Desperate for Disruption

A cyber security training community founder shares his lessons in online learning.

INTERVIEW | by Victor Rivero

credit-cybrary-ryan-coreyHaving spent much of their careers in the I.T. and cyber security training sector, Ralph Sita and Ryan Corey came to realize how poorly positioned the industry was to affect real change on cyber security. As they saw it, millions of jobs remained unfilled in the field, and yet proper education and training for those jobs was limited to people who had the means to pay $2,500-$5,000 for a one week class, per topic. “Eventually, the industry began to change, cyber security learning started to become accessible and viable through online courses,” says Ryan (pictured). Given that online learning has lower costs than classroom training, Ralph and Ryan decided to offer the training for free, because “this was the only way to give everyone in the world an opportunity to learn,” Ryan says. They reached out to many of their instructor friends, and in late 2014, they began creating online classes, which they would offer for free, forever. Cybrary launched on January 13, 2015. “Our goal is to provide the opportunity to learn cyber security, to anyone, anywhere, who wants that opportunity,” says Ryan.

I believe that micro-credentials are the career building mechanism of the future.

“We believe everyone deserves an opportunity, and that opportunities should not be limited to people who ‘win the birth lottery’. Fortunately, the internet enables us to do this.” Here, Ryan provides the basics about the purpose and mission of what is now the world’s largest resource network for cyber security professionals, and his thoughts on the state of education, training, and online learning today.

What is Cybrary and why did you start it?

Ryan: Cybrary is the world’s first and only no-cost cyber security massive open online course (MOOC) provider. I cofounded the company with the mission to provide anyone, anywhere with free resources to learn and grow in cyber security. Cyber security training should not be exclusive to only those who can afford to pay $5,000 per class. Cybrary’s training is designed to help people start a career in the field, or advance in their current cyber security position.

How does Cybrary differ from other providers?

Ryan: There are a few things that differentiate Cybrary. First, it’s free and accessible to anyone, anywhere. Secondly, it is the world’s first and only free training program devoted entirely to cyber security, and it’s the world’s largest cyber security community in which users, companies, and Cybrary all contribute content to the learning experience. Thirdly, we offer a micro-skills certification program that directly combats the global shortage of talent in the cyber security profession.

How does Cybrary generate revenue if everything is free?

credit-cybraryRyan: Currently, cyber security companies can purchase a “Channel” on Cybrary. A Channel gives the company a presence on the community and allows them to syndicate sponsored content to the users.

What is your micro-skills program? 

Ryan: Created by Cybrary’s Education Committee, each micro-credentialing exam is a deep dive into critical skills in cybersecurity. The exams are 40 questions long, take 40 minutes to complete, and are designed to prove proficiency on a specific topic related to some of the most common jobs in the field. The exams are conducted online at Cybrary at a cost of just $10 each with one free retake per exam. Cybrary’s micro-credentialing is generally targeted to non-traditional students that are already in the workforce and are looking to further their careers and/or switch career paths. This non-traditional student population is an emerging market and such options are a boon to working or unemployed adults seeking skill development.

How is your company helping to improve the knowledge and training of cybersecurity professionals and/or teams? 

Ryan: Cybrary offers a “Teams” platform which is designed to keep the skills of cybersecurity professionals sharp. The platform provides users with access to Cybrary’s lesson catalogue through a customizable dashboard, where you can manage members, export member training data to your LMS, track skill development and training progression, customize training requirements for enrollees, enforce course completion, and expand access across your organization. Additionally, the platform helps end-users meet compliance standards by providing access to Cybrary’s End User Security Awareness, PCI/DSS, and HIPAA training and other materials.

What are some of the companies partnering with you and what’s the value add to them? 

Ryan: Some of the companies partnering with Cybrary include Talos, Tripwire, AlienVault, Tenable and other major players in the cyber security industry have partnered with us, to serve up their educational and thought leadership content to what is now the largest cyber security community on the Web with more than 650,000 registered users, and one of the internet’s top 15,000 largest websites. We’ve now delivered 90+ million minutes of training content on 2,000 plus topics. Our platform registers one new user every minute, training 10,000 people per day.

Why is offering free cybersecurity training to anyone so important?

