When Edufire reached out a couple weeks ago regarding the launch of their new business channel, I have to admit that I wasn't familiar with the company, but I was intrigued enough to poke around their website. Although I had quite a few questions about how an online educational marketplace might work, the diversity of content alone made Edufire worth a second look (and worth a conversation with Jon Bischke, the CEO and founder, both about their core business model and their new business channel).
Edufire was founded in 2007 when Bischke asked how to give teachers a platform to teach directly and teach live to a wide audience of students. He encountered teachers who were using a piecemeal approach to distance education, trying their hands at Skype and PayPal to monetize their efforts, and who were ultimately just frustrated. As he put it, "they were sick of dealing with the technology and just want to teach."
Described as a free-market approach to education, teachers in any number of subjects can offer their courses via the interactive Edufire platform (which includes video, chat, and social media components) at a price they set. While some classes are free, many are in the $10 range, the hope being that courses can attract enough students to be profitable for a teacher.
While anyone can be a teacher on Edufire, the company has a couple of rating systems that help prospective students evaluate their choices. The most important is Ebay-style feedback from other users, but even new teachers are evaluated automatically based on their responses to the signup form.
Edufire initially focused on the language vertical and still offers many courses in language instruction ranging from ELL to Mandarin. However, they have since grown to include a wide variety of subjects. Today, Edufire launched their business channel, which, according to Bischke, appeals to two main groups: those who want to grow their business or get some training in specific areas of entrepreneurship and those who are looking to retrain during a job transition.
Obviously, the latter approach is quite timely, given the state of our economy. Users can take classes in an ad hoc fashion, gaining new skills far more cost-effectively than taking courses at a local university or community college. Courses in the entrepreneur track are taught by venture capitalists and successful entrepreneurs while those in retraining can even find "How to network using LinkedIn."
According to the press release for the launch today,
Unlike traditional e-learning, which generally brings canned (and often obsolete) coursework, eduFire offers an interactive, virtual class with live instructors who can answer questions and adjust the curriculum to meet each students’ needs...The live class environment also offers new ways to learn from fellow classmates all over the world through live interaction with students that share the same interests, ambitions and professional development goals.
Not long ago, I asked if "Online education would kill the university." I concluded, as did quite a few readers, that it certainly wouldn't. However, services like Edufire will give the continuing education departments a serious run for their money at many schools. When was the last time you were able to take an introductory Chinese course for $10 from your home, hotel room, or even your high school library? It's going to be a fascinating ride over the next few years as traditional institutions begin competing seriously with online education pioneers like Edufire.