Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Lucrative teaching? A quick look at Josh Kaufman's The Personal MBA, and Jim Groom's potential to rule the world

Peter Rawsthorne tweeted me a link to Josh Kaufman's recent article on CopyBlogger, Has the Internet Made Teaching Lucrative? adding the question:
why even go down the working for a university route?
Josh's article is a nice addition to conceptualisations of independent teaching practice, from someone who IS doing it, and claims to be making a fair living doing so.
My initial investment in some basic digital publishing training and equipment has produced the highest ROI imaginable: a debt-free, global, six-figure teaching business. I’m making more than most college professors with a fraction of their schooling.
The business model
Josh mixes his skills in marketing and promotion with his ability to empathise with his target groups, to produce a self-help flavoured learning package of subscription emails, blog based articles, reading lists, short videos, a book, and courses.

  • The book sells on Amazon for nearly US$16 plus postage.
  • The courses are chunked into 6 tax deductible fees of US$297, or a discounted one payment of US$1497
  • The blog articles and subscription emails are free, as are the videos that preview his ability to present and explain concepts in accessible and engaging language.
  • To be approaching a 6 figure income, Josh must be selling about 1000 books and 60 full course enrollments a year... as well as a little extra for writing articles and speaking, which would probably be largely part of the free/marketing work...
As Josh says in his CopyBlogger article:
Attracting students requires learning the arts of content marketing and sales — and using them every day.
Delivering quality training requires developing technical skills you may not yet possess. Above all, you must overcome your discomfort in charging what your services are worth, and learn to ask for the sale.
We can only take Josh's word for it - that he is happily earning a comfortable living in the US doing this, certainly he pushed the right buttons for me with:
I can work from anywhere that has a stable internet connection and a phone line. I operated my business on a dialup connection in the mountains of Colorado for six months. And I could easily move anywhere in the world at any time.
The marketing, enter Jim Groom

Marketing should be education, education should be marketing

Josh markets and promotes everything he does, (it must suck trying to have an honest conversation with the guy ;) and that's the key point of difference to your average institutionalised teacher. Josh's website, products, and services are, at face value, well packaged, and sharply communicated, to a very broad audience, never missing a promotional opportunity, always on message. He has a tried and true balance between free access and paid for service and content, using the free to almost over-market the fee based stuff. I don't know many gaol house  teachers (plain English for institutionalised) who have the skills and frame of mind to do this, but I do know one who could do it better than anyone - Jim Groom.

Where it all began. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Jim Groom is also a natural marketeer, but with an obvious point of difference to Josh - working in a niche, establishing face value trust more easily, using a more sophisticated style of media and message, to market brand jimgroom, and more recently the course DS106, but not as yet attempting to make a living from it all like Josh does.

Jim markets himself and his teaching with a self mocking invitation to engage, a sophisticated handling of media and message based on cinema industry symbolism, and drawing on a loyal "fan base" who share in the vision and help with the marketing because its fun.

Jim's products and services are still developing, and it is in this that he could take a leaf out of Josh's set up. To achieve the 6 figures and be independent, Jim needs to set up a product line. EduPunk and DS106 t-shirts for $30, nude posters with a course calendar on em for $10, underwear for the highest bidder, and a textbook-comic for $40. Sell all this to 100 people a year and he's made $8000 without even blinking yet! Put a price on a corner of his teaching service, and he rakes in the rest (more on this below). 6 figures Groomy, and from anywhere you like!

But can Jim Groom and others like him, do this without forfeiting the trust and contribution of his fan base, or the authenticity of his brand? I think he can, with the open, self mocking honesty he naturally has.

Is Jim Groom's niche big enough to deliver his family a comfortable and happy living? I'm not sure, I think if he widened the scope, and targeted businesses wanting to develop their own marketing messages with more sophisticated story telling, bingo! Jimbo has a fee based corner to draw an income from, and he can start sending fat cheques my way because he wants me.

The precarity

There is precarity in this business model however. It relates to the balance between free and fee. Josh and Jim have established reputation to ride on for a time, but their competition is with the others, who offer more free and less fee, all-the-while building a reputation over time. What happens when the next Salmon Khan starts offering business skills tuition in his Kahn Academy? Digital Story telling even? As I type, my brother-in-law Chris is learning guitar for free from martyzsongs. That just put the next guy, offering some free and more fee, out of business. The balance between free and fee just keeps sliding to free.

So Josh and Jim need to stay nimble and keep quick. Get the next thing on the boil, leverage their existing reputation, and dominate the next available space. Develop product, set up courses, and rely on it for a year or 2 before going onto the next thing. Most of all, and as Peter suggests up top, get out of gaol free, work toward independence.

