Archive for 'Education'

Global Intelligence

Posted on 05. Jan, 2009 by jon.

I’ve been pumped to write about this for a while because I think it’s one of the most important trends that’s happening right now. Perhaps the most important trend. I don’t say that lightly either. We’re on the verge of something that’s incredibly powerful and the acceleration of this trend has become really apparent in the last couple of years.

What do I mean by Global Intelligence?

A bunch of people have written about this before and I think everyone has their own definition. I probably started thinking about it a lot right around the time I saw this video:

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

For me Global Intelligence means the following:

#1 – An interconnected world where when one person gets smarter, we all get smarter. I use “all” loosely here as at this stage of our development it doesn’t mean everyone. It more likely refers to a small portion of society that is digitally connected and actually seeking out information and knowledge. Perhaps that’s about 1% of the world’s population. Maybe slightly higher.

globeIn a world of true Global Intelligence there is a tremendous multiplier effect. Think back 20 years ago. Let’s say that I was studying nutrition and decided to write a book on the subject. First of all, the likelihood that I would even get published was very, very small. If I did manage to get published the total number of people who would read what I wrote would also likely be much smaller than it would be today. So the multiplier effect of my learning would be somewhat tiny, especially in the aggregate.

Fast forward to today. First of all, if I’m studying nutrition I don’t need anyone’s permission to share my knowledge with the world. I simply create a blog or a YouTube channel or whatever and start getting my wisdom out. This has created an explosion in knowledge/content all along the “tail”. And if my work is really good? Well the audience that consumes it is going to be much larger than it would have been in the past.

#2 – The ability for people to get more knowledge out of their head and onto the Internet. Twitter has been fascinating to watch over the last couple of years for this reason. Think back to a decade ago. Getting the knowledge in your brain on to the Web was actually pretty tough. Then along came blogging tools and there was an exponential increase in the amount of knowledge available online. However, blogging was still something that required a fair amount of effort.

Along came YouTube and now people had the opportunity to share their knowledge via video in a much easier way. So you had an explosion in video knowledge transfer, tons of video tutorial sites and an exponential increase in video blogging. Very powerful stuff.

headThen came Twitter. Twitter has two distinct components. The “Just has a cup of coffee and preparing for the workday” type of tweet is moderately useful in term of social connectedness, personal expression, etc. However the much more powerful part of Twitter is what’s commonly characterized as the micro-blogging component. It’s essentially a much easier way to get knowledge out of your head and on to the Web than we’ve ever had before.

I installed the most excellent application RescueTime this fall and I noticed something very interesting in my logs. I spend almost as much time searching Twitter as I do searching Google for information. That astounded me. The reason is that a lot of the information on Twitter is very different from what I would find on the Web. For example, if I’m looking for what people are saying about eduFire or another online education start-up I’m more likely to get timely and intimate feedback from someone’s tweet than from their blog post.

This is a huge trend. A while back I wrote a blog post here where I asked our readers how much of the world’s collective knowledge is available on the Web. The answers were interesting and most people tended to agree that a very small percentage of our individual knowledge is available collectively. What tools like Twitter have done is increase that percentage by some factor. Time will tell whether it’s by a small amount or a large one but my guess is that it will be larger than most people think.

connected#3 – Connection of knowledge seekers with knowledge providers. This is the third component of Global Intelligence. If I have a question (and we *all* ask ourselves hundreds or thousands of questions on a daily basis) there’s almost certainly someone in the world who has an answer. The difficulty is in connecting to that person or that knowledge. Search engines have helped dramatically with this. Social networks are also helping. However, we still have a long way to go.

As friction reduces in this area there is going to be an increasingly realization on the part of most people that they can turn to the Global Intelligence when they have a question rather than using many of the inefficient methods they have used in the past. As they do that you’ll see markets emerge for Global Intelligence and you’ll see much better tools for search and discovery than you see today.

So I’ll leave it at that for now. We’re hardly on an unimpeded path towards Global Intelligence as there are a good number of counter-balancing factors including spam, information overload, the digital divide and proprietary data stores. I’ll address those in a future blog post. But, as I mentioned in our year-end blog post, I am really encouraged about where we’re heading right now and how far things have come in just the last couple of years. It’s going to be fun for all us here at eduFire to play a role in pushing us further down this road.

Continue Reading

Reason #4541 Why We Love eduFire: Snow!

Posted on 15. Dec, 2008 by Koichi.

The other morning I woke up to several inches of beautiful snow. Snow on it’s own isn’t too bad, but then it warmed up slightly and melted a bit, then dropped to a frigid 25 degrees Fahrenheit (that’s about -4 Celsius). Everything turned to ice, and I was trapped! I live on a pretty big hill, so I wasn’t going anywhere.

