The end of content-centric business models

Fewer people believe that “content is king” in the online learning world. However, many e-learning business models are built on some aspect of content creation. Community and context are the two critical factors in developing e-learning environments. For example:

  • Courses online; Community = your cohort; Context = a relevant (to you) credential
  • Performance support; Community = your peers; Context = current need
  • Knowledge Management (especially PKM) ; Community = those with shared interests; Context = Maslow’s higher needs of esteem and self-actualization.

These thoughts were triggered by Rob Paterson’s post that Getting paid for content is over:

All business models must be based on something that is legitimately scarce. Today, no matter how expensive it is to make, content will become freely available quickly. So much music is free that you cannot legitimately charge much for a song. So much film is free that you cannot charge much for a move. So much information is free, that you cannot charge much for it (Britannica). This is a reality – so you have to get over it and find another area that is legitimately scarce where you can find value. So where is it?

What happens to e-learning business models when content declines in value? Will it be more profitable to a have a learning content management system or a people connecting (e.g. Facebook) system? If the best lectures & videos are available online for free, why build mediocre substitutes? What will happen to custom content development?

I’m not saying that these changes will happen immediately, but there does seem to be a trend toward free and ubiquitous digital media. Isn’t it just a matter of time before it hits the e-learning field?

5 Responses to “The end of content-centric business models”

  1. Daniel Lemire

    To some extend, we have this issue in a very fundamental way for university teaching.

    Are you allowed to build a university-level course made almost entirely out of content you find on the Web?

    The answer is yes, of course. We have had courses built around textbooks, and that’s no different.

    The professor (or lecturer) is there to challenge, motivate, and evaluate the students, not to produce the content.

    What universities sell is not content. You can buy the content in their bookstores or any other bookstores. Or, increasingly, you can find the content on the Web.

    Why do people still attend universities? To get recognition. But also because a nasty professor with a Ph.D. will challenge you a lot more than you could challenge yourself, even if you are given the same content.

    I like to push my students to study pieces of the a topic they would never touch on their own; they wouldn’t touch it because they’d feel it is too difficult.

    A university professor acts like a model for the student. He says “I managed once to grasp this, and you can do it too”. The last thing a university professor is, is a content producer.

    On a good year, most professors publish maybe 5 articles, most often with numerous co-authors. That’s not much content production.


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