Further reading

My interest in this all began with Kathy Sierra's post, Marketing should be education, education should be marketing. I've posted a whole bunch of thinking drawn from that, but most recently was A crisis for institutions, opportunity for teachers. Linked from there are better articulations of why and how teachers need to get out of gaol: Out From Under the Umbrellas and What Would it be Like to be the Rain. But if you're really stuck on making the gaols work (like me) then, adapting Josh's approach back into the institutions might be more your style with, The role of marketing in educational development.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Agitprop and The 2837 University

Roberto Greco used Twitter to alert me to The 2837 University, a 5 week participatory project that seeks to document learning spaces in a neighborhood, and see if they can't collectively reinvent a local university based on historical ideals, and in critical resistance to the corporate university of today.
The 2837 University will be broken down into two parts: The first several meetings will focus on examining what and why we are looking at these spaces (see ‘Conceptual Framework’ below). The second part will ask participants to enter the neighborhood and document the spaces in question through the use of video, photos, interviews, drawings, paintings, etc, etc.

The goal of this course is to act as a participatory feasibility study in order to determine if Agitprop should expand its interests into the field of education and to see if a “university” could be pieced together from preexisting spaces that lend themselves to the construction of some form of knowledge.
I wish I could be in San Diego for this event, but can only hope they'll document it all. In fact, it would be great to internationalise this project, by streaming (or simply Youtubing) their seminars, and put links out to their readings and conversations, so others can follow the critical thought, and apply it in their own neighborhoods, and document the learning spaces they find.
The Agitprop space is a place in North Park (San Diego) that attempts to blur the lines between individual art practice, the Studio, the Gallery and the Neighborhood. These attempts have taken the form of exhibitions, literary readings, live art critiques, collaborations with larger institutions and other neighborhood entities.

OpenPhD - shifting focus

The zoetrope. Media on Wikimedia Commons
Recently I posted What am I doing? where I questioned my direction, and focus on open education, copyright and institutional change. I want to instead focus on what it means to network learning, both formally and informally.

I've since reflected on my PhD now too. The only reason I have for submitting to this process is because I'm required to by my employer. I respect the benefit it can have on learning and research skills, and willingly go where my own research skills and learning may be improved, but have not been convinced that formal enrollment is any better than informally conducting a PhD.

Originally, I wanted to simply diarise my work with UCNISS, as they consider the open and networked teaching, research and learning practices I propose. Quickly I could see that significant barriers existed across the whole university, and so to progress work in UCNISS, I needed to shift focus to whole-of-university change. But this work would take far too long, and involve too many considerations for one thesis. Instead, I want to refine my understanding and awareness of the practice of networked learning as it is practiced everywhere and anywhere. This will enable me to stay closer to the writers, theorists and contemporary practitioners I respect, and look further afield than the University of Canberra for examples and considerations.

So the topic of my PhD is focused on networked learning, what it is, how it is practiced.
Additional to this change in study focus, I want to follow something like a creative PhD. In a recent seminar on why do a PhD, what is known as a Creative PhD was described by one of the participants as a body of creative work (in my case installations, mixed with traditionally crafted paintings, based on particular social theories) complimented by a "mini thesis" of 20 thousand words. Unfortunately I could find no information on the FAD website relating to this. so am seeking more information on what a Creative PhD is.

I have also started a PhD page on Wikiversity in the hope of attracting a number of people who share an interest in informally pursuing a PhD through open and networked means. As I come to terms more with what the requirements are for a PhD, I and others will add information there as well as on the Wikipedia entry for PhD. Once I have a more solid grasp on what is required, I will more carefully map out my course of study, and subsequent research projects.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

That crisis comes closer, as does the opportunity

Its interesting to note that the US State of California is about to cut $1.4billion from its education budget, believed to be coming straight out of community colleges and the like (UoP blog) while the US federal budget will be giving $2 billion to the development of open education (CCBlog). I suppose there's a high chance other states will be thinking about similar cuts, will Michigan be next? ... this $2 billion might be just a beginning, with more to come if open education can step up to the plate. The UK seems to be in a similar boat.

There is still a way to go before the formal education sector recognises the real and potential contribution that Wikipedia, Wikiversity and Wikibooks makes to people's education. They would sooner recognise mirrors of their own form, such as Open Universities, University of the People, and even Peer to Peer University, before seriously considering more radical alternatives. It will be the formal education sector that is consulted on how and where to spend that injection of money, and that's the worry.

