Distance learning is in the age of the “Empowered Consumer-Learner” who has a buffet of educational choices. The empowered consumer-learner decides what educational experiences and knowledge they need, when they need it and how they want to experience it. The wide-array of non-credit and for credit choices makes for a very competitive marketplace but also a field of new opportunities.
Venture capitalists continue to invest in distance education because of the return on investment potential. Big Data is being used to develop marketing campaigns, study human behaviors and determine patterns. It is also being used to examine various areas of teaching and learning. Data can help create bite-sized, customized courses and programs that are both personalized and interactive (Koller, 2012). Technology enables the delivery of information and education anytime, anywhere and from anyone in a way that makes sense to the learner while adding value to their lives.
It’s no longer necessary for people to enroll in college, formal classes or workshops to learn. They are learning what they want to know from their networks and resources they find on the Web, through Apps or in iTunes. People will increasingly be able to create and print their ideas from wherever they choose with 3D printing. Technology, combined with the continued growth of self-expression and meaning, will continue to change education at a rapid pace.
Value is becoming less about college credit and more about meaningful outcomes and self-expression through enhanced skills and evolving abilities. The world is fast-becoming an “Add to Cart” society for anything and everything, including educational experiences. Individuals are creating local, national and global communities of meaning and change that are self-selected and self-formed. Many of these same individuals are transforming distance learning in new and innovative ways. Technology, combined with the need for meaning, self-expression and self-actualization, has created an increasingly decentralized marketplace.
People are choosing how to meet virtually, when, where and whether-or-not to meet face-to-face and connecting over common causes. Education, along with so many other areas of life, is becoming increasingly decentralized. Savvy consumers seek and create the value they crave to transform their lives. They are choosing whether or not they want a badge, certificate, credit hour or degree, and their demands are shaping the marketplace and future trends. The Empowered Consumer-Learner wants a unique experience that adds value to their life. Future-focused leaders who ask and answer not, “What is the lifetime value of a customer?” but rather, “What value can we add to a lifetime?” will be in a better position to compete in the increasingly decentralized marketplace.