Subscriptions Not Courses? Idling Around Lifelong Learning

As yet more tales of woe appear around failing business models (it’s not just the newspapers that are struggling: it appears Youtube is onto a loser too…), I thought I’d take a coffee break out of course writing to jot down a cynical thought or two about lifelong learning

…because along with the widening participation agenda and blah, blah, blah, blah, lifelong learning is one of those things that we hear about every so often as being key to something or other.

Now I’d probably consider myself to be a lifelong learner: it’s been a good few years since I took a formal course, and yet every day I try to learn how to do something I didn’t know how to do when I got up that morning; and I try to be open to new academic ideas too (sometimes…;-)

But who, I wonder, is supposed to be delivering this lifelong learning stuff, whatever it is? Because there’s money to be made, surely? If lifelong learning is something that people are going to buy into, then who owns, or is trying to grab that business? Just imagine it: having acquired a punter, you may have them for thirty, forty, fifty years?

I guess class of major providers are the professional institutions? You give them an annual fee, and by osmosis you keep your credentials current (you can trust me, I’m a chartered widget fixer, etc.).

So here’s my plan: offering students an undergrad first degree is the loss leader. Just like the banks (used to?) give away loads of freebies to students in freshers week, knowing that if they took out an account they’d both run up a short term profitable debt, and then start to bring in a decent salary (allegedly), in all likelihood staying with the same bank for a lifetime, so too could the universities see 3 years of undergrad degree as the recruitment period for a beautiful lifetime relationship.

Because alumni aren’t just a source of funds once a year and when the bequest is due…

Instead, imagine this: when you start your degree, you sign up to the 100 quid a year subscription plan (maybe with subscription waiver while you’re still an undergrad). When you leave, you get a monthly degree top-up. Nothing too onerous, just a current awareness news bundle made up from content related to the undergrad courses you took. This content could be produced as a side effect of keeping currently taught courses current: as a lecturer updates their notes from one year to the next, the new slide becomes the basis for the top-up news item. Or you just tag each course, and then pass on a news story or two discovered using that tag (Martin, you wanted a use for the Guardian API?!;-)

Having the subscription in place means you get 100 quid a year per alumni, without having to do too much at all…and as I suspect we all know, and maybe most of us bear testament to, once the direct debit is in place, there can be quite a lot of inertia involved in stopping it…

But there’s more – because you also have an agreement with the alumni to send them stuff once a month (and as a result maybe keep the alumni contacts database up to date a little more reliably?). Like the top-up content that is keeping their degree current (err….? yeah, right…)…

…and adverts… adverts for proper top-up/CPD courses, maybe, that they can pay to take…

…or maybe they can get these CPD courses for “free” with the 1000 quid a year, all you can learn from, top-up your degree content plan (access to subscription content and library services extra…)

Or how about premium “perpetual degree” plans, that get you a monthly degree top-up and the right to attend one workshop a year “for free” (with extra workshops available at cost, plus overheads;-)

It never ceases to amaze me that we don’t see degrees as the start of continual process of professional education. Instead, we produce clumpy, clunky courses that are almost necessarily studied out of context (in part because they require you take out 100 hours, or 150 hours, or 300 hours) of study. Rather than give everyone drip feed CPD for an hour or two a week, or ten to twenty minutes a day, daily feed learning style, we try to flog them courses at Masters level, maybe, several years after they graduate…

In my vision of the world, we’d dump the courses, and all subscribe to an appropriate daily learning feed… ;-)

Maybe…

END: coffee break…

PS see also: New flexible degrees the key to growth in higher education:

The future higher education system will need to ensure greater diversity of methods of study, as well as of qualifications. Long-term trends suggest that part-time study will continue to rise, and it’s difficult to see how we can increase the supply of graduates as we must without an increase in part-time study.

“But we will surely need to move decisively away from the assumption that a part-time degree is a full time degree done in bits. I don’t have any doubt that the degree will remain the core outcome. But the trend to more flexible ways of learning will bring irresistible pressure for the development of credits which carry value in their own right, for the acceptance of credits by other institutions, and for the ability to complete a degree through study at more than one institution.”

… or so says John Denham…

Author: Tony Hirst

I'm a Senior Lecturer at The Open University, with an interest in #opendata policy and practice, as well as general web tinkering...

5 thoughts on “Subscriptions Not Courses? Idling Around Lifelong Learning”

  1. This is something I’m very interested in – and I hope that bids for the new JISC CRM and Student Lifecycle calls have some imaginative ideas for how to build new business models based on longer-term relationships with people rather than focussing just on recruitment and retention.

  2. Actually, the Open University of the Netherlands has been developing and seriously considering a similar model for over a year now…

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