Sustainable open education

Free! in star

There’s a lot of debate around at the moment about MOOC’s (Massive Online Open Courses) in all their variants. In particular, there’s the question about how they can continue with no obvious business model?

It’s the same for any “open” project, whether it’s open source software or open courses. The project must have a business model that ensures its long-term viability for people to trust that it’s worth investing time and effort into.

There are as many business models as there are open projects. What’s key is that the people developing the project are able to treat it as their “work” and not just “hobby”. This means that need to be paid for the time they invest in the project – whether that’s immediately, or at some point in the future.

One particular favourite of mine comes from a Management Consultancy in the US: Manager Tools.

Go to their website and you will find one of the best management development resources available in the English-speaking world (my opinion). Most of that is given for free, without even requiring any sort of registration. With about 85,000 downloads per week, you get an indication of how useful their materials are.

This has been going on for many years, and the resource is continually added to. It’s good stuff. High-quality. And immediately useful. They’ve invested considerable time and money into making it.

What the Manager Tools team have done is realise that generic content needs to be free. That’s just how the internet works.

But people are prepared to pay for the stuff that is bespoke to them. And, if they know it’s going to be high-quality, they’ll pay a lot of money.

By giving away their content, Manager Tools have demonstrated their capability. You know what you’re going to get from them.

More than that, the team have built up a community of over 37,000 people who have chosen to register and take part in their open forums.

Having built up a reputation for good, useful advice, the Manager Tools team have been able to realise its value in three ways:

  1. By hosting expensive, high quality, medium-scale, conferences where participants are able to put into practice the guidance in the materials whilst being observed by experienced coaches.
  2. By providing bespoke consultancy services for organisations wishing to improve their management practices.
  3. By creating bundles of materials that can be purchased to support the free materials.

So, what’s the challenge for our education & training organisations today (whether F/HE or workplace)?

  • What are we doing to prove our capability with our target market? There’s no point just telling them what we can do, we need to demonstrate it – in the open, for free.
  • What are people prepared to pay for? In education & training, I would argue that this probably consists of qualifications with a good reputation and materials & advice that are bespoke to the individual or their team. The days of costly, generic, mass-market education and training are numbered. Instead, we should perhaps be thinking about providing no-cost education & training to the mass market, and focus on selling to the long tail.

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