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One of the most important social and economic trends of the past decades is Online Learning. All major universities and colleges such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and Berkeley have been developing online learning programs, and many companies, both big and small, are participating.
Today, in online education, we know basically three for-profit business models: ad-supported, freemium and premium. However, we can find as well two huge operations without any business model at all. These operations are Khan Academy and Wikipedia.
First we will focus on the three major business models before addressing the noncommercial examples.
“Ad-supported education” consists mostly of small-scaled projects by individual trainers. They use YouTube videos and display ads by Google.
The “Freemium” model offers consumers access to a large portion of information for free, and is a popular business model for startups in online education. The free part of the program is usually supported by ads, and when learners wish to get access to further content such as worksheets, videos or grammar charts, they will need to pay for this extra information.
“Premium” is the online education business model that, as the name suggests, offers learning content only to customers that will pay. One example is “Language Learning Platform”, where only premium services are offered. Some other established “premium services” are Udemy and Mixergy, in fact my favorites.
Now something about the noncommercial online learning examples:
Khan Academy has never had any ads, and has 3.5 million unique visitors per month. Khan Academy is, and will stay, a noncommercial learning platform notwithstanding the fact that Khan would be able to generate huge income based on either Google Ads or by exploiting sponsorships, because of the platform’s enormous reach.
Wikipedia is similar. Based on page views, Wikipedia would be able to generate lots of money. Yet Jimmy Wales is reluctant to display ads or sponsored links. He chooses to go in the trenches to raise money for keeping Wikipedia strong and alive.
At the moment there are three major contributors to Khan Academy. They are Melinda and Bill Gates, the O’Sullivan Foundation and Google. There is no doubt in my mind that during the coming decades many others will follow to support Khan Academy. The real interesting part could begin when the first Khan Academy students will relate financial success to the information they received for free at Khan Academy.
All over the world college and university leaders are closely watching and paying attention to Khan Academy, though their current content is mostly oriented to the K-12 world.
Khan is confident about the sophistication of the machine-learning program. Khan expects the program to have some impact on commercial products and the profitability opportunities and that their presence will change those markets. The higher education establishment could be hugely influenced by Khan and his top-of-the-line engineers, just as the providers of digital content that are serving it.