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Thought Leaders in Online Education: Sean Brown, SVP of Education, Sonic Foundry (Part 5)

Posted on Friday, Jun 6th 2014

Sramana Mitra: It sounds like there’s quite a bit of classification and slotting that goes on. Is that happening on your end or is that happening in someone else’s system like Blackboard?

Sean Brown: It happens on our end. Then that last mile is that the university will say, “It is wonderful that you have this beautiful portal that is secure and understands the identity of my students. But I would still like the chunk of the portal that’s related to the recordings of a particular class to appear embedded inside of the appropriate section of the LMS.” If you are a creator of technology for higher education of any kind, you have to work with the chosen LMS of the university. One day I’m at a school with Blackboard. Another day, I am dealing with another LMS. We have to be fungible and integrated into each one of those systems.

Because I feel kinship with all of the entrepreneurs that you support, in our beginning days we had to sit down and think, “We want to project the content from the classroom all the way to its target spot where it needs to be. How far do we need to go to engineer this so that it is viable?” We figured out that we had to go all the way from not asking the teacher to do anything different – have a zero learning curve for the teacher – all the way to it had to end up secure and tucked away exactly in the target spot in an LMS industry that’s out there.

My history is being a toolmaker. Your readers and participants in your community can still take heart. If they’re toolmakers like me, there are tons of opportunities. Now, what to do with the content itself? There’s a whole industry in MOOCs and everything else. Making the content is incidental and there’s many tools like Sonic Foundry but there’s still the opportunity for expertise in how is it designed, how it looks, where to distribute it, and how to market it. Do you put it in the school’s internal website and the access for monetization is solely the registrar, or do you turn around and say, “Wow! If we have all these content collected, it could have a second life. If it’s an Econ class, it could be professional development content that’s valuable to business people everywhere who would swipe their credit cards.”

I don’t want to use any of the buzzwords because I’ll sound so dated but they call it infotainment or edutainment. Basically, if you think that entertainment content was impacted by its conversion to digital media – its ability to be distributed through the Internet – everything changed. Education content is actually more valuable than entertainment content out there. Yes, we all like Spiderman, Marvel Comics, or whatever we like but we all want to learn. We need to learn to progress in our jobs. Here’s this incredibly valuable content that has previously been locked up inside the brick-and-mortar of different higher education institutions.

I’m saying there’s an efficiency industry that my company is a pioneer in in converting the brick-and-mortar education to digital format. What your people and their brilliant minds have is the opportunity to recognize that it is just the beginning of an opportunity to repurpose that education in different ways to provide stimulus and input or just to consume in new and different ways. I watch the entertainment industry go from being bound to theaters and three television networks to what it is now. Just because of the introduction of digital technology, the Internet to distribute, and mobile and personal browsers to consume, it opens up this new world for entrepreneurs to monetize that content. That is the opportunity if one can recognize it.

Education has always been valuable. But now that it’s digital and portable, there’s an opportunity for a bonanza of investment and new entrepreneurial ideas for people to grow. That’s what I personally believe. People invested in professional schools like law and business schools because their content was the most valuable. If you talk about MIT and edX, these are institutions that recognize the value of the content that I was just telling you and try to create new distribution methods. The rise of the MOOCs is just separate from being bound to a higher education institution deciding that they can create their own studio system and their own environment to come get the brand of content. If I’m going to go to Harvard, I know in that brick-and-mortar institute, there’s good content. Now I can go to Coursera and theoretically, there may be good content in there.

This segment is part 5 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Sean Brown, SVP of Education, Sonic Foundry
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