The Wikimedia Foundation should look to a collective statement on the issue of affording education for all. A joint response with other open education efforts, libraries and repositories, smaller networked learning initiatives, and especially include those doing even more radical things. In doing so, they should be careful not to restrict the scope of their projects, and preserve if note expand the opportunities for people to work in entirely new ways of learning and education.

As an easy example, the Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) seem to be attracting more interest now. After David Wiley's Intro to Open Ed course, Teemu Leinonen was one of the first to try this model on en.Wikiversity with Composing Free and Open Online Educational Resources, I followed with Facilitating Online (originally on Wikieducator). I think these early, and subsequent repeats of this model, offer an opportunity for developing legitimacy in the eyes of formal education. Perhaps the model's next phase is in establishing partnerships with multiple Colleges and Universities who are now more ready to consider these alternatives, and for them to play the role of recognition and certification to these courses, trusting the open and documented work of the networked educators who are offering these open courses and peer reviewed assessment (such as the process of custodianship replicating into course assessment for example). It seems to me that the Wikimedia Foundation platforms offer suitably neutral ground for such coordination.

As for post graduate level studies. Same thing. Wikiversity offers a platform and developing community, for open and networked research work, peer review and assessment, and even awarding honorary degrees that have some currency with partnering institutions. Yesterday, I started a portal for openPhDs for example.

At the University of Canberra, in the Faculty of Health, we have a number of academics primed for adopting such practices, but will need significant support to survive the coolness our institution shows these more radical innovation.

It seems to me, now might be a time to coordinate a plan, resource projects, and offer an alternative to the funding announcement and situation in the USA, the UK, and soon to be everywhere. Formal education in the West is approaching a tipping point, only a few people and a handful of initiatives are in a position to lead a way through the next 10 years.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Self host, pay host, free host - we lose

I came to Brad Kozlec's post, The Puzzle of my own Personal Cyberinfrastructure via a rather down and dirty comment exchange over on the Bava. Let me switch gears, and civilly join the conversation being had under Brad's post.

I'm posting this here because Brad's blog rejects my comment as spam, rather than hold it for Brad to decide. And anyway, the content of this comment explains another reason why I should post here instead, in the true blogging tradition of building and preserving the network.

First, highlighting Brad's latest, yet all-too-brief point made in comments:

"You all are entrusting me to be a caretaker of this conversation."

To my mind, this concern out weighs the concerns about massive advertising companies care taking [over] our culture (that started happening long ago), and undermines the worthy vision that Jim wants to bring to us all  (see comment 6 on Brad's post).

An all too frequent scenario:
Someone posts something remarkable on their BlueHost (or whatever hosting company), self managed blog. A slew of insightful comments follow. It didn't take off as a meme though, it just stayed in its corner, important to a few hundred people, possibly more important to some historian later. A year or two pass by and that person forgets or neglects to pay their hosting company and their domain rego - its all over. I can see this happening hundreds of times in the case of Jim's DS106 open course - where he is asking people to DIY their websites. If even 50% of those then decide to let that site's fees slip and the content go into the extinct URLs, not only will Jim's record of DS106 be compromised, but the longer term asynchronous learning will be impacted. We might as well give it all over to Blackboard and leave the deletion to the institution. The business model, that deletes content because hosting fees aren't being met, is a irresponsible model. But Jim's reasons are good.

Contrast to this with services like Blogger - under the Google mission to make sense of the Internet, and make advertising and database money doing so - its in their interests to keep the content up. So, one person moving on in life and forgetting to pay their bills, doesn't render whole swaths of content and shared experience, void.

I'm not suggesting that the Google model is ideal. Far from it - control of ones own online record remains an issue here. I am pointing out that the business model of the little hosting companies and the domain registrars who take content offline if their fees aren't met, is crappy.

Perhaps we should use established not for profit services like Ourmedia more, started by JD Lassica, author of Darknet. Its not commonly recognised that Ourmedia (and the archive that makes it possible - most likely started all this Web2 crazy by announcing back in 2004 that they would freely store, host, serve and manage and unlimited content forever. Soon after, Youtube stole the limelight. Even though has been storing and serving unlimited user content since 1996, and despite the front end changing its tune a little - focusing on activist media more, non of it solves Jim's mission of showing the world the value of peer to peer DIY/conviviality.

