It's not the gold rush, it's the airplane with online education

It's not the gold rush, it's the airplane with online education

January 15, 2021

I spent 2020 deep in the world of online education.


Part learning, part community, and part research opportunity as I tried to find a way to take advantage of the Covid Chaos that sent my law practice into deep hibernation. I mean, it’s impossible to do much as a trial lawyer when the courts are closed. There hasn’t been a jury called into a Dallas court in almost a year at this point.


So instead I found this new world.


I joined a lot of programs. 


I invested a lot of money.


It started with Design Fundamentals by Jack Butcher and ended with Part-Time YouTuber Academy by Ali Abdaal. In between, I took part in Write of Passage by David Perell, Building a Second Brain by Tiago Forte, and On Deck Writers Fellowship.


I also joined Consulting Club by Vik Duggal and was a part of a few writing communities as well.


And of course, I launched my own course, Performative Speaking (since acquired by On Deck).


This world is the wild west. The amount of opportunity is hard to comprehend but it’s there. Think of the gold rush, the oil rush, or so many more great events in history where the riches are all there to be taken.

Photo by Christopher Campbell on Unsplash


Except that’s the wrong analogy. That takes a speculative and predatory approach. It reminds me of the movie There Will Be Blood with Daniel Day-Lewis. It makes it all about the money that can be made for the creator.


The right way to think about these courses is through the eyes of the students. The opportunity to impact countless lives in a way that allows them to grow, benefit, and ultimately succeed beyond their wildest dreams. That’s the real beauty at this moment. 


It’s more like the invention of the car or the airplane.


People from across the globe can now access the best minds to teach them the topics they need or want to know. 


Just like the car or the plane let people travel to worlds they only imagined before. Meeting new people, tasting new foods, and understanding the vastness of this place they lived.


This is why my favorite way of thinking of online course design, and I agree with Tiago Forte that the online part will ultimately be dropped the same way as online business is now just business, is a phrase from Andrew Barry who worked as a mentor for Write of Passage, the lead advisor for peer supporters in Part-Time YouTuber Academy, and an adviser in Performative Speaking.


He calls them Transformational Online Courses. These TOCs focus on student development and the transformation that takes place. There are so many pieces that go into achieving this goal and the courses that do it right create absolute magic.

Photo by Baim Hanif on Unsplash


The beauty of TOCs is that they are completely agnostic in how they are created. Doesn’t matter what platform, doesn’t matter if it’s a live cohort, a workshop model, or even a completely asynchronous course like Jack Butcher’s stuff with Visualize Value.


The key is focusing on the transformation of the student. Achieve this and it’s successful. 


As a course creator, I worry that people will see these courses as a quick way to make money and take advantage of people. Unfortunately, I see a real-life There Will Be Blood. 


A few bad actors and the entire industry can be hurt. 


Yes, the market will take care of some of this but there will be a bigger discussion to be had in the coming year about gatekeepers or brand trust. It’s one of the things that excites me so much about On Deck. 


People know the quality of the brand. Just go ask the thousands of people that have been a part of one of the fellowships. 


It’s the same reason why I said in my course people could have a full refund even on the last day of the course if they felt it didn’t deliver. 


Because yes money and revenue matter. I can’t do it if I can’t pay my bills. But I know if I deliver that transformation, the money part will take care of itself.


Now here’s the thing, transformation inside of a course is hard. It takes a deep understanding of the student experience and needs. It takes a willingness to focus on their outcomes. In many ways, I’m reminded of how I think about speaking. 


A great speaker is judged on the effect he or she had on the audience. If the audience was moved to take action in the desired way, they have been transformed. If the audience was moved to think differently about a topic, they have been transformed. 


Just like in a TOC. It’s all about the transformation.


It’s all about the student.


We may be living in the gold rush of online education.


I just hope people remember the gold is changing students’ lives.

I'll be spending 2021 even deeper in this world. Want to discuss? Email me Robbie@beondeck.com

I'm the Founder of Performative Speaking which was acquired by On Deck and I now serve as the Program Director for On Deck Performative Speaking.

Follow me on Twitter @robbiecrab


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