Ryan: The demand for skilled cyber security professionals is growing four times faster than the overall IT job market, and 12 times faster than the total labor market. Currently there are more than a million open job postings for cyber security positions around the world. By removing training costs and building the world’s largest community of cyber security talent, Cybrary will increase the supply side of the jobs market, bring employers and talent together, and ultimately help eradicate the cyber security talent shortage.

What are your thoughts on the state of education these days?

Ryan: Education is absolutely changing. The antiquated model of moving students down a standardized learning path, at an over-priced institution, which may or may not prepare them for a job, and in many cases leaves them in debt, needs to be disrupted. I believe micro-credentials will be what people need to seek in the future to prove skills and job readiness. My own college experiences and time in the cyber security industry lead to believe that this disruption has more than a good chance of working and becoming globally accepted.

What is technology’s role in education? 

Ryan: In Cybrary’s case, we are currently using technology to deliver an equal learning playing field to anyone, anywhere. From developing nations to economic powers, anyone who wants a shot at a career in cybersecurity can have that chance because of how we are able to deliver learning and credentialing. In the future, for us, we will be using technology as a mechanism to ensure practical understanding.

What are a few key edtech trends to watch in the coming year or two? 

Ryan: I believe that micro-credentials are the career building mechanism of the future. I also, however, am a firm believer that soon, in the next 7-12 years, educational in almost every vertical, will be free for everyone.

What else do you have to say to people passionate about education technology? 

Ryan: It’s a great growth industry to be an entrepreneur in right now. The problems that are desperately asking to be disrupted are plentiful.

Victor Rivero is the Editor-in-Chief of EdTech Digest. Write to: victor@edtechdigest.com

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Death of the Textbook, Really

Will a new business model accelerate the digital revolution in course materials?

GUEST COLUMN | by Ryan Petersen and Jared Pearlman

credit-verba-softwareFor nearly two decades, industry commentators have heralded the impending death of the physical textbook. The prediction is rooted in common sense assumptions. Digital materials should be both more immersive and personalized than their physical counterparts, leading to better learning outcomes. Meanwhile, supply chain efficiencies achieved by digital distribution should result in lower prices for students. With the promise of a better product at a lower price point, prognosticators suggest, the digital revolution must be right around the corner.

And yet, as we near the end of 2016, the evidence for revolution is mixed. According to the major academic publishers, digital products have secured a commanding market position. Pearson reports that digital revenues now account for more than 50 percent of total sales[1], while McGraw-Hill announced that digital unit sales overtook print unit sales in its U.S. Higher Education Group in 2015[2]. But anonymous student purchasing data, gathered from millions of users across hundreds of campus bookstore price comparison-shopping sites, tells a different story. When users were presented with new, used, rental, and digital offerings from top retailers, digital units comprised only 2.9 percent of all units purchased.

In order for digital to fulfill the promise of lower cost course materials and gain more widespread adoption, the economics of the textbook market must change.

There’s room for reconciliation between these figures. One culprit for the disparity is the way each data set categorizes physical textbooks that include online access to digital courseware like testing suites and homework solutions. Publishers often account for these “bundles” as digital sales, whereas the comparison-shopping data categorizes them as new physical units. Moreover, many students buy used or rent textbooks that lack online access, leading them to purchase access directly from the publisher at a later date. Outside of required courseware, the evidence that students find compelling value in garden-variety digital textbooks, or e-texts, is scarce.

Of course, one critical component of value is price. While publishers have been willing to discount digital below physical new pricing, the savings are often less than students can achieve by renting, or by purchasing a used copy and reselling it at buyback. A 2015 analysis of the above price comparison data revealed that, on four out of every five titles, the online e-book rental price was higher than the comparable online physical rental.

As publishers explain it, the move to digital distribution alone has limited impact on price, as physical distribution costs pale in comparison to the overall cost of content creation. But another significant “cost” for publishers has been baked into the textbook market for nearly a century: publishers only make money when a new copy is sold or rented, while wholesalers and rental providers earn revenue from every used copy purchased or rented. Thus, e-texts are currently at a particularly awkward price point: lower than the physical new copies from which publishers derive revenue, but still too high to regain market share from competing used and rental units. All of this suggests that, in order for digital to fulfill the promise of lower cost course materials and gain more widespread adoption, the economics of the textbook market must change.

