Context and Community

Wayne Hodgins raises the issue that information can be both a product and a service.

Information is a noun/product when it is in the form of a report or document created on spec or in advance of a specific use or client. Whereas it is a verb/service when it is a collection of “just the right” information matched to a specific person/group and context. I would posit that information in and of itself has little to no value.  The value of information comes when it is Snowflaked or “just right” as in just the right information for just the right person(s) at just the right time in just the right context on just the right medium/device, etc.

Lee Lefever described this product/service aspect of information as Stocks & Flows:

Flows = Timely & Engaging (e.g. radio, speeches, e-mail, blogs)

Stocks = Archived, Organized for Reference (e.g. web site, database, book, voice mail)

In my experience, I’ve seen that with “products”, price tends to zero; or that the same item will continue to get cheaper over time. Services, on the other hand, remain stable, and may even go up in price as they become more popular. Note how famous speakers and consultants charge more money.

For example, generic educational course content keeps getting cheaper, with many free options now available, like wiki-how. Content (information as a product) is no longer king in the online learning world.

For a successful business model, content needs to be combined with both Community and Context – two critical factors in supporting learning environments. For example:

Online Courses where Community = your cohort & Context = a relevant (to you) credential
Performance Support where Community = your co-workers & Context = current need
Knowledge Management (and PKM) where Community = those with shared interests & Context = sense of belonging to a community.

The Chinese Pod model gets this right by understanding the user/learner. Their three step model is a good one for Web learning businesses: Reward Attention; Support the Community & Keep Tweaking the Business Model.

Taking Wayne’s advice could be the first step in creating a successful online learning business model, by providing “just the right information for just the right person(s) at just the right time in just the right context on just the right medium/device”.

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