What we need is a service like Ourmedia, not-for-profit, or running on a business model that ensures preservation of content, that enables people to access and control all levels of the production process, but doesn't put all our networked artifacts into the fickle hands of monthly fees. Essentially what the likes of BlueHost do, but taking out the precariousness of fees to keep it all up there... perhaps a fee to keep it up forever, or until the author says stop. 50c a post say... that gives me 10 posts a month, and those posts stay up... or as with a nice little copy distributor, where the video is sent across to as a kind of backup. Now we just need URL forwarding in there for when the original goes offline...

Friday, January 07, 2011

Open Source Ecology and Factor E Farm making great progress

I've been following the progress of Factor E Farm and Open Source Ecology for about 2 years now, they really are inspiring, and a perfect case for studying networked learning for convivial development. This 2 minute video is the best capture of their work to date, but spend the time on their blog and wiki, amazing energy. I dream of being involved in an Australian arm of this project some day. Perhaps the gang at Appropedia or the Permaculture Research Institute know of local plans?

Global Village Construction Set in 2 Minutes from Marcin Jakubowski on Vimeo

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

What am I doing!?

This new year break, I've had time to consider my directions. For one, I'm thinking to drop my efforts to propose open educational policies and practices at the University of Canberra. It just seems to be much harder than it should be at the moment. The reception is not there, and the connections aren't happening. Instead, I think it would be more productive to return my focus on researching and understanding networked learning. This mainly has consequences for that un-PhD I'm doing btw.

A second thing to spark larger doubts has been to look at this blog's stats (since collection began mid 2010).

Normally I don't pay much attention to the stats on my blogs, I don't really see the point. But since I've started including posts on stuff I do outside education and networked learning, its interesting to see the comparison. This is mostly revealed graph 3, where my post Starting a rocket fire thermal mass heater has had 3 times the views as the next most popular post How and why I'll do a PhD

As far as the education related posts go, it is slightly disappointing to see that so many posts I consider to be important, don't even rate on the charts. This sense of disappointment existed long before looking at the stats mind you. The almost complete lack of connection I seem to have to any Australian or New Zealand network of people who share and converse around issues of networked learning and open education has troubled me for a long time. Made worse by watching our North American and UK counterparts cut sick with dialog, development and good times. I don't know why this is...

Based on my very infrequent postings on "outside" interests, I find there is a more receptive audience, and a stronger online learning network around topics of sustainability and alternative energy. I have had excellent feedback on the Compost hot water project - including local news reporters, websites and very helpful comments on Youtube. Likewise, very surprising requests to help build rocket fires too. These responses come well before I can claim any expertise or worthwhile experience in the field, imagine what might be possible with more focused attention. To be sure, I very much enjoy working on such projects, but once again, least liking the frustrations in finding local contacts and suppliers. 

If I had some capital behind me, I'd be investing in the Container house project (featured in the recent Tron movie (0:56) btw!)  and combining in the rocket fire, compost heater, and I haven't mentioned the compost toilet yet...

By comparison, I don't enjoy working in education, demonstrating and proposing new practices to what amounts to being a non responsive, often hostile audience, with near zero connection to any measure of a local learning and research community, and all that after 7 years working at it too! I feel a new year's resolution coming on...

Networked learning playlist

So after seeing Dave Cormier's videos on MOOCs, or networked learning, I got all inspired to update the Wikipedia entry and my Youtube playlist.

My playlist now has Dave's videos, and some great look backs to some old ones by Will Richardson, George Siemens, Michael Wesch, Jim Groom and Gardner Campbell. Topics covered include deschooling, edupunk, net neutrality, digital literacy, metaweb, social networks and connectivity.

May great videos keep coming throughout 2011, and if you know one you think ought to be included, please let me know.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Networked learning explanation made easy by Dave Cormier

Dave Cormier and Neal Gillis have posted a neat video called Success in a MOOC. It explains networked learning succinctly, all be it in a "Massive Open Online Course" (MOOC). It is a third installment to the three part video series introduced on Dave's blog:

  1. What is a MOOC?
  2. Knowledge in a MOOC
  3. Success in a MOOC

These videos would have been really handy to have around back when we were trying open networked learning courses at Otago Polytechnic. Sarah Stewart now facilitates the Facilitating Online course for example (copy also on Wikiversity), so I'm sure she'll appreciate having them to help explain networked learning to new comers.

Unfortunately, I could only find these videos on Youtube, so I installed the Youtube downloader, used SuperC to transcode them to OGG Theora (note: loading to does this server side if installing software is a hassle), and loaded copies to Wikimedia Commons. The video is now embedded on the Wikipedia entry for Networked Learning. I'd sure appreciate anyone who knows more about MOOCs to add academic references to the new section, perhaps even start the MOOC entry.