster, and better
You no longer have to have massive amounts of venture capital or a payroll packed with programmers and PhDs to launch a global education business. The combination of Google, YouTube, open source software, and access to talent through services like Elance and ODesk make it possible for nearly anyone with expertise (or access to expertise) and ambition to make a good go of it. Individuals can now compete with large, established players.
- The global economic landscape is fundamentally different
As best-selling author Thomas Friedman put it, our world is becoming “flat.” The borders between economies across the globe continue to fade. Depending on where you sit, this may mean greater access to a wide range of opportunities or it may mean a dramatic increase in competition and risk. Either way, it means that the demand for education, training, and related credentials is going to rise as employment markets become more and more competitive.
- The “other fifty years” has become much more important
As people live longer and the pace of change increases, the formal education most of us receive into our late teens and early 20s (K-12, college) only holds up so well. (Assuming it is of high quality in the first place.) We exit our early education with, on average, another 50 years or so ahead of us. During that time, we switch jobs and even careers much more than was the case in the past. We find ourselves barraged with more types of information from more sources than ever before. Inevitably, the demand for truly reliable, high quality sources of knowledge and learning will increase.
- Learning online is no longer a novelty
It’s been around for well over a decade now. It’s been proven effective in numerous studies. It’s now standard fare at most colleges and universities. Yes, there are and always will be hold outs, but for the most part, anyone who wants to teach or train online no longer has to fight to the uphill battle of persuading their prospective audience that online is okay.
I talk in much greater depth about these and other changes in the book, but the bottom line is the same: we are on the verge of revolution in the market for lifelong learning. Like all revolutions, this one is going to produce its share of casualties – many of which are likely to be traditional players unable to adjust rapidly enough to the changes that are afoot. But it will also produce its share of winners. My aim with the book and with upcoming content on this site is to show you how to be one of them.