Entrepreneurs are reviving some of education’s most fundamental ideas, from flashcards to tutors to after-school activities, thanks to the pandemic. These are not just any bets: they are unicorn-valued companies hoping to cash in on customers’ increasing digital use. The creative economy, which promises to enable creators to commercialize and democratize their passions while keeping their individuality, is rivaling the edtech sector’s growth. The creator economy has exploded in the last year, to both an increase in demand for digital entertainment from at-home viewers and a slew of new artists ready to fill the gap.
Finding a virtual reality solution to make online STEM classes more realistic is a different nut to crack than combining all of a creator’s multiple monetization tactics into one platform. Nonetheless, in the last year, the two sectors have found common ground, as evidenced by the emergence of cohort-based class platforms. Cohort-based platforms, in general, assist professionals in launching classes for their communities with no prior teaching experience required. The expert on-demand serves as a sounding board for the students as they progress through the program together (thus the term “cohort”). It is a bet on education, but it also allows a person to demonstrate their commitment by putting all of their chips in the middle of the table rather than working for an institution. While the concept of professionals educating a group of people is not exactly new, it is getting a new lease on life thanks to a slew of new businesses.
Entrepreneurs and investors believe it is not just a simple overlap. Some fear that converting creators to educators may result in a flood of inexperienced teachers who lack a thorough understanding of proper pedagogy, while others believe that true democratization of education necessitates a shift in who has traditionally been granted the privilege to educate.
Many cohort-based platforms are forming around a more controversial, yet compelling, ethos: anyone can be a teacher. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) and traditional institutions built on the belief that students want to learn from accredited teachers, while many cohort-based platforms are forming around a more controversial, yet compelling, ethos: anyone can be a teacher. The idea of allowing people to profit from their skills is straight out of the creative economy playbook.
Put it another way, instead of persuading a college professor to teach in their spare time, what if you persuaded a great product manager at a software firm to organize a class where they could share their ideas and trade secrets? It is not just a hypothesis; it is a venture-backed company. Mighty Networks raised $50 million in a Series B funding round to enable its founder’s launch classes. Nas Academy received $11 million last month to assist producers in launching their own MasterClass-style programs. Then there is Maven, a seed-stage edtech startup that received millions of dollars before it even had a name — and was the first to use cohort-based classrooms as a branding strategy.
These businesses exist at the crossroads of edtech — with its shifting perspectives on how education should be delivered — and the creative economy, with its empowering idea of “individuals as a business.” Throughout his career in technology, Mark Tan has participated in a dozen fellowships and received years of coaching. The draw of virtual classes has always been the network of students who are also participating in the program like Tan, who migrated from the Philippines to the United States. He worked at Amazon and Twitch because of his virtual networking, and he most recently spent three years as a director of product at Wyze.
Tan finally had the confidence to create his own Maven course after realizing that “you don’t need to be an expert instructor, only an expert.” It is about community-driven product creation and will start in a few weeks. “I’ve been in fellowships with well-known people, and it can be difficult to connect with them because they’ve been in my shoes five or ten years ago,” he remarked. “I believe there is an over-dependence on the expert as a teacher.
“Over time, I discovered that there’s a lot more to learn from other people than from the lecture, so I spent more time connecting with [my peers] rather than listening to the lecture.” His four-week seminar, which was previously $799 but is now $599, required a weekly commitment of five to ten hours. Live weekly classes and open Q &as will be offered, as well as guest speakers and peer-to-peer networking. Tan is the ultimate example that entrepreneurs of cohort-based platforms look for when trying to attract creators to their platform. He has worked for large, well-known corporations, has spent years using the product he is now selling and has a passion for education after witnessing personally the value of peer-to-peer learning.
Ana Fabrega, who spent years as a primary school teacher before joining Synthesis, an online enrichment school inspired by Elon Musk’s Ad Astra concept, remarked, “The finest teachers are the ones who haven’t been teachers before.” “I believe a teacher’s nature is to step in and try to control, over-engineer, and organize everything so that students don’t suffer… However, I believe that the best strategy is to do the exact opposite.” Synthesis focuses on developing good facilitators who can detect student engagement and build closeness with them, rather than educators who focus on a specific curriculum to meet certain benchmarks, according to Fabrega. “We really want to make sure that the students, not the teachers, are in charge and doing all of the heavy lifting,” she explained.