How can we open source our training and still make money working in education?


It’s a good question… and one that is constantly in my mind as the owner of a small niche education business in a very small country.

I’m not sure I’ve got the answer, but this is how I see the way forward at the moment. What I’m describing below is a process that for us is well underway. It represents a big investment of time and money, especially in terms of time not spent doing other things. And money spent stopping doing things that we no longer wanted to do.

Here’s the answer in one word:

  • Unbundling

This is similar to what the telecoms have done, but we’re applying it to education. Here’s the longer answer below. I’ve framed what we’ve done (and are doing right now) in terms of steps if you want to head down this path yourself:

  1. Build relationships that can become strategic partnerships that allow you to collaborate effectively. This takes a long time. And it has to be genuine. Our key strategic partnerships have been in place for several years now. Our relationship with our funding organisation and several key organisations – some large and some much smaller – allow us to leverage our core skills and try to create win-win situations for the people we work with.
  2. Hack the traditional education business model. This is the unbundling. New technology means new business models, particularly online. Our future as an education business is going to be mostly online (but not completely). We’re trying to pull apart traditional delivery, assessment, and credentialing. Thinking in terms of unbundling allows us to full apart a 20th century model and reconstitute it for 21st century application in education.
  3. And then hack it some more: You can even pull apart delivery and assessment. Delivery breaks down into the deliverers (e.g. face-to-face facilitation and delivery by humans, online delivery by humans, online computer mediated delivery). Assessment is similar – assessment by humans, automated assessment by software.
  4. Focus on scalability: This is going to be a big deal. Dollar for dollar investment in educational projects and programmes that are scalable are a better investment for education spend at government level. But we have to get this right… or our learners will suffer.
  5. Learn about MOOCs: There’s that four letter word again. A MOOC is a massive open online course. They’re not the solution to all our education problems and challenges. However, the idea behind a MOOC is a good one. Think of open source software as a kind of metaphor. Ours is a mostly open online course. It’s not just a sandwich of youtube clips, and there’s no social sharing at the moment. Think what you like, that’s what we want.
  6. Deal with the challenges of MOOCs: We’ve been thinking for a long time about some of the challenges of working in this way. One challenge relates to our most “hands on” learners, e.g. the ones who don’t or won’t like working online. The solution here is simple: we need to keep doing our face-to-face training and retain or reinvent this business model to work in with the online and blended components. Other challenges of MOOCs relate to student completion. Or mainly the lack of it. That’s why ours is not completely open. Candidates need to unlock the higher stages of the assessment process by enrolling with us in an official capacity.
  7. Have a business model: Learners’ organisations will pay a fee to have their staff assessed and credentialed in this process. We also have access to limited government funding to subsidise this. So the content is fully open and online, but we’ve unbundled the assessing and credentialing process which will become our new lean business model.
  8. Think about the options moving forward: This all gives us options. We can still deliver our face-to-face training. This will still need to be led by demand and remain financially viable (so no changes there), but we’ll have other options for people and organisations including a fully online and distance model, other blended models, and the possibility of increasing how we and organisations customise the training for their own purposes. And these options could be priced differently as well.

And all of this gives us a great model to implement next year with the new New Zealand Diploma in Adult Literacy & Numeracy Education (NZDALNE) that we want to develop next.

What do you think? Any suggestions on how we can continue to tweak this…? Let me know in the comments.

Author: Graeme Smith

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

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