From eLearning to MeLearning: EdTech and the Emerging Market for On-Demand Education Content

Dr. Dmitry Krasovskiy, Head of Education & Learning Services, EPAM SystemsDr. Dmitry Krasovskiy, Head of Education & Learning Services
We’ve all used some version of the phrase “X is the Netflix of Y.” As one of the original examples of what we now know as the Video on Demand (VoD), Netflix broke the mold in ways that transcended both technology and business, laying the groundwork for many modern conveniences we now take for granted. It was even credited – albeit unfairly – with the downfall of entertainment monolith Blockbuster Video, which only serves to cement Netflix’s legacy as arguably the biggest disruptor of its era. But that disruption has long since become the norm.

2020 saw a rapid shift toward digital transformation across just about every facet of our daily lives, especially in education with the transition to remote learning, where consumers have increasingly become educational product purchasers. This trend existed before the pandemic, but it was drastically accelerated by it, as distance learning at home prompted the emergence of new consumer behaviors:

• 51 percent of parents have increased spending on virtual learning tools
• 2.9 times growth in eLearning subscriptions in March of 2020 compared to the previous 12 months
• A 444 percent increase in online course enrollment, according to Coursera
• Seven out of the ten largest publicly disclosed EdTech funding deals in the U.S. went to consumer-orientated businesses

This dynamic is causing the market to shift toward subscription-based access, where subscribers can access content at any time from a variety of resources, just as they would with Netflix.

People like Netflix because, for the relatively low cost of a monthly subscription, they get unlimited access to an incredible library of content and services – all in the comfort of their own homes and at their convenience. Netflix’s engagement strategy essentially makes people addicted to services, so it’s natural to wonder whether it might be possible to create a scalable, Netflix-esque business model that makes everyone feel the same way about learning.

Looking at Netflix as an example of a successful subscription model, we have to ask ourselves:Do we have a Netflix-like unicorn in EdTech? And if not, then why? With its engaging and intuitive interface, Netflix continues to take the entertainment market by storm just as it has since it was still sending DVDs to subscribers through the mail, making its model a potential game-changer for a market as essential as education – where the market is undeniably geared to benefit from a host of trends:

New business models: While educational institutions now need to tighten their belts on spending, making it difficult to sell them new products and services, EdTech that adopted a direct-to-learner strategy may find themselves in a more favorable position by opening the doors directly to people’s homes.

Next-generation learning experience: Netflix works so well in large part because of the user-focused experience it provides. Creating a similar, learner-centric experience for students could propel EdTech to the next level.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) applications and data analytics: The data-driven approach used by Netflix to make viewing recommendation could be leveraged by EdTech to create – with a few more data points in its algorithms – personalized and adaptive learning programs for students.

Education to employment: Now, better than ever, learners can make choices with their careers (and finances) in mind. Netflix provides a variety of content – and a Netflix-like EdTech provider should seek to do the same in the interest of serving students’ lifelong learning needs.

Optimization: Cloud migration, enabling self-service support and implementing interoperability are some of the ways to optimize costs while producing quality digital education solutions.

Netflix’s platform is so effective because it provides not just an industry-standard infrastructure for digital content delivery available 24/7, but also an intuitive user interface that includes a data-driven recommendation system, which, combined with the right amount of EdTech expertise and customization, could be applied effectively to education content. Acquiring that content, however, could be problematic because of big questions surrounding intellectual property and royalty rights.

Netflix fundamentally and permanently changed the way people consume entertainment content, but those changes extended – and continue to extend – well beyond the premise of the platform, which itself has evolved substantially over the years. Through its powerful, data-driven interface, users can create their own perfect mix of the content they want, when they want it. As this model continues to spread into other industries, there’s potential in the education sector to create a similar model that will engage students of all ages for years to come.