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Online learning has been around for some time, but Jim is seeing a new resurgence.

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About that college degree…

Will your son or daughter go to college?

I’m not asking if they are smart enough to get INTO college, or if you’ll be able to afford the tuition. I am putting the emphasis on a certain word.

Will your son or daughter GO to college?

And by that I mean, in 10 or 20 years, will the concept of leaving home and living in a dorm and “going off to college” with other students for 4 years still exist?

Three trends that are happening right now

1) The cost of college continues to escalate at an alarming rate, I saw a great infographic showing it is about 4 times the rate of what the housing bubble was doing

2) The return on investment for the skills learned for that amount of money continues to get murky, as recent graduates aren’t assured jobs, students are graduating with enormous debt, and the skills taught in college don’t always keep up with what is needed in the real world.

3) The quality of alternate forms of education, along with the technology behind it, keeps improving dramatically

Looking at the first two points, I feel there will always be some need for traditional college, and grads are still better off with a degree vs. those without one. After all, it’s tough to join a fraternity, bond at a keg party, play sports, get an ill-advised tattoo, make out with someone you just met, and throw up in your clothes hamper – while sitting at your computer. And that was just my freshman year! Just kidding, I don’t have a tattoo.

So today let’s focus on alternative ways of learning.

Listen, this is nothing NEW. The University of Phoenix has been around since 1976, and people have been learning online for years.

But I hope you read blog because you want to know about the latest trends. And what I often find is that even when people inside the New York City/San Francisco, always dialed in, that is so old news, circle of people have been there, done that, there is an even larger crowd that wants to know more about things that I am seeing.

What I’m seeing is a transformation in digital learning.

Who is doing this?

The best part about this, is that anyone can do this. On the largest scale, major universities such as Stanford are streaming lectures from world-renowned professors for free. Once only available to elite undergrads who passed the Ivy league’s admission process, now you can sit in on a class from your couch.

On the smallest scale, anyone with a computer can be a teacher, and make money at it. I’ve talked at length at the amount of tools available for little to no cost: website hosting, email, WordPress, commerce, and social media marketing.

This allows anyone to define a niche, start a blog, become an expert, and add value through teaching – all while working from anywhere in the world.

What companies are emerging in the digital learning space?

Some of these companies have been around for awhile, while others are still in growth mode. Sadly, for smart, educational entities, many of them have incredibly crappy, hard to pronounce, hard to remember, hard to type, hard to spell names. Maybe that’s what happens when you get TOO smart and then try to get a bit too cute.

But in a meeting yesterday, we quickly listed out a dozen that are on our radar:

YouTube: The backbone of video delivery on the web, YouTube is an essential part of video training. Whether you’re learning (Khan Academy) or want to learn piano, knitting, or iPhone programming, you can find some kind of tutorial. A good place to start is YouTube/education.

Co-working spaces such as General Assembly: In both major cities and smaller towns, co-working spaces are popping up to allow the “work from anywhere” generation to have an office setting when needed – without the annoying coworker bothering you from the next cube over.

But they are also pushing educational programs, often at night to keep the place filled and provide cutting edge training. For example, take a look at the list of classes General Assembly in NYC offers.

2Tor:– This startup founded in 2008, 2tor Inc. partners with preeminent institutions of higher education to deliver rigorous, selective degree programs online to students globally. They supply universities with the tools, expertise, capital, and global recruiting needed to compete in a space currently dominated by mediocre programs.

Bringing college degrees online so anyone can get a degree from a physical university without actually being on campus. The quality is so high, universities are able to charge the same tuition for online degrees that they charge students on campus.

E[nstitute]: – E[nstitute] is a two-year educational program built on an apprenticeship model that provides an alternative path to traditional post secondary education. E[nstitute] is a full-time commitment. With 3 goals. 1. Focus on expected value, 2. To be the best, learn from the best. 3. Learn by doing

Ruzuku: – Ridiculously easy online course creation. this service allows anyone to structure a course using text, video, audio, photos, and deliver it over time, complete with a community. I met Abe Crystal at the WDS Conference, and he gave me a walk through the product recently. Their aim is to focus on good design, customer service, conversations with people taking the course.

