As I mentioned the other week, I am unbelievably excited about the future of online education. Today, I want to talk about this topic in terms of professional niche markets.
When people talk about “education,” it is often assumed that the target audience is those under 21 years of age. But I’m interested in how we educate ourselves as adults, how learning is a lifelong process.
I have been studying various ways that people are approaching more formal classes via the web. And I see incredible things happening, and incredible potential.
I am not talking about simply connecting people with information, that is only part of the equation. Education goes beyond delivering content, it extends to mentoring, fusing connections between students, and supporting the many psychological needs around learning. Giving someone a list of things to study is very different than teaching those things, and forming a teacher-student relationship.
People don’t pay tens of thousands of dollars to go to MIT just for the information in the book. People don’t pay thousands of dollars for continuing education for the course material alone. People don’t travel to expensive conferences just to hear the sessions on the stage.
They go for the connection – to other students, and to other experts.
Roger Ebert recently wrote about how Twitter has given him a voice again. What this means is that social media gives EVERYONE a voice, regardless of your location, age, economic class, experience, etc.
Access to information was the first phase of the online revolution. Access to each other is the second.
What I am seeing is our ability to scale this access. One way is forums – I have leveraged two of them in the past six months, both focused around online marketing:
- Third Tribe Marketing – a monthly subscription site for those looking to grow their business online.
- DIY Themes – when you purchase one of their WordPress themes, you are given access to forums, filled with amateurs and experts, sharing ideas and technical knowledge on how to leverage and customize the themes.
In both cases, access to these forums are a compelling selling point in their products. And both deliver – if you choose only to read, there is a TON of useful information shared by a variety of voices. If you choose to engage, you see powerful relationships form, and reputations being built as people help and grow their expertise.
And both of these forums require payment in some form or another. For Third Tribe Marketing, I pay $27 a month (the cost has since gone up), and for DIY Themes, I spent $160 with them, and was given access (I could have spent much less – around $80 and been given the same access.)
Everyone talks about ‘free’ on the web in terms of both content and networks. And sure, most of the web is free and will remain free.
But for specialized niches where people have targeted needs and a deep desire to connect with experts, grow their own skills, and become a part of a community – it is not unreasonable to put a price tag next to that. In fact, for many online businesses (and especially online publishers), I think this is a HUGE opportunity for revenue.
This is not about finding a way to ‘monetize’ their audience – it is about providing incredible value, and truly growing their careers and interests. Sure, professional organizations and business media can build out these systems. But I also think you will see more independent groups begin creating curricula around business & professional topics, and even brands leverage education as a form of content marketing.
For online publishers, this is an opportunity to move beyond the fragmented culture of simply producing article after article (or blog post after blog post.) Education is goal oriented, and can profoundly shape the lives of those you serve. The measurement is not if an article was published, but if a student moved their career in the right direction. If value was created in your market.