That change may now be afoot. Campus stores and technology providers have begun working more closely with publishers to advocate for and implement a new business model, which has gained traction under the name Inclusive Access. After enrolling in a participating course, students automatically receive digital access to required course materials on the first day of class, and a charge is placed directly on their student account. The auto-enrollment feature of the program secures a much larger share of the market for publishers, allowing them to offer larger discounts to students.

The appeal of Inclusive Access stems from the efficiency with which it addresses two interrelated crises: the cost of course materials continues to outpace inflation and, as prices climb, more students are bypassing required course materials. Student PIRGs reports that 65 percent of surveyed students forewent required materials due to cost; among those, 94 percent feared not having the materials would harm their performance.[3] Driven by this two-pronged focus on affordability and learning outcomes, dozens of traditional institutions have begun piloting Inclusive Access programs, and publishers, digital distributors, and campus store leaders are working together to expand the pool.

The model remains in its infancy at traditional institutions, and early adopters have encountered challenges. For one, instructors are skeptical of the digital value proposition, with the Campus Computing Project reporting less than half of surveyed faculty agreed that “digital course materials provide significant added value content not available in print.”[4] Elsewhere in the institution, campus IT and bookstore staff are grappling with new technical requirements, including more detailed enrollment tracking and applying new fees to student accounts.

Finally, the Department of Education has issued a series of regulations around the model, requiring that students be able to opt-out of the program, and that participating course materials be priced “below competitive market rates.” These requirements, which provide admirable consumer protections under the new model, also introduce additional complexities that have given some schools pause.

Still, the momentum behind the new model is palpable, and solutions to help institutions streamline Inclusive Access are already emerging. Moreover, campus stores have entered the scene to provide much needed course materials expertise, working with publishers to ensure pricing represents significant savings to students and facilitating the Department of Education’s opt-out provisions. With the right combination of market incentives and strategic partnerships in place, Inclusive Access looks to have a promising future.

It’s a well-worn observation that popular demand for digital music and news media precipitated new business models. The course materials market may soon reverse the polarity, with a new business model finally facilitating the digital revolution.

NOTES

[1] https://www.universitybusiness.com/article/college-textbook-forecast-radical-change-ahead

[2] http://www.mheducation.com/news-media/press-releases/reports-sales-digital-units-overtake-print-us-higher-education-group-2015.html

[3] https://www.universitybusiness.com/article/college-textbook-forecast-radical-change-ahead

[4] http://www.campuscomputing.net/goingdigital2016

Ryan Petersen and Jared Pearlman are co-founders of Verba, helping campus stores to fulfill their mission to provide students the best possible college retail experience. They started as a Harvard student government project; their goal was to tackle textbook affordability through radical transparency. Since 2010, they’ve found campus stores to be their best allies in this fight. Contact them here.  

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From Awareness to Action: 5 Steps to Change your School Culture

Perspective from a Teach for America alum and edtech company founder.

GUEST COLUMN | by Jen Medbery

credit-kickboardHow would your teachers, students, and parents describe your school’s environment? Most of us are familiar with the benefits of a positive school climate and culture: stronger engagement, fewer suspensions, and higher attendance and graduation rates. But changing the culture takes effort, time, and teamwork. Here are five steps, along with some examples, to achieve meaningful climate and culture change in your schools:

Step 1: Take the pulse of your current climate and culture.

One quick way to assess your school’s culture is to study your discipline reports. Research shows that suspensions have negative consequences, including higher dropout rates and lower student engagement. Another way to gain insight is to simply ask. When she was an assistant principal in the Dallas Independent School District, Kasie Longoria created an in-house questionnaire that was a more targeted version of the district’s twice-a-year culture survey. “We sent it out monthly to get a pulse on where we were and where we were headed,” says Longoria, now assistant principal at Wood Elementary School in Arlington, Texas. “We were very intentional about asking teachers and staff what we could do or change right away that would help.”

When students feel safe, connected, and motivated, schools succeed.

Shanna Rae, assistant principal at Windsor Park Elementary School, part of Charlotte Mecklenburg School District in Charlotte, N.C., suggests holding a staff meeting to talk about what’s working and what isn’t. One of the keys, however, is to make sure everyone knows they can be honest and that it won’t be held against them. “Set the tone for people to feel comfortable sharing what makes them feel uncomfortable, and then brainstorm how you can resolve these issues,” she says.