– Tagline: Where amazing instructors teach the world. From their About Us page: There was a time when learning was what we did from birth to college graduation. After that? We just worked and eventually retired. But the world is changing rapidly. And now, more than ever, learning is something that happens outside the classroom throughout our entire lives.

Example: Learn how to make iPhone and iPad apps in 1 hour without any programming for $497. 184 modules! 2-5 minutes.

UnCollege: – Run by volunteers, UnCollege is a social movement designed to help you hack your education. This manifesto will show you how to gain the passion, hustle, and contrarianism requisite for success — all without setting foot inside a classroom.

Skillshare: – Skillshare started with a simple proposition… will people want to take a class taught by their peers? I am a teacher and it’s not hard to explain. I posted a class on salary negotiation, found a place to host it, and threw tickets up for sale. I sold out both classes and intend to offer more. The system allows you to watch classes to take in the future, and bubbles up the best ones based on recommendations.

eBooks: – The ebook revolution has been well documented. Literary agent? Major publisher? This is no longer a requirement to get your novel out to the world. What’s interesting now is the hybrid model, which can go either way.

Successful authors in the traditional world like Seth Godin, have switched over to self-publishing. However, there are also examples of people like Joanna Penn, who built up her own brand and has sold more than 40,000 ebooks on her own, but just signed on with a literary agent is pursuing a book deal.

Mediabistro: – Educational companies such as MB now offer many different forms of learning. They have in-person classes in major cities such as NY and LA, but also have a host of online courses. For example, I am teaching a twitter marketing course, that features video embedded in a powerpoint presentation captured in a screencast, PDF downloads for assignments, message boards for interaction, and a weekly live audio/video chat hosted on Adobe Connect.

Eventbrite: – Eventbrite is a ticketing system powerful enough to work for massive concerts in central park, yet flexible enough to let anyone manage a happy hour, conference, or class.

What’s next for Jim… And you?

As I mentioned in the fresh take of the week (below), I’m declaring that I am going to create a new digital product, and I want to bring you along for the ride.

I’ve always presented this blog and podcast as a walk the walk, learn by doing venture. On August 23, I will produce my 200th episode, meaning that I have given out advice, created value, and tried to entertain and inform my fans while asking very little, if anything in return.

Now 9 months into running my own business, I’m going to start to combine my efforts a bit. As you may know, I have a book called Salary Tutor, which helps people negotiate their salary. Until now there has been very little crossover between the two worlds, but I feel that there can be some benefits.

So the plan right now is to create a digital product to sell online that will help people negotiation a new salary, get a raise at their current job, or determine how much to charge as a freelancer.

Don’t worry, it won’t be a hard sell. But I want to take you along for the ride as I determine various ways to create and launch a digital product. What combination of text, video, audio, and downloads will work best? What is the ideal length? How much should I charge? What platform will I host it on?

Stay tuned. The future of digital learning is coming.

Sponsor message: Freshbooks fresh take of the week: What do you want to declare? Do you find yourself saying phrases like “I’m thinking about,” “I might,” “I should,” or “What I’ll probably do is…”? Yeah, me too. All the time. I’m thinking about going to Seattle again for vacation in August. I’ll probably launch my new product some time that month. Maybe yours is “I should start working out more” or “I’m thinking about asking for a raise.”

A friend often challenges me by asking, What do you want to declare? Declaring something is much different. What do you want to declare? This post is important for me because I’ve had “I should plan out my podcast and launch schedule” on my to-do list for 2 months. Today it all became clear. I’m challenging myself to have an incredibly productive August – a month when people normally relax. I’ve sketched out the editorial calendar for the next 11 podcast episodes. And I’m declaring that I will create a digital product to launch on August 29. What will you declare?

I also declare Freshbooks is a great way to manage your online billing. Check it out at freshbooks.com.

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