musings about entrepreneurship & life…
I have always been interested in education. This might be one of the reasons why I have spent 13 years in university settings. I was lucky enough to receive my high school education at a German private school in Colombia. Not knowing it at the time, this was the critical foundation that carried me through 12 years of successful academic studies both in Canada and the US. I have been one of the very few lucky people to get scholarships and fellowships to cover 95% of my educational expenses. As such, after all those years of navigating the university world, I am debt free.
In the US, there are a lot of challenges in the educational system. Although universities can’t guarantee professional success anymore, they still price their offerings as “the last coca-cola in the desert”. I wonder if the quality offered is really worth the debt. It seems that as a society, we are losing productivity gain in education. Looking at the numbers show that in certain universities, their pricing increases more than inflation. Getting an undergraduate degree from a top school could cost as much as $200,000 US.
Recently, I have gotten very interested in the power of online education. In my mind, online education will help re-establish a societal productivity gain overtime by lowering the amount of debt needed to complete a degree. Based on my research, it is clear that medium is no longer a limitation. There is a tremendous space for technology entrepreneurs to jump in and help universities build great affordable online platforms. I think the upper level educational system in the US is in a bubble and one of the ways to step out of it is to create online platforms that can compliment training.
There are a couple of main reasons that emerge when advocating traditional education. First, the fact that peer-to-peer interaction is essential to learning. Engaging conversations are critical to stimulate or memory centers. Second, the fact that knowledge alone is not a ticket to success. We all need a network of peers that can be useful after graduation.
Online education is currently addressing these two facts. Platforms are nowadays very interactive. It is very feasible to create networks, just as we do in LinkedIn or Facebook. Although online education is not a replication of experience, there is a definite space for it in certain graduate programs. It can also be a complement for certain undergraduate programs.
A powerful tool available in online platforms is customization. The student can learn at his/her own pace and the learning process can be adapted to life circumstances. This is especially important for the low income, full time working student. My work with low income Hispanics shows that for many of them, it is more important to work at McDonald’s and be able to afford a cell phone, than it is to take many buses to reach an overpriced classroom. Affordable online education is a more realistic goal when targeting the low income population.
From a business stand point, I think that online platforms need to scale in order to excel. Given the large capital investment required (i.e 10 million dollars for a good online program), scalability is a must for reinvestment to occur. I foresee the establishment of a few players that would catalyze excellent online degrees. Given the strong brands that are present in education, I foresee customers wanting online degrees from known universities. I also foresee the appearance of several creative “boutique like” specialized shops that would tackle smaller goals than the establishment of online degrees.