The Mobile Learning Franchises of the Future

The current boom in MOOCs (massive open online courses) is changing the face of learning.  Once limited to public and private institutions, learning is now available to anyone with an Internet or cellular connection.  How will this change the nature of education?  Where are the business and nonprofit opportunities?  Where is e-learning likely to take us?

The Changing Nature of Education

MOOCs are transforming education from a static, institution-centric, stay-in-your-seat experience into a mobile, user-centric experience that is instant, interactive, and collaborative, where students can access materials 24×7 and collaborate in team learning.  Teachers as well as students become mentors or coaches, not just repositories of knowledge, which can be easily accessed online in greater variety and depth.  Education becomes a dynamic, global learning community, similar to the political learning stimulated by the Arab Spring.

Emerging Opportunities

Top universities like MIT, Stanford and Harvard are no longer just knowledge dispensers, but recruiters of the next Einsteins.  MOOCs are digital filters that enable professors to quickly spot, track and recruit the top students worldwide, intensifying the talent search.  Like sports, college recruiting will become a high-stakes battle for mind share and market share. The top students are the magnets for attracting corporate and government research funding as well as venture funding for student-run startups like Google and Facebook.

The Future of E-Learning

MOOCs will become multi-billion-dollar franchises, like the NFL, NBA and World Cup Soccer franchises, with star professors commanding huge salaries and corporate sponsorships and star students attracting corporate jobs and angel funding.  Think virtual Stanford entrepreneurship on steroids. 

The MIT Sloan School already partners with professional U.S. sports franchises to conduct Big Data analytics research with top corporate sponsors.  Besides being the source of Big Data research and startups, this program provides the forum for identifying and managing new talent.

For entrepreneurs, there will be an explosion of mobile learning startups targeting every market sector, just as we saw in e-commerce during the 1990s.  Increasingly, training will become central to marketing and sales.  Example:  Apple’s Genius Bar trains users how to optimize their systems for specific tasks.  In the near future, product training will be available to tablet and smartphone users.  The most successful companies will be those that train customers HOW to use their products and services efficiently and effectively, which will require bite-size training modules, interactive questions-and-answers, mentoring, community forums, resources, tools and vast libraries.  The future “virtual schools” will be gamified, making the top ones irresistible to consumers, who can win points, credits, coupons and other rewards for referrals and high scores.

This vision may sound far off, but it’s right around the corner because Silicon Valley VCs are watching this sector closely.  In 1994, while working at Stanford’s EE Department, my interns and I sat around visualizing the future of the Internet. I thought it would be a few thousand stores selling maybe $1 billion in goods, which sounded far-fetched since all information was free, but I missed by a huge margin when Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, Google and other startups showed up and developed totally new business models.  My friends later kidded me, saying:  “Why are you so conservative all the time?”  I just shrug my shoulders and reply:  “I lack imagination — compared to the crowd.”



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