Sramana Mitra: You’re saying that once they get their feet wet in the online program, they prefer the convenience and the flexibility of the online class?
Kurt Kirstein: They do. I think they perceive the value of it. Many of the students who come to us went to school. The last time they went to school, they were in class with the professor face-to-face. That’s what they know and that’s what they’re used to. Many resist online when it’s offered to them as an option because it’s not what they’re comfortable with. By giving them a taste of it and requiring them to participate in an online environment, many of them become much more comfortable with it and they migrate to online on their own.
Sramana Mitra: Is it a web self-service, a do-it-on-your-own-time kind of model or are the online classes meeting at a certain interactive portal where there are instructors leading them through online programs?
Kurt Kirstein: That’s a really good question and it leads us to a very interesting trend in online education that’s going on right now. Typically online has been asynchronous, which means it is an instructor will post an announcement and questions, students will read the textbooks, respond to the discussion boards and they will post their assignments. There is no set time when there’s any interaction between the instructor and the student unless there’s a specific appointment that’s made. That’s the online education model. That’s what dominates still. It has dominated probably for the last 20 years – ever since online came about.
The trend that I think is going to have a positive impact is that we are starting to see much more direct interaction between the instructors and the students because of technologies. That I think is a very effective way for us to recapture a little bit of what’s lost when you transfer primarily to an online format. That is the direct face-to-face interaction. I think people will prefer the flexibility and convenience of online education but still miss that interaction that they get.
Sramana Mitra: This is a good time to tell you a little bit about the format that we are following. I run a 100% online program. We do not have any physical program in our incubator. We operate a global program. The way we use the web self-service versus the online split is we have this free online mentoring roundtable over WebEx every week on Thursday mornings. Entrepreneurs from all over the world dial into it and can discuss their issues.
In the premium program, we have a combination interactive. We have video lectures and case study based curriculum, which they can do at their own time. It’s organized as curriculum modules. There are discussion areas where they can ask questions. We supplement that also with the same kind of WebEx interactive mentoring sessions where they can actually come and present their pitches or discuss specific aspects of their strategy where they want more interaction with a human coach. It takes advantage of the best of both worlds.