The following interview was conducted with Dennis Yang, president and chief operations officer of Udemy. In this interview, Yang discusses the impact edupreneurs — especially Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) providers — have had on the higher education space in recent years, and how their influence will evolve over the next decade.
1. How are edupreneurial operations such as Udemy fundamentally changing the higher education marketplace?
Edupreneurial companies today are focused on tackling some of the largest, seemingly most intractable issues in higher education: affordability and access. There is huge demand among people around the world who simply don’t have the money for a so-called traditional education and/or who don’t have physical access to one. And from the industry’s perspective, there is strong demand for well-skilled workers.
For students, Udemy and learning platforms like it have a mission of democratizing education by solving the affordability and access problems by engaging the world’s experts – not just those who work in higher ed, but anyone with expertise in a certain area who wants to share that with the world, no matter where they come from. That’s why we call Udemy an education marketplace – no longer are we limiting ourselves to learning from celebrated researchers and professors. Instead, the focus truly is on the teaching, as defined and evaluated by the world’s students.
This online learning marketplace model shares several elements with Wikipedia, a top-five global website with nearly 500 million unique visitors: Wisdom of the crowds, curated by experts, low cost and accessible to the rest of the planet. Students want high quality, low cost, easy access to content that will allow them to reach their goals, whether that’s a degree, a certificate or simply new skills that will help them succeed as quickly as possible and at the lowest cost possible.
Learning platforms like Udemy also work with higher ed institutions to help them unlock existing content and put it into a digital format that is appropriate for today’s generation of students – self-paced, on-demand, video-based, interactive and modular. Moving content online also allows institutions to create new content packages that can be consumed for different purposes and different audiences. For example, new non-credit learning content can be geared both toward professional and continuing education for alumni as well as to prospective students who want to get a sense of that school’s experience. Bridge or transitional courses can be made available for students before they enroll.
Institutions are now able to leverage supplemental and complementary skills-based content, such as learning Microsoft Excel, that already exists from the Udemy marketplace and infuse that into their existing curricula. This single, unified technology platform provides both a consumer-grade, global learning experience for students and a course creation system that the most non-technical instructor can use to deliver a compelling online course at low cost, with scalable delivery.
2. Looking 10 years into the future, what do you think the biggest differences in higher education will be?
Tier 1 schools will be bigger and stronger, even more so than today, because many are already leading the market in terms of innovation (think Stanford and Harvard). Non-Tier 1 schools will struggle as they try to move away from a model of differentiation that was traditionally heavily based on location. They are saddled with fixed assets leading to a high cost structure that can’t be reduced easily; to survive and thrive, they need to learn to differentiate based on either proprietary content and/or a new, compelling learning experience.
Nothing will replace the residential experience, the “coming of age” experience that attending a top-tier school provides. Non-Tier 1 schools will leverage content of other top teachers if they can’t themselves produce unique content, rather than recreating it and delivering it themselves. There will no longer be tens of thousands of faculty continuing to teach the same topic on campuses around the world.
The result? Faculty roles will shift, with many instructors going from being a “sage on the stage” to a “guide on the side.” The focus of these guides will become:
- Providing the learning narrative to students
- Facilitating student discussion
- Curating content and driving learning design
- Evaluating new content
- Teaching students how to think (vs. the rote side of learning)
This disaggregation of roles will generally see faculty doing less content creation and delivery, and more leading student discussion and providing color commentary, ensuring key ideas and themes from lectures are communicated. Those who don’t innovate and embrace new technology may fail.
3. In 10 years, how will the nature of collaboration between private, open-learning platform providers and higher education institutions change?
We foresee a great deal more collaboration than what exists today. This will happen for a number of reasons:
- Students will demand it – they expect extremely well-designed products, services and experiences that these edupreneurial companies offer within both the traditional learning environment and new learning models. The key is to make the experience seamless in whatever environment students want to learn – these student “customers” will force the two groups to work together.
- Schools will need to foster this collaborative environment in order to survive and compete to keep student enrollments up and retention rates high.
- Edupreneurial companies will need to foster collaboration to make their business models work – and will be aided by the distribution offered by the traditional higher education institutions.
There is an inherent culture clash today between a thoughtful, deliberate higher ed culture and the fast-moving, experimentation-endorsing culture of edupreneurial companies. But in 10 years, many of these edupreneurial companies will have grown up, which will help reduce this tension – though there will always be a new crop of edupreneurial companies looking to innovate and push the boundaries.
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