Over at Elearning Inside, Henry Kronk chronicles the bumpy, but ultimately ascending path of Woz U, the virtual university play by former Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. It is the first time I heard the term “Education as a Service,” but I’m certain it won’t be the last. After unanimously failing to renew its Postsecondary Education license in Arizona, Woz U refashioned itself. Today, it supplies content, training and networking to education partners, including among others the University of Phoenix. While lending his name to the organization, therefore associating it a history as a solution-driven philantropist with humble ambitions, Wozniak’s role in Woz U is minimal and does not include any teaching or curriculum tasks.
Which does not prevent Woz U to leverage his image and ensure a significant boost in the polluted sea of digital marketing for elearning products, where recognized names and brands work as beacons. With the already meager rules of engagement made unenforceable because of a global pandemic, brands with longstanding marketing efforts are ready to absorb a growing share of unattended educational needs across all segments. When traditional education and training venues aren’t up to the task, quick acting organizations can deploy resources and grab eyeballs much faster. It remains to be seen if there is a quality product underneath.
When in doubt, jolt your marketing with an online course
Personal ethics aside, the several ways in which marketing and education overlap deserve continuous scrutiny. And on the online sphere, where boundaries are blurred even further, the ideal collective attitude should be one of vigilance.
But whether we grow wise and learn to critically assess the merits of a celebrity-based elearning program or not, influencers across the spectrum of actual influence continue to drive conversations on digital media, while the rocky paths towards social immunization keeps learners —back or stuck— at home and online learning grabs a larger number of spotlights.
From another angle, when elearning infused by the wits and styles of fame-seeking entertainers, it starts to make inroads into the vast —multi-trillion-dollar vast— arena of media consumption over the internet. It sounds like a fringe practice now: After hours of Netflix or mindless YouTube, you feel that it’s time for a higher intellectual challenge. So you check out some documentaries, or video courses. A curious gamer might enjoy an expansion of their favorite historical game that provides a detailed background of the time scenery; or even get curious about game mechanics, and find the game studio’s companion courses on the basics of game physics or world building.
Because of course, corporations have noticed the trend, and a sprawling industry is about to boom on the backs of the existing EdTech, entertainment and media players. Deprived of movie theaters and racing to find new ways to reach consumers, they are about to take their chances by trying to turn them into lifelong learners. When will we see the first Hollywood produced multi-million budget online course? The bets are off.
‘The Age of AI’ is a docuseries. We’re living in the trailer
The formerly eye-rolling question about the point of college, or publicly-funded education at all, has never been taking as seriously by as many people as right now. While centuries old institution with similarly aged practices and attitudes towards change try every trick to convince us about their need to exist, interactive digital media is not telling, but showing clear paths towards “New, Immersive Normals.” Not just that: With the limited influence of the campus-centric degree, new forms of interactive education will have a growing chance to be noticed by teachers, parents, tutors, and of course learners, who almost by change will end up with a larger degree of autonomy about their own learning experiences. It is no mystery how the success of “direct-to-learner” apps almost invariably involve actionable “personal analytics” dashboards and notifications.
However, while we discover groundbreaking innovations focused primarily on the well-being of students, the interactive elearning ideas that stand the test of time will be those who strike the middle ground of enjoyment, measurable quality and market success. The storied history of the relatively short lived digital economies show much faster cycles and evolution of customer preferences. While attributes like autenticity and reputation are expected to remain as fundamental explaining factors, imbalances in power and information can distort people’s abilities to make optimal choices. Elearning companies fighting on the digital marketplace have to walk the tightrope of empowering customers and taking advantage of their disinformation.
Which is why the role of celebrities and influencers as elearning beacons is only expected to consolidate. We see how former science communicators with cult followings, and youthful EduTubers alike, are launching educational media empires with speaking engagements, podcasts, books, corporate media deals, and of course, online courses. We’re also seeing some of them launching platforms to give other interactive media educators a new outlets.
Success isn’t guaranteed. Creative destruction most certainly is. For those who love ideas in motion and have little regard for the health of senescent educational institutions —or the people employed by them—, interesting times are ahead. May the New Normal of Educational Interaction have a face you find likeable!