studibit, MOOCs, and the Disruption of BIG UNIVERSTY
online education’s next-generation on-demand, self-curated textbook
Online education is not only here to stay, but it is growing so fast that it is forcing massive disruption across BIG UNIVERSITY campuses worldwide because:
- Big University budgets are under pressure exacerbated by failing state budgets
- the cost of traditional university education is pricing itself out of the market
- the debt that students and their families are carrying is destructive and not sustainable
- MOOCs are cost-efficiently scalable on a massive global scale
- corporations are increasingly valuing “verifiable skills” when assessing new employees
High-demand MOOCs can attract anywhere from 5,000 to 50,000 global students or more to register for a course and this is only going to grow as more and more hiring corporations value “skills verification” which can be very cost-effectively obtained via these MOOCs. The number of registered students for a given course is driven by the brand name of the professor, the university, and the topic’s perceived valuation by employers. Any topic that adds to a student’s “verified skills,” builds credits toward a degree, and ultimately leads to a good-paying job will be in high demand.
On platforms such as Coursera the student is able to take the course for free (so far), so the marginal cost to pay a modest amount for some digital and/or Print-on-Demand (POD) publications is something many students will pay for. Each MOOC attracts a massive captive market of students ready to purchase on-demand class materials from any mobile device with an Internet connection anywhere in the world.
Coursera courses attract tens of thousands of students worldwide to register for just one course. The list of partner universities is quite impressive and others are rapidly jumping on this bandwagon: https://www.coursera.org/about/partners
Here’s a link to a typical course with the topic of “cloud computing concepts”: https://www.coursera.org/course/cloudcomputing
The course is free but a student can earn a “Verified Certificate,” and the course is part of a series of courses in cloud computing. Currently no textbook is required. This will change, however, because both the instructors and the students would value the option to have downloadable and/or print-on-demand hardcopy class materials (even a textbook).
The “Verified Certificate” is one way Coursera and its partner institutions can monetize the course. The “cloud computing concept” certificate is $49. To offer the option of downloading ePUBs and/or POD course materials would be a second way of monetizing. To further add value to this proposition for the student, Coursera and its partners could give students more control over the content, length, and format of the class materials they want. studibit proposes to give the student the power of self-curation.
The classic hardcover, full-color, 600-age textbook is a communication medium which is in the midst of disruption (and eventual obsolescence?), and there are several reasons why:
- Knowledge is no longer static (excepting basic physics, etc.). Knowledge will forever be dynamic and it is being modified, added to, leapfrogged, and obsoleted at an accelerating pace. This means a static or “fixed-content” textbook needs updating the day the textbook is printed.
- It is now possible to access all knowledge from any mobile device, anywhere, any time.
- Students don’t really need to carry in their backpacks a fairly heavy 600-page textbook at the moment they are studying a particular piece of content (chapter). When a student is studying a 10-page section of a 600-page textbook, the other 590 pages are generally of no use at that moment. And it’s safe to say that some portion of the content of the remaining 590 pages is already in need of modification and updating.
The solution to this is the “studibit,” a browser extension that allows the student to self-curate any amount of content from an online textbook at any moment in time from any mobile device, which they can choose to either: (a) download as a secure PDF file; and/or (b) print-on-demand (POD) a bound hardcopy document.
Studibit will only work on content from participating online content licensors. In most cases the student will create a studibit of the pages (or chapter) they are currently studying. With studibit the student can simply click and highlight content of their choosing, and then studibit will:
- automatically stitch together the highlighted sections into one document;
- automatically paginate, insert a table of contents, and a cover page;
- automatically configure the size format (e.g., 6”x9” or 8-1/2” x 11”) and binding (e.g., perfect bound, saddle stitch, spiral bound) based on the number of pages and embedded images and graphics
- automatically e-mail a DRM-secured ePUB file with a pre-specified number of printable copies; and/or,
- automatically ship a POD bound booklet-to-book in 2 days or less
studibit does not intend to completely replace the traditional textbook. The full textbook will always be available online, and full hardcover textbooks will always be printed and available based on demand. Studibit supplements the traditional full textbook by enabling students to download and/or POD that section of the textbook they are currently studying which they can conveniently carry around in hardcopy form for highlighting, doodling, and annotating text, because this is proven to be an important part of the learning and memorizing process that can’t be replicated on a monitor. Each studibit will be a consumable content item and once the content is read and the student has mastered the material and been tested on it, the student will most likely archive the studibit as they generally would for traditional class notes.