That made me realize, though, that it didn’t matter! When you’re teaching or learning online, all you need is a computer, some equipment, and an internet connection. I was able to open my window and enjoy the snow, while everyone else was skidding around trying to go to work.

How many of you get to enjoy/not enjoy the snow where you are?

Continue Reading

39 Free Japanese Courses You Can Sign Up For Right Now!

Posted on 04. Dec, 2008 by Koichi.

Right now, eduFire has a ton of Japanese classes available to the world. The best part? Right now they are free. The earlier you get in on it, the more you can start learning. I’ve made a list, organized by date and level, to help you find the courses that are right for you. More are being added, so definitely take a look at the recently added classes page to find more (another classes in other subjects too!). Here’s that big list I promised you: (more…)

Continue Reading

TeachStreet Expands to the Bay Area

Posted on 19. Nov, 2008 by Koichi.

Our friends over at TeachStreet are probably celebrating today. They’ve just announced their expansion into the Bay Area, and added over 65,000 classes, coaches, and experts to their already robust database. That’s a big number! Congratulations, TeachStreet!

So why do we love TeachStreet so much? I feel like TeachStreet and eduFire have similar goals (to change the way people think about education). We go about accomplishing these goal in different ways, which is what I think makes us such a great pair! TeachStreet offers tools to teachers and students to help them connect. What makes them different from us is that they like to do things in person. If you want to find a class on Japanese, Yoga, Photoshop, or anything else, TeachStreet helps you find someone in your local area to teach it to you. TeachStreet provides a great, free service, and you should definitely check it out if you live in the San Fransisco, Portland, or Seattle areas.

Did you know that you can add a TeachStreet link on your eduFire profile? If you edit your profile, it’s one of the URL options that’s listed there. If you’re a tutor, and you live in one of the areas listed above, definitely give TeachStreet a try if you’re looking to find some face-to-face students. If you’re a student, and you want to find yourself a live teacher, there’s that option as well, too!

Anyways, we just wanted to congratulate TeachStreet on it’s recent expansion, and all it has done to empower teachers and students! Keep up the great work!


Continue Reading

Using Google Docs to Collaborate with Students

Posted on 08. Nov, 2008 by Koichi.

Cool Cat Teacher just wrote a post about the use of Google Docs in her classroom, and how it allows her students to collaborate on spreadsheets, documents, and presentations. That got me thinking. How could it be used by tutors (or the students of tutors) on eduFire? Google Docs are a great resource for teachers and students alike to allow collaboration of documents – something you can’t do with Microsoft Word, PowerPoint, or Excel. Here’s what I came up with – let’s see if you can add some more. (more…)

Continue Reading

6 Reasons Why Online Education Will Boom in the Bust

Posted on 13. Oct, 2008 by jon.

Recently we’ve all been bombarded with news about the financial crisis and dire warnings about what’s ahead for the economy. As of this writing, InTrade has the likelihood that the US economy will go into recession in 2008 at 45%. These odds jump to almost 80% in 2009. Companies are hunkering down for what could be an extended period of decreased consumer spending, reduced access to capital and downtrodden financial markets.

So what will happen to online education over the next few years? Admittedly, I’ve *very* biased but I think the next few years could actually bring a boom in online education. For the following six reasons it seems like online education could indeed be counter-cyclical and steal market share from traditional education in the near future. Here’s why:

#1 – Many people will re-tool in a downturn. When times are good many people tend to be very focused on making money. When times turn bad then the focus is not so much on “How much can I make?” but rather on how “How do I make sure I’m not out of work?” Re-tooling, getting a certification, etc. are things that now become even more important. And for those who do loose their job, the focus often shifts to finding a new job or even on finding a new career. Education lies at the center of all of this attention and in a world that is changing as fast as ours, people who have often been doing pretty much the same work for years now are faced with the proposition of having to do a lot of learning again. This of course isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it can be a great chance to focus on what’s truly important (as happened a lot after 09/11).

#2 – In a down economy, many people will head back to grad school. During the go-go years of the dot com bubble many people left business school early to pursue start-ups. After the bust people who were laid off tended to “hide out” in school for a few years. This is pretty natural. The opportunity cost associated with going to school (in terms of missed opportunities) is much higher when times are good than when times are bad. It won’t surprise me at all to see record numbers of people pursue graduate degrees in coming years. If that’s the case, online education that focuses on preparing people for graduate school entrance exams should be a very hot area.

