10 reasons why your adult education & training course has to go online or die a horrible death


It’s the economics stupid…! That’s my conclusion to myself at least.

  1. Education is expensive. This is because of high fixed costs like buildings, resources, managers, teachers. The technology for online education is now cheap.
  2. Educational bureaucracies are firing the middle layer of managers. In fact, traditional bureaucracies of any kind are firing the entire middle class. This isn’t an original idea to me. Just have a look around. If you are a middle class manager in some kind of bureaucracy you’d better start looking for a better job. Basically, you have three options. One is to look for a hopefully more secure job doing more or less the same thing once you get fired or restructured. The other is to become an entrepreneur of some kind. Or you can look forward to joining the under-employed.
  3. Funding for education is in short supply. Governments don’t have that much money to spend on education, so they want to reduce funding if they can. Or if they can’t they want to reduce risk. Large scale online education costs about the same as small scale online education, or at least once it’s set up the ongoing costs start heading towards zero. Who do you think they’re going to fund?
  4. Shifting education online opens up new business business models that didn’t exist before. Students paying fees works for traditional education. Online education wants to be free. It’s just information after all. Therefore, providers will need to think about new ways of generating income like subscriptions, consulting, pay-for-download products, advertising (yes, advertising), and unbundling the assessment and credentialing processes from the training side.
  5. Education providers that go online should be able to destroy their fixed costs by getting rid of buildings, physical resources, managers, and possibly teachers as well. Education providers that don’t destroy their expensive fixed costs will not survive the disruption. Providers that don’t change radically will be like publishing companies, record labels, music stores, bookshops, and newspapers – nice to have if you like them but not really necessary any more.
  6. Education is a risky business. Adult learners can be crappy to deal with. If they are not motivated or can’t see any relevance for your training they will vote with their feet. This means issues for you and your outcomes. The funders of public education actually want a zero risk environment and they’ll penalise the risk takers and reward those who can do more with less. By shifting online, education businesses can scale their training, deal with more people, and mitigate the risks associated with things like learner attrition.
  7. Education is traditionally geographically constrained which means your market is too small. You can only teach those people who can physically get to your expensive facility which you now have to get rid of. By shifting online you extend your reach to a much larger, possibly global market. That means your education niche should become a strength.
  8. Software will eat your education job. This is not really a separate point. But what do you need managers for if a learning management system plus a remote assistant can do their job online? In fact, what do you need a lot of teachers for if your learners can access the best teachers in your field by video online and anytime.
  9. The best teachers will become media stars. This is inevitable. Check out Sal Kahn online. He’s the model rockstar educator/entrepreneur for this moment. This is inevitable because of the next reason.
  10. The internet connects your learners directly to the best teachers. You don’t actually even need teaching institutions for delivering learning and training. Assessment and credentials is another matter. But think about print and music. The internet connects musicians to fans who can purchase music directly or through music platforms like Spotify and iTunes. The internet connects readers and listeners directly with authors and writers via platforms like Amazon Kindle Direct. When massive next generation global education platforms emerge they will connect learners globally with rockstar teachers and trainers the world over. Check out what’s happening with Coursera in the US for example.

These changes will benefit the learners, disrupt the establishment, and simultaneously make a whole lot of people both extremely happy and miserable. Agree or disagree? Let me know.

Author: Graeme Smith

Education, technology, design. Also making cool stuff...

2 thoughts

  1. It’s both a scary (for those of us still in middle-management education at present) and exciting vision Graeme. While I’m totally with you on where the very near future is headed, I wonder how education/training is going to be delivered to those learners who either don’t have physical or economic access to effective internet technology (think Gerry in Northland still on dial-up), or don’t have the skills to access it (think of some of our staff).
    I’m looking very hard at including e-granary in our Online Learning environment – it’s a virtual digital library created for deployment on off-net servers in the developing world, where internet access is slow, unreliable and costly for learners – they’re up to their 500th installation. The whole package can be delivered on a thumb-drive!
    I do like the concept of good quality NZ education being delivered globally – certainly in the adult LN field, I think we’re streets ahead of a lot of comparable countries, and I am sure we have a lot to offer developing countries, particularly in Asia. Jenny Young-Loveridge has said that places like Singapore and Hong Kong are interested in how we teach numeracy to adults in NZ.

    1. Hi R: Thanks for the comments! You’re right… I’m not saying it’s all good. I can just see it starting to unfold. I think there are certainly opportunities. And I can certainly see cases where some learners, particularly the hard to reach are disadvantaged.

      This is where we need innovation the most. However, I think this innovation is going to have to come from outside of the “system” as the government funding shifts to a zero risk mode of operation. I don’t have a good answer for how to beat the inevitable economic drivers on this one.

      I’d like to think that government policy would kick in behind great initiatives, but there’s too much uncertainty in the system at present.

      One thing is that innovators like yourself are also in short supply… we just need to figure out a way to leverage your skills (that’s sustainable for you…!)

      I love the idea of the easy to deploy tech like e-granary.

      Perhaps I should add “become an Intra-preneur” to my list above. That’s essentially how I see your role – like an entrepreneur but transforming an organisation from within rather than starting up a new one. These are highly desirable and marketable skills I think.

      Actually, I’m not worried about people like Gerry. He’ll make it happen with his learners. The learners that I think we should be concerned about are the ones who should be in the Youth Guarantee and ILP programmes, but don’t/can’t/won’t attend or have no provision because there is no incentive for providers to make it happen.

      It’s difficult to see the kind of direction we need to be pushing in… Basically, we need to create platforms for connecting the learners and the learning, but in ways that transcend the limitations of geography and lack of skills or broadband… and outside of the traditional “system” if at all possible.

      Re Asia and global markets, I think we have two things to offer. One is the technical skills like JYL is suggesting. But I also think that our approach to embedding literacy and numeracy offers something like an “operating system” for doing the technical stuff. Techniques, activities, and strategies are a bit like the apps on our devices, but the need a coherent OS to work in. That’s something we hopefully manage to “install” in our NCALNE candidates. It’s also something that could be massively scaled.

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