Updated: Apr 19
2020 was a tumultuous year — a global pandemic meshed with civil unrest in many parts of the world. In the U.S.A this was felt significantly amid the Black Lives Matter movement and a contentious election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden. Amid all the noise, students and teachers both suffered from a challenging year. Covid-19 forced remote learning and teaching, which while great for some students has caused enormous hardship on others — learning at home and learning on your own doesn’t suit everyone. Zoom cameras shut off and students zone out, drop off and can’t catch up.
The promise of online education was that it would make education accessible for all — whether you have learning disabilities or not, the funds to pay for a top tier university or not, the time to take 4 years and dedicate to studying or not or the right socioeconomic background to afford all that a real college education requires, or not. That was the promise of online — it would be there for you whenever you needed, it would be convenient, robust and personalized to your needs. Unfortunately, it hasn’t lived up to it’s promise in that area.
The challenges of accessible education
While accessible education bring up the association of learning disabilities, the definition as defined here is broader:
Accessible Education is the process of designing courses and developing a teaching style to meet the needs of people from a variety of backgrounds, abilities and learning styles. - Center for Teaching, University of Ontario
At Alpe, the above definition is how we think about accessibility of education. It’s not just about making the physical learning environment accessible (even though that’s incredibly important). Rather it’s about maximizing the number of learners who can get access to quality, in depth, life changing education.
To make education accessible to the largest number of people you have to:
Reduce cost of learning: to sign up for degrees, lifelong learning products and/or micro accreditation
Reduce the ‘gateway cost’: Online learning still requires the ability to get online and learn — whether that’s a good internet connection or a decent laptop.
Reduce the friction to learn: Learning requires time and attention. If you don’t have time or the physical environment that enables you to learn, even if you have the other resources to spend on an education, it’s meaningless.
Making education accessible: audio courses
At Alpe we believe that the answer to solving these three problems is audio courses and mobile first learning. Let’s see how audio courses solve all three problems and make education accessible.
Problem #1: Cost
Physical education is expensive, and general online learning is already well on its way to disintermediate this problem. Coursera, EdX and MIT Open Course Ware all led the way here and did a fantastic job lowering the actual cost to gain access to education. However, credentialing still costs on average ~$100 on these platforms. While that’s a relatively low cost, it’s still quite high when added up across multiple degrees. Why is the cost high? Because the cost of producing video courses is high. Producing a course on Coursera can cost $150,000 and 12 months to produce. Justifying that expense requires a higher price tag.
In comparison, audio courses are much easier to produce, costing $10,000 on average — a 1/15 of a video course, often for the same educational value (if you’re curious on the visual vs audio learning style discussion we cover that here). This enables lowering the price by a significant margin, making quality education more accessible.
Problem #2: Gateway costs
More people in the world have a smartphone than a PC. A recent study showed that this gap is 20% currently and growing, with 54% of the world owning a smartphone vs 40% having a PC. In numbers, that’s close to 700 million people. Those 700 million people will have trouble learning on PC centric online education platforms and require a mobile first solution.
That means a mobile first solution in every way: one that’s built around lower bandwidth, smaller screens and an ‘on the go’ learning format — since those are all aspects of mobile first learning. Video and PC based learning falls short here, and while 5G might help in terms of bandwidth, it’s still a long way off from being mass market.
Problem #3: Learning friction
Learning today requires dedicated time, focus and the physical space that enables both. Covid-19 has shows us how challenging this is for many many learners. Whether because of a full house, bad internet connection or simply the requirement for a ‘focus zone’, learn from home is more challenging than it sounds. This is true for working parents and young professionals as well as students. It’s hard to find the time to learn in a busy lifestyle.
Audio courses are a perfect solution for this. Audio courses fit into your timetable, they accommodate you, not the other way around. You can start learning on your way to work, school or while you’re taking the dog for a walk. You can review what you’ve learned later in the day during lunch or a bathroom break and finish up the lesson on your way home or evening run. Audio is a low friction habit that helps us build lifelong learning habits.
Reducing friction is a key component of making learning accessible. While only a few people can dedicate time to video based learning, everyone from the security guard at the mall to your Uber driver has time for audio courses.
Accessible education with audio courses
Accessible education is a challenge and requires our focus and attention to solve. But it’s well worth solving. In fact, it’s probably one of the three toughest, but most worthwhile challenges to solve for western society today. The three problems of making education accessible lie in cost and friction. Audio courses are a way to mitigate these costs and make education accessible to everyone — with audio.