#3 – People will be more price sensitive in the coming years. When times are good a lot of money gets thrown around at stuff with less concern for what it costs. However, when times get tight a lot more thought goes into spending patterns. Online education tends to be a fair amount cheaper than traditional education, in large part because of decreased overhead and less inefficiency. For example, at eduFire, private tutoring tends to run at 25-50% the cost of private tutoring at brick-and-mortar companies, even though in many cases the tutors are the same ones who’ve taught at traditional education companies in the past.

#4 – Rising gas prices become more of a concern. Similar to the previous reason, people are increasingly likely to focus on gas prices when considering decisions. If someone is consider a class at a tutoring company or a local community college and it’s a 10 mile commute each way that’s like a $4-$6 surcharge in gas prices alone for each class. All of this adds up and the cumulative impact of a weak economy and rising energy prices is already starting to cause an increase in the cocooning effect. That cocooning effect should drive increased demand for online education.

#5 – Larger number of highly-qualified teachers. There is likely to be an increased number of people looking for full-time or part-time employment in the coming months. Many of them may turn to online education as a means to supplement their income. This will likely mean some highly-qualified teachers who will be available here and on other online education sites. An increase in the number of teachers will likely result in a better experience for students looking to learn online.

#6 – Relative strength in foreign economics and/or weakness in the dollar will allow the US to export education to the rest of the world. This is fairly US-centric in nature but a weaker US economy relative to the rest of the world plus a depreciating dollar could mean a lot of American teachers will have an easier time finding students in other parts of the world. For example, in the last year, the US Dollar has fallen almost 20% relative to the Japanese Yen. This means that a Japanese student looking to take a class or tutoring session from an American instructor now finds it almost 20% cheaper. While these changes have negative ramifications as well (a declining US Dollars means Americans must pay more on a relative basis for foreign goods), it could help to spur demand for American classes and tutors.

Of course, if the financial crisis gets too bad it won’t be good for anyone. But at least when it comes to online education it’s very likely that the trends listed above will keep the industry strong despite a downturn. It will certainly be interesting to see how this all plays out.

Continue Reading

The Launch of MySpace Music and What It Means to the Future of Education

Posted on 25. Sep, 2008 by reg.

Last night at Midnight MySpace launched MySpace Music which allows you to, for free, stream millions of tracks from all sorts of artists (e.g., I’m streaming Prince while writing this). It’s perhaps the most ambitious step in the “Content is Free” direction since YouTube starting getting traction a few years back. So I know what you’re about to ask…

What the heck does this have to do with eduFire and education?

I’ll offer a simple answer: Everything.

For decades music has been predicated on you having to pay to access content. Sure you could listen to the radio for free but if you wanted to listen to something of your choice then you had to buy the record, 8-track, CD, mp3, etc.

Now, with sites like Imeem and MySpace Music, you can now listen for free. That’s big.

For decades education has been predicated on you having to pay to access content. In the case of education the content came in the form of university lectures and what not. You paid big bucks for the privilege of consuming this “content”.

Now, with stuff like iTunes U you can watch this content for free. That’s big.

These changes have far-reaching implications. More far-reaching than just about anybody realizes.

So as the price point for content falls closer to zero (ultimately all music will be available for free) does that mean content has no value?

Actually, it’s more likely to be just the opposite of that.


Just because you’re not charging for content doesn’t make it lacks value. What MySpace has done in one fell swoop is just re-focused the Attention Spotlight back on itself. It may never be your social network of choice but it just became the best (if not perfect) place on the Web to consume music. So if you’re a music lover you are probably going to find yourself giving more of your attention to MySpace in the coming months than you did in the past.

And that gives MySpace an incredibly competitive advantage in terms of creating community around content, attractive advertisers and building its brand.

So again…how does apply to education?

Right now most of the folks in the education space are still trying to build the best silos. Instead, they should be viewing the industry the same way that MySpace is viewing the music biz. By leveraging the power of “free” content. By building brands around their All Stars. By creating fantastic user experiences that leverage th “3 Cs” of context (Why am I here?), content (What am I doing?) and community (Who am I doing it with?).

MySpace gets this. They are taking something that is free and creating $2 billion worth of value from it. If that ain’t alchemy I’m not sure what is.

Silos seems to work for decades and alternative strategies seems entirely counter-intuitive. And then someone comes in and drops a bomb and in the matter of a short decade your industry has been entirely transformed. And music isn’t the only industry that’s being radically transformed right now.

A lot of people don’t think this applies to education. A lot of people didn’t think it would apply to the music industry either. But when these changes happen they tend to happen faster than almost anyone realizes. And my sense is that they’re about to happen pretty fast in education.

