No, I haven’t lost my marbles! But at least now I got your attention, I think.
As you know, I have pursued a side project in German language learning since April 2008 called Deutsch Happen. On the basis of a more or less regular schedule I have produced different kinds of video lessons to test out teaching ideas and to support learners of German as a foreign language who might have no access to paid solutions.
For the past couple of months I have been experimenting with some strategies on how to grow my audience on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube and the results are good enough to take this to the next step: I am building a MVP.
MVP is the abreviation of Minimum Viable Product and based on the lean startup philosophy by Eric Ries. He just published his book and is currently making the rounds to promote it. One of his best interviews I watched so far was at Leo Laporte’s Triangulation show, and I can only recommend to watch it if you’re thinking about how to built a product or service yourselves. Lean startup is a great way for independent teachers to evaluate their business as well as for “classic” startups and even established brands.
But back to my plan to take on language learning communities. In case you have followed me since the glory days in the Myngle and eduFire forums, you know that one of my key arguments for online teachers / tutors has always been that they should stop worrying of being copied. That’s because you cannot copy a person and that’s what makes the relationship between a teacher and a student much stronger than between a student and a brand.
Over the years on YouTube I learned that students come and watch my videos because I am in them in the first place. The fact that I have a certain methodology and they might actually learn something comes in second
This led to the conclusion that personal brands should work far better in language learning (or education in general) than “faceless” brands. The success of Khan Academy, Veritasium and MinutePhysics and of course Koichi’s TextFugu seem to prove that theory. And communities are the next closest model as they provide the social glue through the friends learners make on the platform.
Now, what I am trying to build with my MVP is a freemium product based on my personal brand I have built with Deutsch Happen. The new site is going to be a straight-forward vocabulary learning platform, based on the principles of mind mapping and the “Wikipedia effect”. The vocab will be interlinked, dragging the learner deeper and deeper into the language and there are going to be videos with me explaining the vocab, of course.
About 50% of the site is going to be free, supported by advertisement revenue. The other 50% will be behind a paywall, and I am going to charge a very competitive price.
This new concept itself is based on two findings. Firstly, I did a research amongst my Deutsch Happen users and asked them which way they prefer to learn with me. None of them chose live teaching.
Secondly, Salman Khan said “Teachers are not scalable, technology is.” Up to today, I delivered nearly 890.000 German lessons on Deutsch Happen which would have been impossible to do through live lessons.
Therefore, a self paced, immersive online platform based on video and text seems to make the most sense. On top of that I am going to create related courses, covering special topics in more detail and in order to raise the lifetime value of my customers.
I suppose most of them are going to buy my MVP once though there might be a chance that I am going to be able to sign them up a second and third time as the product is going to evolve over time. Like TextFugu, I will add more content on a regular basis, making it worthwhile to subscribe for a second year.
So over the coming months, I will keep you updated on the progress of my project and whether the assumptions I made in this post turn out to be true or the whole thing takes a different turn.
If it works out as I plan it, I am going to publish a blue print for teachers / tutors so that they can recreate it based on the subjects they would like to teach.