Rebundling Education: Emerging Business Models

December 8, 2013


For the past few years, I’ve found myself engaged in seemingly endless conversations about the future of Higher Education. Through this dialog with universities, educators, think tanks, media, entrepreneurs, and venture capitalists, my ideas have evolved, and these days I feel like I have an articulate hypothesis as opposed to naïve conjecture.

People interested in EdTech most frequently ask me to clarify unbundling and how unbundling creates opportunities for Internet entrepreneurs. In November, when I was asked to give a talk at NYU on the specific business models that are emerging, an epiphany struck: some of the strongest current business opportunities are in re-bundled form. Below are six broad categories for these opportunities as I see them now.

I created the following diagram to show emerging business models born of rebundled innovation.

Business models arrive from the rebundling of education services.

This diagram shows business models emerging as part of rebundled innovation.

Career and Learning Accelerators

Immersive programs combined with technology-enabled learning can speed up knowledge and skill acquisition so that programs are short and inexpensive, relative to two and four year programs. Immersive programs use a competency-based learning management system, often proprietary, that helps them to manage students in high-motivation environments and speed them through learning content and facilitated practice.

Examples: Dev Bootcamp, Fullbridge

Flipped Schools

Flipped Schools break the model of the professor, classroom, and library model of school.  They assign material to students prior to engaging with them experientially, and expect that students will gain a level of understanding prior to showing up that allows more advanced participation. Students are grouped into various cohorts which assures their experiences are optimal and social.  While a seemingly simple model, designing a truly Flipped School through to the possible innovations in operations will see a complete reinvention of the experience of school, with particular transformations to the schedule and the pace of learning and the physical space of campus and classroom. In the higher education context, they can manage up to years of learning prior to the first terms on campus, or seamlessly manage the hybrid learning of people on and off campus on strange and untried schedules.

Examples: Minerva

Distributed Schooling

Distributed schooling captures several converging market themes and models of organizations that educate. It leans towards de-institutionalization, decentralization, and hacking school models, though still leans toward the creation and replication of physical schools and classrooms. These “schools” – to the extent they still look like schools – pursue scale alongside excellence and consistency in operations. They differentiate in the creation of brands that inspire trust and resonate with parents and students. And they use operational technology and computing interfaces that provide a backbone and structure to both scaling the operation profitably and ensuring maximal learning. Ideally, they are started by technology entrepreneurs rather than career educators, though a marriage of both would be ideal.

Examples: General Assembly, mSchool, Gap Year

Industry Assessments

Industry assessments are ways to evaluate the competency or proficiency of knowledge to estimate aptitude and capability for particular jobs and industries. Because of the need for format and content specificity, it’s likely that each industry would need its own company to deliver the best assessments. Business models encourage scaling to large audiences and efficient sourcing of qualified, talented candidates. Once an Industry Assessment becomes a standard within an industry, it also works to create, offer, or provide learning content and experiences that will move individuals up the employment ladder, or engage people until they are qualified for an opportunity.

Examples: Kalibrr, Knack, PyMetrics

Hiring Tournaments

Hiring tournaments provide a platform for interested candidates to compete for jobs by submitting their projects and work samples in a time-bound contest for an open, sought-after position. Hiring tournaments are appropriate for complex knowledge work and competitive positions. They create authentic signals of competency and work speed, making them much more effective than resumes.

Examples: HireArt

Managed, Disaggregated Services

Higher Education provides a bundle of services to students including knowledge acquisition, access to opportunities, cognitive and employable skills, and personal transformation. Managed, disaggregated services take advantage of unbundled value propositions in higher education, and individual aspects of education affordably or even for free. They are playing off of the market need for content learning, access to opportunities, skill acquisition, and personal transformation.

Examples: Thinkful and DeGreed