Sramana Mitra: You have been in the continuing education space for a good decade or more. What are the trends of the industry?
Shaul Kuper: What is interesting to us, having dealt with continuing education for so long, is that about two years ago presidents of the universities woke up one day and realized that the students they thought they had on campus aren’t the students they have on campus. There has been a fundamental shift in higher education from traditional to non-traditional or something we call post-traditional. Something we have seen happening is that traditionally speaking you had cohorts of students. Today it is a cohort of one. You had once in a lifetime education. Now you have lifelong learning – people learn forever. At one time you had push education, where professors would tell you what you are learning and how you are going to learn it. Today it is just-in-time learning. People learn it when they want it and as they want it.
Degrees were very important, and now outcomes are becoming more important than degrees. Educational achievements were extremely important, whereas lifetime experience is becoming just as important. It was unheard of to have more than a single institution credit recognition, whereas now people are looking at universal outcome acceptance. People used to go to school for knowledge’s sake, and now it is about knowledge from employability. We have seen a huge commoditization of education. It has gone from student to consumer in terms of the mindset of who these students are.
This is nothing new in continuing education. It has always been about the individual, that they want great service and they want to be able to get the information when they want it, how they want it, and in a convenient way. They are typically paying for it, and they want service. They are going to work during the day, so they want it during the evening or online. It is about the experience for them. What has shifted the most for us is the fact that this is now mainstream. Continuing education was the red-headed stepchild of universities, but now it is being looked at as the prodigy of universities. A lot of people realize that the future of higher education is the business model the continuing education divisions have, which is working with individuals, providing education just in time for them, the way they want to learn it. That has become a massive change in understanding the space.
SM: What is changing from a continuing education system point of view in designing an education curriculum?
SK: Ultimately what it means is providing students with a great experience. When they get online, being able to find the information they need in a timely manner, being able to use a double click on information they require, being able to instantly ask a question and have it automatically routed to the appropriate person to get back to them in a timely manner, helping with courses in terms of ensuring that courses are available to the student at the appropriate time and in the appropriate manner, with great service, etc.
One of the things we do really well is build a profile of a student before he or she becomes one. A potential student may ask a question, like if this or that class is offered on Tuesdays, for example. We start building a profile for that student that continues for a lifetime, and we continue adding information every time they inquire about something, every time they take a course, every time that they attend something, etc.
The school is now building life-long relationships with these students. This is a huge ROI for them over a lifetime. They don’t really just want to have a “here is one course, see you.” It is about stickiness and understanding the student, finding information about them, being able to continually market to them at the right time, understanding the student, understanding why they are taking courses. This allows universities to bundle the right courses for them, creating certificates, stacking those certificates so they can get the outcomes they are looking for, understanding who their employer is, being able to work with their employer to provide them jobs, etc. In the old campus systems you typically applied to get into a program. If you didn’t get in, you were purged from the system. In a continuing education system, you are never going to be purged. You are constantly going to have more information about yourself and marketed to you in terms of providing you with the right information at the right time.
SM: Talking about connecting you to job systems, does the system offer connectivity to various employers, or is that specific to the universities and colleges as to them having the relationships with them?
SK: Yes, at the moment it is specific to universities and colleges. As an example: Cornell is a customer that deals with many businesses, where the businesses can get online and facilitate the learning of their employees through our system.
SM: Let’s say there is a consumer taking courses in the Cornell system. What is the process of that consumer to find jobs? Is that something that is specific to Cornell’s career development program or is it something you bring to the table for all of your customers?
SK: Cornell has set up with various employers to provide education to their employees. It is customized for each customer and the corporation, so they are able to send their employees to learn through their system.
SM: You said you also cater to B2C scenarios – you don’t only do B2B scenarios. You don’t only do schools that train employees of their customers, or do you?
SK: Consumers would go to a university and find courses.