The Business of Learning Objects

This is a continuation of observations from the Learning Object Symposium yesterday.

Robby Robson, Vipel Pillau, Glenn O'Classen, and I took part in a panel session on the business side of learning objects. We never directly answered my opening question, "Can you make a profit in the learning object business?"



This is a learning object. Makes me wonder:
  • Can I sell this for a premium?
  • Can I copyright it?
  • How long is its shelf-life?
  • How is it going to be priced?

Is the real money to be made from developing new objects? Or by stringing together best-of-breed, fully-interoperable chains of objects? Or by providing customization services?

This is a course or an assembly of objects. A module. They're all the same color because they're all made by the same company.

If you're making all the objects, there's little question but that reusing components will be more economical than reinventing the wheel. The Military, Reuters, Shell, Rabobank, and others are doing this today. It works. Interchangeable parts. Eli Whitney.

The assembly to the right contains learning objects from numerous sources. Reusability in this case leads to massive economies. How do I set a price? Glenn does it now at GeneEd -- negotiating separate contracts as he goes along; this doesn't scale.

How will authors avoid being ripped off? (Are we the new recording artists?) What about pirates? Who will define when something is original? (Caution: Legal remedies only scale at an unacceptable cost to the quality of life.)

Nightmare from 2004: Expo at eLearning Taiwan. You want the entire NETg library? $10. How about SmartForce? $10.

This is a former learning module. This module is no more! It has ceased to be! It's expired and gone to meet its maker! It's a stiff! Bereft of life, it rests in peace! It's metabolic processes are now 'istory! It's kicked the bucket, 'It's shuffled off 'is mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisibile!! THIS IS AN EX-MODULE!!

You see, this morning, the Disney Corporation's attorneys issued an injunction against you releasing your program. See that missing block? That particular item, call it the mickey-block, contained the phrase "Hey, Donald." Disney Corporation claims ownership of that learning meme.

If you have not read it, waste no time. Listen to Lawrence Lessig's presentation, "Free Culture."


The mind plays tricks. We panelists figured it would be more lively and gripping to present our material impromptu rather than practiced. So I'm yammering on about whether the value is in the learning objects or the result. Is it like the fishermen living on a pittance while the restaurateurs charge an arm and a leg for the bouillabaisse? I had to stop and apologize. Back to our regularly scheduled program.

Back to the issue of whether one will be ripped off, i.e. by losing control of an object? My answer is that yes, sure, you can plan on it. But the question is based on an outdated concept of business. In the Industrial Age, we added value by making and selling things. Sales transactions ruled. In the Intangibles Age, or whatever we call it now, we seek to form relationships -- channels people will subscribe to. Don't give me money for the cash register; sign up for a continuing steam of payments. And for the developer of learning objects, this means staying ahead of the game by producing new stuff and lowering your expectations of getting rich off past accompllishments.

    Question: I'm a university with a thousand stand-up courses of a hundred hours each and little budget. How can I convert these to learning objects? Answer: You can't.

    Question: What value can third parties add to learning objects?
    Answer: Quality assurance, assembly, sales & marketing, personalization, compliance with standards.

Wayne wisely pointed out that the object approach is not an all-or-nothing proposition. I noted John Seely Brown's observation that computer types tend to count, "1...2...3...one million."

I took no notes during the session since I was one of the four making it up as we went along. Please add comments and observations. Did anyone take notes?

What's the prognosis for the future? If you equate uncertainty with opportunity, we're entering boom times.


Posted by Jay Cross at September 6, 2002 04:54 PM | TrackBack
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