TheGrill: Online Education CEOs – Overpriced Colleges Must Up Their Online Games

Online education has become a $100 billion worldwide industry at a time when student debt has surpassed credit-card debt

Last Updated: July 16, 2014 @ 2:57 PM

Steve Polzner and Mika Salmi, both heads of growing online education companies, are warning traditional universities that they must catch up to online curriculums if they plan on continuing to charge students thousands upon thousands of dollars for a higher education.

“They’re pricing themselves out of market, effectively. Something needs to change in the education field,” Polzner, CEO of Empowered University, said Tuesday at TheWrap’s Media Leadership Conference, TheGrill. “Our mission is to help universities go mobile.”

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Polzner and Salmi, CEO of CreativeLIVE, are tapping into a $100 billion worldwide industry that is giving people access to education that is not just cheaper but available when and where they want it. All this at a time when student debt nationally has surpassed credit-card debt.

learning.embedPolzner’s (at left in photo) company partners with accredited universities, such as UCLA, to issue certificates of proficiency in particular skill sets, once students complete online courses. “We partner with universities to extend their brand beyond their physical borders without having to build new classrooms,” he told TheWrap’s Brent Lang. This  training program costs somewhere around $5,000 for a year-long course.

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Salmi’s CreativeLive, on the other hand, functions more like a television network, offering people looking to advance their careers free lessons from successful professionals — these can include everyone from Pulitzer Prize to Emmy winners. The classes are free to watch live but cost between $49 and $150 to own.

“It’s like a broadcast model. If you can’t watch all 18 hours for free — people average 3.5 hours of watching — then you have to buy it,” Salmi said.

Although Polzner calls online education “a game changer,” and encourages educational institutions to “deliver a lot more of their content online,” he still supports traditional higher education.

“It’s important for an 18-year-old type to go into a college campus and grow up and learn those life lessions,” Polzner said. “But what about the busy adults out there who can’t go to a college campus and have a skills gap and need to close that  gap?”

The answer that Polzner and Salmi easily agreed upon is a hybrid educational model that pulls strengths from both online and traditional classrooms. However,  both noted that faculty members can feel very threatened by digital education — perhaps because it will require them to up their game.

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“Before, if you were a professor, it was about getting tenure and writing research papers, and you would get very high stature that way. Now with online education, the demand for their class isn’t just at their school,” Salmi said. “How popular are they online? How do they compare in a global marketplace? They have to be a little more engaging and hone their material well. And I think it’s making education better.”

Polzner and Salmi acknowledged that whether the classroom is virtual or physical, success is entirely dependent on participation.

“Online education can be terrible if the person feels like a Lone Ranger in his or her living room and not interacting with anybody,” Polzner said. “Online education can be a superior platform if you can maximize that interaction between students and instructors.”


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