How to Succeed in Online Education (On Your Own Terms)

There’s a huge shift happening in the world of on-demand online education. It’s commercial enterprises and savvy small businesses that are filling the demand for courses and lessons, rather than the typical institutions of learning.

I saw an interesting article in Fast Company recently about jobs of the future. One job description caught my eye — there will be a large need for “freelance professors” as teaching moves into the on-demand realm. From the article:

    “The continued growth of online courses and the introduction of alternative accreditations will spawn a growth in freelance or independent professors. By 2025 all you need to start your own university is a great online teaching style, course materials, and marketing plan.”

This is what we predicted, and have been preparing people for, since 2007 with our Teaching Sells course. The difference being that the field is becoming littered with VC-backed education platforms that want you to make them rich rather than building your own platform and audience.

Yep … digital sharecropping comes to online education. Have we learned from the lessons of Facebook, Amazon, and Apple? Do you really think they have your best interests at heart?

In this 11-minute episode we’ll cover:

  • The mainstream acceptance of online learning
  • Why you haven’t “missed the boat”
  • How to make a living with online education
  • What to be aware of and what beware of
  • The truth about leveraging a VC-backed platform

The Show Notes

How to Succeed in Online Education (on Your Own Terms)

Voiceover: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at

Brian Clark: Hey everyone, welcome to another episode of New Rainmaker. I am Brian Clark, your host and CEO of Copyblogger Media. I am solo today. As you know, Robert Bruce has decided that he’s too busy to collaborate with me on the show. Actually, I’m giving him a hard time. It’s kind of funny. But he is working really hard, so we’ll give him a break.

Today, I want to talk more about online education. It’s really amazing to see the developments in this space that have been happening, not just in the last couple of years, but it seems like an acceleration as we head into 2015. The predictions we made back in 2007 with our first-ever product, Teaching Sells, are not only coming true, but you can see much more clearly how people will learn in the future: on-demand, just-in-time learning on a constant basis.

It doesn’t really end. There is no such thing as, “I went to college, and I got a job.” And the funny thing is — not so funny, it’s inevitable, it’s what we saw coming — that education will be powered by purely commercial enterprises as opposed to what we think of as academia.

So the acquisition of by LinkedIn, that’s a big indication, but it’s more than that. Online education has become the next big thing for Silicon Valley and investors in general, so we’ll talk about more about that in a bit.

I wanted to talk a little bit about this Fast Company article called ‘The Top 10 Jobs in 10 Years Might Not Be What You Expect.’So, I’ve been researching a lot lately in the future of work for my coming-soon project. We mentioned that briefly last week, and we’ll talk more about that in the future. But one of these jobs immediately caught my eye. It’s called ‘freelance professor.’

Let me quote directly from the article. A guy named Joe Tankersley, “the futurist and strategic designer at Unique Visions” — how’s that for a job title? — “believes that by 2025, there will be a large need for freelance professors as teaching moves into the on-demand realm.” This is a quote: “the continued growth of online courses and the introduction of alternative accreditations will spawn a growth in freelance or independent professors. By 2025, all you need to start your own university is a great online teaching style, course materials, and a marketing plan.”

The Mainstream Acceptance of Online Learning

My reaction, of course, is, “2025? How about now? How about 10 years ago?” Well, 10 years ago was the bleeding edge. At that time, you had a hard time getting traction. You had a hard time getting trust, because it wasn’t what we thought of in terms of education. But now, right now, 2015, you can already see that this is the beginning of mainstream acceptance. Ten years from now, it’s just another gig. So those of you who’re like, “Well, I kind of missed out on this whole thing,” no. This is the beginning of mainstream acceptance.

Why You Haven’t ‘Missed The Boat’

It’s interesting — here’s an analogy for you. Because blogging had been going on way before I started Copyblogger and even the beginning of commercial blogging — people trying to make money from the practice, or pro-blogging as Darren Rowse’s site was coined — I entered the scene right when it was going mainstream.

It’s the perfect time, so don’t get it in your head that you missed the boat. I think if you wait until 2025, you may have missed the boat, but not really, because all the trends are pointing toward that. People with subject matter expertise, people with real-world experience, are the professors of the future now.

