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Thought Leaders in Online Education: Sean Brown, SVP of Education, Sonic Foundry (Part 7)

Posted on Sunday, Jun 8th 2014

Sramana Mitra: I’m not doing the research. Somebody who knows better than I do is curating or providing that content and the education that I need. Essentially at that point, it’s an online university of its own style. I think that’s what’s going to happen at each of the university levels as well as there will be private business versions of each category like all the companies that we described. We fall in that online education category as well. Somebody is doing the curation, somebody is guaranteeing the quality of the learning. People are trusting that brand and becoming a member of that brand.

Sean Brown: Precisely. Right now you have to admit that if you serve the preponderance of education whose value is in a brand that is associated with a brick-and-mortar institution, then guess what, every single brick-and-mortar institution wants to take a minute and try to figure out how they can be the entrepreneur to develop the business model for themselves and leverage their legacy business model.

Sramana Mitra: It’s going to get disrupted because these guys charge a lot of money. If you look at the private entrepreneurial world, we are all figuring out how to do this at a much lower cost. We charge a $1,000 annual membership fee and a lot of our entrepreneurs have said that they’re getting more value than an MBA. An MBA costs $85,000 a year. That’s disruption.

Sean Brown: The music industry in studios tried different ways to keep their catalog and go for the big home run while they were dying. Steve Jobs did the unthinkable with a unique business model and said, “Song at a time. Music studios still own the artists. Just let me break out of your distribution model.” iTunes come and people are buying a song at a time. Imagine a world where an entrepreneur says, “I am going to have the business negotiation – not the shovel-building technology negotiation, not the democratization negotiation but straight business negotiation like Steve Jobs did.” They go to Harvard and they say, “I am going to syndicate your class. Please make a syndication model for me. I know the technology that can get it out.” That is different from Khan Academy. I have nothing against them. You and I are not trashing them.

Sramana Mitra: I’m a huge fan of Khan Academy. Make no mistake, they’re providing immense value but they’re not a business. iTunes is already setup to do that and if Apple chooses to do that and becomes the distribution channel for the educational institutions and their courses, iTunes is perfectly setup to do that.

Sean Brown: You said that well. I worked at Apple at that time. Apple is not going to curate content and seek content. When Steve Jobs went into the music industry and reinvented the relationship, they were getting involved in packaging and marketing actively with full body and force.

Sramana Mitra: There’s nothing to say that they won’t do this as well because Apple is a much more powerful company today than it was before.

Sean Brown: I see what you’re saying. You’re predicting Apple might be the entrepreneurial company that’s in the best position.

Sramana Mitra: Absolutely. It could be one of us.

Sean Brown: It could be you.

Sramana Mitra: It’s been fun talking to you. Thank you for taking the time.

This segment is part 7 in the series : Thought Leaders in Online Education: Sean Brown, SVP of Education, Sonic Foundry
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