Monday, 10 January 2005

My wish for the future of e-learning - with a businessman hat on

Is content king in e-learning industry? May be a doubtful YES today, it is a definite NO in a slightly longer term.

The marginal cost of reproduction of digital content is near zero. The upfront cost of course production may be huge and there may be copyright protection put in place by the copyright owners. This will not stop other people doing the same. Note that copyright only protect the manifestation of an idea. It does not prevent anyone else to create another manifestation of similar or same idea (this is the difference between patent and copyright, right?) As authoring tools advance, the cost of production will continue to decrease. The value of digital content will quickly reduce to near zero by the nature of market competition. I was told that the cost of "English as a second language" course in China have dropped 70% per year for 5 years at an AusWeb conference years ago. That's the result when people realise that ESL in China has a market and suddenly everyone jumped in. There are other initiations which drive the cost of content down quickly, .e.g MIT OpenCourseWare, BBC open-source streaming of its video content, the highly successful wikipedia, Google's digital library, project Gutenberg, etc.

For the "birthday cake" maker, see my birthday cake analogy, my advise is:

If you are a good content provider, you can still capture a good part of the value-chain.

Unlike physical goods whereas when a product has established a market, people will repeatedly buy the same product again without any need of "discovery", digital content is typically a use-once product (exceptions in this include songs, music and other "artistic performances", but informational content is very much a use-once product.) Another viable business in elearning is content discovery services. However, I am not sure a direct user pay model is a viable business model. May be Google's advertising-based model. This is the filling station part of the e-learning business.

On the other hand, organisations are waking up to realise that "Return of Investment" is enhanced when there is "real" change in attitude, behaviour and performance. Delivering training is NOT the same as delivering of information. Just-in-time bite size information is useful in the job-support situation. Again, the "filling station model" may be best approach to meeting this need.

My ultimate interest is still looking at training and education as a service industry where we provide valuable, memorable and life-changing experience to the learners. First person and second person experience are accidental (in the sense that it is unlikely to be planned) and most likely from informal learning channels. By encouraging active participations in blog type of sharing, community of practice and experience exchanges, the industry can provide a significant informal life-long education services. I will leave it to my readers to figure out a sustainable business model for informal learning. For planned (or formal) learning, a pure third person experience approach, while the cheapest (???) and easiest (???) to develop, may not be the best approach given the changes of this and coming digital generation. This is why I am betting everything I have on promoting simulated first person experience.

I don't gamble, but when I do, I bet my life on it.


Albert Ip said...

After I wrote this post, I found this post from Boing Boing: Stop sketching, little girl -- those paintings are copyrighted! which link to Young Prospective Artist Finds Herself in a 'No Sketch' Zone.

This is a completely new interpretation of the concept of copyright. I just hope that it was only the security guard taking the matter in his own hand. If not, I dare say that I can write off US influence in a medium term future. My business plan for USA must be revised to cover a maximum of 10-year operation in US before it is no long viable to have any office in US.

Albert Ip said...

A follow-up to the little girl who was sketching in the Museum. As it turned out:
"Actually, the museum guard was mistaken. There was no copyright issue, and the museum apologizes and is telling artists to sketch away as long as they do not interrupt the flow of traffic in the always crowded gallery. Eyewitness News"
Here is another post on this.