How to Make a Living with Online Education

They’re doing their own gig. They’re independent. They’re not necessarily tied to Harvard or the University of Phoenix. Yet the demand for constant, on-demand, just-in-time continual learning is going to be so large that there’s a bunch of us who are going to be able to make a living this way. Now, how you make that living is really the point I want to get to today.

The great thing about here and now is that, like I said, it’s kind of the perfect time to get started. The technology is finally not an issue. Just to toot my own horn, the Rainmaker Platform is a solution our Teaching Sells students were begging for in 2007, 2008. We just didn’t have the capability to do that, but now it’s here. And of course the new learning management features that we released are only going to get better and more powerful.

What to Be Aware of and What to Beware Of

But here’s what I want you to be aware of and beware of. You don’t need a futurist to tell you where online education is going. Just follow the money. Online education platforms are springing up everywhere. Now this is following in the footsteps of pioneers like, and that’s why they got $1.5 billion. They’ve been doing it forever — 10 years. They were the bleeding edge 10 years ago. And now we’ve got more recently Skillshare, Udemy. Frankly, I see a new one pop up every day it seems.

The Truth about Leveraging a VC-Backed Platform

Again, there’s a lot of money being invested in this, and there’s a reason. So in that regard, this Joe guy, the futurist, he’s definitely nailing it. But I think anyone can see what’s happening if you’re paying attention.

All these new VC-backed, Silicon Valley-backed platforms depend on you and other freelance professors to succeed. They have no subject matter expertise at all. All they have is the technology platform, which as we discussed, anyone can have now.

Technology is not the problem. Without you, they’re nothing. Yet who’s going to make the real money when they get acquired or they go public and they’re a billion-dollar company all of a sudden?

So why do businesses stake a claim on Facebook? Authors depend on Amazon. App developers live or die — mostly die — by Apple, because they’re under the mistaken impression that these platforms eliminate the need to do that evil marketing stuff.

Even on these platforms, the people with their own audiences do the best. In short, if you don’t need someone else’s platform, the better you do everywhere. But it still it all comes back to your home base, the audience that you develop on your own that follows you, that is not owned effectively by Skillshare or Amazon or Facebook, as we’ve seen shake out over time.

Now I can hear some of you out there, you’re like “Oh, but I see Seth Godin and Gary V. on Skillshare.” Well, I think that kind of proves my point.

“Oh yeah, James Patterson was teaching a writing course on some new education platform just the other day,” you say. Right! They bring their audiences with them, and these VC-fueled platforms know that. They give special deals to people with audiences because that attracts customers and instructors to the platform.

So guess what? Regular instructors don’t get the special terms, the perks, the sweetheart deals. What you get is yet another digital overlord who has more to say about your business than you do.

Okay, that’s enough of a rant. I get a little worked up about the sharecropping thing. The paradigm has shifted to where everyone has the capacity to control their own destiny, and yet these big, VC-fueled companies are exploiting the mindset that you can’t do it yourself, that you need an institution or a company or an employer or a platform in order to get anything done. That is not true. There are millions of people that are living proof of that. As we go forward, we’re going to see a very big divide between those who control their own destinies by controlling their own audience and those who are subject to the whims of a platform that is using you to accomplish their broader goals. It’s not about you. It’s about them.

I do want to mention that Teaching Sells is opening back up in June. It’s the biggest update to the program in years, and we’ve already got a lot of people who’ve been really pestering us to open it back up — in a good way. But you know, we’ve been busy getting Rainmaker out, getting it improved, getting the new features going.

Now is a good time to get back to the education that really powers this whole thing in the first place. As far as platforms go, you’re covered. The first year, the Rainmaker Platform is going to be included in the tuition for Teaching Sells. If you’re already on the platform, you’ll get a special training-only deal, so look out for that. You’ll be hearing more about that on Copyblogger, and of course you’ll hear about it on the show.

That’s it for this week. Thanks for tuning in. If you’re getting something out of this show, I’d really love it if you’d leave a rating and review over at iTunes. It really does help out, and of course, I am exceptionally grateful and thank you for taking the time to do that if you can.

That’s it. I’ll see you next week. Keep making it rain!