The per-page cost to the student would be cents/page similar to what a student would pay to have copies made at a library or print shop. This payment would be split between studibit and the content licensor.
- sp -
Tom Peters, famous author of In Search of Excellence, coined the phrase “fast failures” which simply means corporations using modest amounts of capital to let employees rapidly test out new concepts, versus following a traditional deliberate corporate process to vet new product and service ideas. Fast forwarding to today, the idea of the “pop-up” has steadily been gaining traction in the retail and restaurant sectors as a way to quickly test the market, introduce new products and services, and gain some quick local market awareness.
When you think about it, the pop-up has been around for a long time, we just called it a booth at a tradeshow. What’s different now is the pop-up can happen anywhere, especially outside where people are walking, browsing, and congregating. In the tradeshow model you had to attract the people to your booth (one of hundreds) in a big event center. In the pop-up model you embed your story where the people are and often you are the only show at that location.
The pop-up is not just for big corporations. Any organization and any individual can pop-up their story on a budget that ranges from a table at a flea market in a mall, to an open-air stand at an art fair in a parking lot, to something more elaborate whether it is indoors or outdoors. The pop-up enables rapid prototyping (and fast failures), market introduction and awareness, brainstorming, customer feedback, crowd sourcing (“citizen-sourcing”), and more. And because it is such a cost-effective technique, we should encourage and enable pop-ups in our communities as much as possible because what we need in our communities is new thinking that leads to new companies and new jobs which can help backfill the substantial job losses we are experiencing by disruption across all sectors.
Just to pick one example, consider libraries which are being disrupted across the United States because of the digital revolution and declining state and municipal budgets. Public libraries across the nation are struggling to figure out how to redefine the mission of their libraries and develop a sustainable financial model.
The “elephant in the room” that people are afraid to talk about or step forward on is the question of do we still need to allocate that much space for books-on-shelves? It is such a revered and emotional tradition (some say “right” or “entitlement”) to have books-on-shelves in expansive quiet spaces, that some library directors have already lost their jobs trying to move in a different direction. But it will happen! We don’t need as much space allocated for books-on-shelves as we used to, so we will have to repurpose some amount of that library space and potentially have some of the space generate revenues which will help support the library.
A specific example of this is our own public library that has a 40,000 square-foot basement which is empty. The basement of our public library is nicer than the basement in my 90-year old home: well lit, dry, high ceilings, broadband wireless, plenty of power, smooth concrete floor, plenty of books and coffee and conference rooms and restrooms upstairs, warm in the winter and cool in the summer. That’s a lot of space to be doing nothing when the library has been running a deficit budget for the last five years.
Why not mobilize the power of the crowd (the library patrons and the community at large) by letting them pop-up their ideas in the basement?
- Design lab
- Media lab
- Art studio
- Dance studio
- Co-working area for budding entrepreneurs
- Fablab, makery, hackerspace
- And the list goes on…
Give them some of that empty underutilized space, support them however you can, and unleash the creative energy of citizen-sourcing in your community because no single library director or board of trustees has the all-knowing crystal ball to build a roadmap to the future for their libraries. I have much more confidence in the power of diverse thinking from citizen-sourcing than I have in a library director either afraid of losing his or her job or stubborn to change; or a politicized board of trustees nervous about community blowback. I was on our library board so I’ve seen this group-think dynamic from the inside.
The library is only one of many institutions which are being disrupted (big university is another, for example) which we need to address, but we are failing our communities if we don’t fully utilize the power of citizen-sourcing.
Pop-ups are a great way to mobilize and tap the creative and problem-solving power in our communities and get on with it!
- sp -
I know I’m not telling you anything you don’t know, and Product A is a work-in-progress in terms of sales and pricing, but you could never scale Product A to hundreds or thousands of customers if you have to do as much hand-holding as has been required for recent customers. This seems to indicate that the pricing scheme is not simple enough. – sp