Continue Reading

Power to the People

Posted on 22. Sep, 2008 by reg.

Union Square Ventures is high on my list of venture capital firms I respect most. They’ve invested in a bunch of my favorite companies including Disqus, Etsy and Twitter (and I’m about to be a Tumblr user for my personal blog which I’m highly looking forward to!). This weekend there was a good article about Union Square posted in the New York Times (HT: Kareem) in which they talked about education as a sector that hadn’t been touched in a big way by web services:

The partners said they planned to look at how Web services might transform sectors not yet touched in a big way, like education and the environment.

We at eduFire couldn’t agree more. Then I hopped over to their blog and read this cool post entitled “Power to the People“.

Lectures could historically only be heard at the time and place of the lecture. Now we can watch a video recording of a lecture over the web. A tutor had to be in the same place to look at the work of a student and provide feedback…With access to course materials, ability to watch lectures and even tutor at a distance, we believe that we are only at the beginning of the web’s impact on the fundamental structure of education. We expect much of that change to be away from the existing educational institutions and towards empowering individuals and newly-formed groups.

Um, amen.

What Union Square and some other smart VCs get is that the fundamental organizing structure in education could likely change very radically in coming years. For starters, schools have done a tremendously ineffective job at properly organizing education. Tons of good teachers quit. The ones who stay are hampered by stifling bureaucracy.

But schools don’t need to be the fundamental organizing structures for education. Just because it’s been that way for quite a while doesn’t mean that it will always be that way. Indeed, you’re seeing more and more people opt out of a bad system (over 1 million students are now homeschooled in the US alone) and that’s likely to only intensify as online learning alternatives increase in quality and quantity.

That’s one of the great things about about the Web. If it’s broke in the “real world”, you can, in most cases, fix it on the Web. Don’t like the way video works in the real world. Create YouTube. Think that the music industry in the real world is messed up. Create MySpace or Imeem or Pandora. Don’t like how the education system in the real world works…

OK, better get back to fixing it! :)

(P.S. Bonus eduFire T-shirt for first commenter who can tell where the photo above was taking without clicking through to Flickr!! :)

Continue Reading

Why We Do What We Do, Pt 14291

Posted on 17. Sep, 2008 by reg.

Wow. I’m not really sure where to start here.

Every once in a while (and it seems, more frequently lately), I’m reminded in a powerful way of why we started eduFire. Thinking all the way back to that first blog post and how far we’ve come since then, it’s really inspiring. But it’s easy at times to lose sight of why we’re working so hard and just who it is that we’re working for.

And then I see a message like this posted to our forums and it reminds me all over again.

My favorite companies of all time are the ones that have created economic opportunities for millions of people. eBay of course. Google which has empowered many people to make money through AdSense. Etsy more recently.

But when I see something like this I’m just completely blown away. To think that someone halfway around the world whose home was destroyed in an 8.0 magnitude earthquake might be able to get back on their feet, at least in part, by teaching Mandarin on eduFire…well, that pretty much leaves me speechless.

The thing is, I have an overwhelming feeling that this is only the beginning. I’m reading a fantastic book right now called The Power of Unreasonable People which has the tagline “How Social Entrepreneurs Create Markets That Change the World”. And that’s exactly what we’re trying to do here at eduFire. Develop a market that will change the world. Give hope and opportunities to the BOP. And advance the goal of giving everyone an increasingly equal chance at a world-class education.

Umair wrote something today that rang completely true to me:

Now is the time for revolutionaries to step up and build something better, something more real, and something greater.

There will probably never – at least in our lifetimes – be an opportunity for total economic reinvention this tremendous.

Or this meaningful. Because that’s what it’s really about – not shareholder value, money, or “competitive advantage”.

But doing something that means something.

It’s my deepest hope and prayer that what we’re doing here at eduFire is something that truly means something.

And by the way, I’ve never been more excited for a language lesson than I am for my Mandarin lesson tomorrow with Lily.

Continue Reading

What happens when classrooms are replaced by learning ecologies?

Posted on 14. Sep, 2008 by reg.

Moved today by this post over on the 21st Century Learning blog.

Why do we need to understand the shift in education? Because they can learn and teach themselves anything they want to know without leaving home. When you move from a classroom structure to a community structure- the students become teachers AND learners and so do we. 21st Century teaching and learning is about shifting classrooms to learning ecologies.

Sheryl goes on to provide a few emphatic examples of this including the following video…made by a 7th grader. :)

Anyone can be a teacher and anyone can be a student…indeed that’s the world we’re moving into. A wealth of knowledge at your fingertips? Yup, we’re hoping to be part of the infrastructure that is making this happen.

Continue Reading