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Thought Leaders in Online Education: Karen Francis, CEO of Academix Direct (Part 2)

Posted on Thursday, Apr 17th 2014

Karen Francis: We’re seeing the emerging trend of students saying, “This is why I want this track and this is what I’ll take. I’m not going to take the rest of it.” They are able to customize what they want either from a broad perspective of choosing colleges and institutions or saying, “I’m going take a blended experience. I don’t want just online or just in the classroom. I want to be able to mash it all together.” There’s enormous activity and investment in education technology today. We’re seeing lots of experimentation. I don’t see a clear winner yet, which is exciting. More and more people are saying, “What is the result I want from my education?” Then, work backwards and say, “How do I then use the technologies available to gain that result?”

Sramana Mitra: How does CourseTalk fit in to this picture?

Karen Francis: CourseTalk is relatively young. Right now, we have the most comprehensive catalog of online courses. We have close to 17,000 courses listed on the site. Just six months ago, we had 4,000. We are really going out and proactively identifying people who have interesting course content and encouraging them to list their courses on CourseTalk.

Sramana Mitra: It’s a directory.

Karen Francis: It’s a catalog. We don’t offer content. We want to have the most comprehensive selections so that the learner comes to our site. You can search and discover anything that you might want. We actively track the searches and what searches are coming out without a result – which would mean there is no content yet for that. If we find those topics, we’ll go out and even encourage people who aren’t in the online education space yet to consider taking their content online.

Sramana Mitra: What is the business model around that?

Karen Francis: I’m fortunate to be able to say that our base business, the Academix Direct brand, is very profitable and we’re doing quite well. Right now, I’m able to experiment more than someone who doesn’t have that backstop would be able to. Essentially, if you’re a course provider and you offer a free course on CourseTalk, everything’s free. It’s free to the course provider and students. We just take pride at being able to connect people globally. If you are, however, a course provider that charges for a course – let’s say your course is a $500 language course, we work with that course provider to get a marketing referral fee. In that case, the course provider gains a student and then they would give us a referral fee.

Sramana Mitra: What is the target audience in terms of students?

Karen Francis: It’s interesting to watch. There’s a lot attention being paid in the MOOC space right now in terms of trends. In the early stages of MOOCs and online courses, it was mainly computer programming and male. That’s not surprising given that edX and Coursera are the two big founders of the MOOC revolution. That was how they were born. We have traffic from all over the world. We’re increasingly seeing more women join and we’re expanding the course content so that it really covers all facets. Actually, one of the searches that has now just come up is interior design. We’ll go out and find people who have high caliber content to bring in that area.

Sramana Mitra: Did I hear you right when you said that the larger adoption so far has been in the tech area?

Karen Francis: So far.

Sramana Mitra: You have a large concentration of materials and courses in that area?

Karen Francis: Yes.

This segment is part 2 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Karen Francis, CEO of Academix Direct
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