Moving at the speed of business
Harman Singh, CEO and founder of WizIQ, an online course builder and marketplace, says that one overlooked segment of consumers for business courses are working professionals who seek out business training on their own initiative as opposed to being sent by their employers.
“This is similar to the bring-your-own-device movement,” he says. “Traditionally, corporations set up their own training, plan it, arrange for the trainer, the cost, everything. Now we see professionals are going online and looking for courses for themselves. We were actually surprised with that trend. People are ready to pay out of pocket.”
One underlying driver of this market, Udemy’s Visciano says, is a precise and immediate need. “Folks come to Udemy saying, ‘I need to learn X today for Y reason,’” he explains. “They have very specific business purposes for the skills they’re trying to acquire.”
But the major driver of these emerging companies is that traditional education can’t keep up with changes in business, which leaves a lot of opportunity on the table. Market Motive, for example, which specializes in online marketing courses, finds itself in the position of selling to universities that need updated curricula on digital and social media marketing for their classes. Udemy also sells courses to universities through its Udemy For Organizations program, though the schools prefer to keep this confidential, Visciano says.
Mark Lamkin, VP of Business Development at Market Motive, says, “The typical progression at a university is to put together a class in some aspect of digital marketing because their students are asking for it, and what they find is that this is an industry that’s not static. By the time you’ve completed the first semester, it’s probably out-of-date. It becomes a real challenge.”
And the challenge doesn’t let up for people finished with their classroom years, according to Visciano. “The skills you need to be relevant in the workplace are a moving target,” he says. “It’s moving faster and faster, depending on what industry you’re in, so there’s more of a need to keep fresh skills, not just if you’re staying on the same path but if you’re trying to change from one to another.”
That’s driving customers to look for nimbleness, he says, “And the marketplace model gives us a lot of nimbleness. The bootcamp model is a similar thing. You see General Assembly doing very well, because they’re almost a pop-up shop for education that focus on timely relevant skills. It’s much harder to move an institution with as much inertia as university to do that.”
What can’t be duplicated
Lamkin goes so far as to say that judging purely by the content of online resources alone, “it is possible to come up with something that would be potentially equivalent to a program through a college or university.”
But everyone acknowledges that, even though a surprising amount of the MBA and BA in business curriculum is now available online — more cheaply and with more flexibility for more people — there’s more to school than seat time in the classroom.
That point is made by Karl Ulrich, vice dean of innovation at Wharton in a presentation of his research into how MOOCs will challenge MBA programs. Two years of opportunity costs and $100k-plus tuition get a student not only instruction but career services, “co-curricular activities” and an alumni network, all of which are arguably more valuable from the student’s perspective than the content itself.
“Teaching and learning, the more traditional academic topics, are probably only a quarter or a fifth of the reason that students come and get an MBA,” Ulrich writes. “And that’s the piece we think is most susceptible to change from this emerging new technology but that probably doesn’t impact other elements of the MBA program.”
In other words, no one yet imagines that the entirety of an MBA experience can be replaced by online resources — just the part that happens in the classroom in between bonding with peers at orientation and meeting recruiters at the finish line.
Nor can these startups duplicate the signal to employers that a sheepskin does, although “that is something that potentially could change over time,” Lamkin says.
The credential value of an MBA program, says Singh, is a factor particularly “in much larger organizations. They need to have those resumes on the table, because it matters in that business. In those cases, a MOOC or a WizIQ course on your resume wouldn’t matter.”