Fennec Fox

Why Live Lessons are FNACs

FNAC – abreviation: Feature not a Company (Marc Suster)

Remember back in 2008 when everyone (including me) was high on the live video lessons which were going to change the educational system? I think it’s time to face the truth: they are just a feature which has to be seen in a bigger context. As a stand alone business model it won’t cut the mustard.

Sure, live video lessons bring some new conveniences such as being able to have a French teacher in France or having the proverbial “lesson from the comfort of your home” but live lessons do not solve the need of the student to learn anytime, anywhere (although some platforms are claiming it). You still need to schedule a lesson, the teacher needs to connect to the lesson/classroom, you must have access to the internet etc.

And as always the proof is in the pudding. Just look at the numbers of users for the different services. Myngle as the biggest online teaching platform recently got its 100.000 user after being 3 years in business. You now need to subtract the teachers from this number and with that I don’t only mean the ca 300 “active” teachers but all on the waiting list. Furthermore, another platform, eduFire, got sold to Camelback Education, but more on that later.

Taking a look at online language communities next we see that italki has over 500.000 users in 3 years (minus the teachers) Busuu has over 500.000 users in 2 1/2 years, Babbel over 600.000 and Livemocha north of 5 million. Why? Because it’s convenient. I can really use those services anytime and with new features like iPhone / iPad applications anywhere. Even after Babbel chose the all premium way, the company is still adding users, without any problem it seems.

Apparently Jon Bischke was the first one to realize that a platform that is only built on live lessons, group or one-to-one, is not able to survive. So, he took the chance to get an exit by selling eduFire to Camelback education. For them eduFire will be an essential part in their new online university but that’s it: it’s only a part of a bigger picture.

Why is this? Students don’t want to learn at the pace given by a teacher, meaning only during live lessons with an educator. The students have a goal they want to reach and a teacher alone is simply holding them back or at least slowing them down the learning process. Even if the teacher was available for one lesson a day the price of this would simply go through the roof. If you compare the (in)famous Myngle Boost where they offer one 30 minute one-to-one lesson a day for one month at about 150 Euro to a monthly subscription at Livemocha, Babbel or Busuu you can learn more than one year at this price given. Hence I always encourage my students to get as much practice as possible besides our live lessons by signing up to a community like Livemocha, Busuu or Babbel, by buying a book, by watching video lessons or by looking for conversation partners etc.

I know, this seems to be cannibalizing my own business. Why on earth would I want that my student reaches his/her goal more quickly? Doesn’t that mean the revenue I would “get out” of the student will decrease? No, it does not. Being an online teacher for about 4 years now the general time a student spends learning with me is around three years. Helping the student reach goals quickly will motivate him/her to reach the next goal and then again the next and so on. Even a native speaker can still learn new vocabulary or sophisticated grammar rules if one is interested in or on the other hand reaching the level of conversing in almost any given topic, depending on interest of course, as the highest level of language teaching possible.

But back to our FNACs. So far, we can sum up that live lessons are inconvenient, more expensive and don’t seem to attract many students compared to self paced offers in the language learning space. Now, where do they actually fit then?

I think we should see them as the cream filling and the icing of a cake. More than 25% are simply too much. So, the filling might be important for the taste of the cake but eating only the sweet icing is no fun either. Taking the baking example you might even take a British coffee cake where you don’t even need cream at all to get the full taste. Hence I’d say, and this is also true for online teachers who want to make a living with online teaching, 75% of your offer needs to be asynchronous content and not more than 25% should be live lessons. The asynchronous content can be everything from videos to podcasts, from texts and flashcards to interactive exercises basically all the different learning units a student can do on his/her own without you.

Now what does this mean for the companies involved in online education? My prediction is that business models built and focused on live lessons will fail sooner or later. Exceptions may be models like Learn2Lingo which is based on the idea of spontaneous lessons, e.g. the teacher makes himself available when he has the time and if a student then decides to take a lesson it’s fine. But if this is really scalable and sustainable, I don’t know.

Winners will be services like Sclipo, Udemy, WiZiQ, Nixty etc which let you build and sell complete courses with live lessons as a feature. Students can come to your service/offer at any given time and take a lesson right away by watching a video course or taking a quizz. As a next step or at a certain point they might sign up for a live lesson or take another video course. In any case you will earn and so does the platform/service provider.

Winners will also be services like TeachStreet, School of Everything and Emagister which help you to get traffic and therefore generate new customers. They don’t interfere with your business they only add value to it and this is true for both sides as the student has the convenience of finding your service much quicker than on classic search engines. The unfortunate fact that many educators don’t consider themselves as service providers, at least not yet, slows this new way of seeing the role/importance of a teacher down but it’s an inevitable change (of mind) educators in a free market have to face/accept.

Winners will be providers in (micro) niches like YongoPal, Engo, Elycee etc that focus on a very targeted audience in verticals that convert well like test preparation, accent reduction and all that stuff.

Winners will be entertainment based services like English Attack! or LanguageLab which either offer a whole new experience of learning or which could work on different levels from absolute beginners to intermediate and maybe even above as they are focusing on entertainment and the learning process is sugar coated by their offers.

And of course winners will be services like Livemocha, Babbel, Busuu and of course Rosetta Stone which that a ton of self paced learning material and will for sure add sessions with live teachers (Rosetta Stone has this in TOTALe already) to their portfolio. They will own the biggest part of the online language learning market.

Teachers will only be able to survive on higher ground, as the lower levels of language acquisition will be flooded by more and more applications that  are also becoming more and more intelligent. But more on this aspect in another post.

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  • chinamike

    Up this can all be summed up in one (or two) sentences…..

    What students want, is to be able to learn as quickly, as effortlessly, as cheaply and as happily as possible. What's more teaching is not synonymous with learning (oh, by the way, teachers fall into the trap of equating the two all the time).

    Live lessons as practiced by Myngle and Edufire were/are mostly about teaching not about learning. Any organization that focuses on helping people learn the way students want to learn is gonna be a winner.

    • http://kirstenwinkler.com KirstenWinkler

      This is micro blogging, Mike :)

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  • Zorge

    Thank you Kirsten for your such a wonderful blog that gives a lot of useful information….

  • gaganbiyani

    Another great post, Kirsten. Took me awhile to get to it – but I completely agree with the thesis here!

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