Rae held ‘How are we doing?’ sessions once a month when she was assistant principal at the district’s Billingsville Elementary School. Early on in these sessions, the kindergarten teachers complained that recess was too crowded and the older children were trampling over the younger ones. “We couldn’t switch the schedule, so we decided to have the children rotate if they are all outside together,” says Rae. “The kindergarteners go to the swings while the fifth graders play kickball and the fourth graders go to the playground. Easy solution and everyone was pleased.”

Step 2: Go the extra mile to make sure your community understands the goals of your learning environment.

Research has shown that everyone benefits when parents, families, and your community are all informed about your school’s practices and policies. When parents are informed about what’s happening in your classrooms, they can help their children set goals and develop the skills needed to make the environment more positive for everyone.

Communication is the critical element in this plan, but remember that like educators, parents are busy people, too. They are inundated with emails and other demands for their attention, so be sure to provide a variety of communications options that are quick, convenient, and easy to digest. On the macro level, some districts hold town hall-style meetings – one during the day, another on evenings or even weekends to accommodate all parents’ schedules. Paper or electronic newsletters and blogs are other easy ways to let the community know about your happenings—just make sure to offer people a variety of ways to receive notices – via email, automated message or text, or through social media services. On the micro level, share weekly progress reports with parents to give them a snapshot of their child’s behavior, along with expectations based on the school’s policies. This is a great way to boost parent participation in their child’s success at school.

Step 3: Culture change starts at the top. Are your leaders on board?

When she was trying to figure out how to decrease her school’s high number of behavioral incidents, Longoria visited local schools for ideas. One school was using my web-based platform to track and improve school culture through positive behavior reinforcement, and the data the leaders shared was so impressive that Longoria presented it to her principal. Once her principal was on board, they planned to roll out the program in the fall. When the administration believes in and invests in a plan, it’s easier to convince others to follow suit.

Rae says that she and her principal talk about morale all the time, coming up with new ideas to improve the environment. But more important, they continually ask their teachers for feedback. Because her principal is so open to collaboration and models that type of behavior, the teachers in her school are more likely to explore different methods.

Step 4: Align your professional development with your teaching and learning goals.

When Longoria’s current school began using the platform, teachers had to learn new strategies for offering precise praise to students when they exhibit positive behavior choices. For example, instead of just saying, “Good job, Daniel,” teachers are learning how to offer specific praise, such as, “Daniel is writing his name. He is ready to learn today!” Teachers received coaching on how to look for the positives and be more intentional with their praise, and, at the beginning, Longoria and her principal did ten or more walkthroughs a day to observe and deliver additional feedback. “We gave examples on how to offer praise cues and we’d model lessons if they were struggling,” she says

The school learned that it had to change its systems to change both student and teacher behavior. They opened a store where students who earned behavior-based rewards could buy pencils, erasers, and coupons for free dress day or lunch in the courtyard. “The students have to understand why they are earning rewards and can articulate what behavior they did or it’s a waste of time and money. That ties in to the coaching we did on the specific praise,” says Longoria.

Step 5: Keep checking the pulse as you move forward.

Be sure to have systems in place to gather feedback and determine if your new systems are making a difference. Many schools do surveys or questionnaires, such as asking three quick questions after a staff meeting.

“Meet one-on-one with the teachers in your building who are more likely to be less positive, to make sure they stay on your radar,” says Rae. “If you hear about teachers grumbling in the lounge, invite them to come in and talk with you. Don’t ignore that chatter! The key players can make or break your efforts.”

Longoria’s school paid close attention to the students and staff members with the highest amount of positive behaviors so they could recognize them and keep everyone motivated. On Fridays she’d give shout outs on the morning announcements to the weekly leaders; teachers received recognition to reinforce the usage. The school also came up with a Scholar of the Six Weeks award, based on character and behavior. Winning students — based on the data — took home a yard sign.

Research shows that positive school cultures are linked to increased high school graduation rates, turnarounds in low-performing schools, reduced school violence, and increased communication among students, families and faculty, among many other benefits. By helping students stay engaged and act positively — while giving school leaders and teachers multiple levels of support — your school culture can move the achievement needle. When students feel safe, connected, and motivated, schools succeed.

Jennifer Medbery is an author, speaker, and nationally recognized thought leader on the impact a positive school climate and culture can have on increasing student success. A graduate of Columbia University, Jennifer spent several years as a high school teacher through Teach for America before founding Kickboard, an award-winning education technology company based in New Orleans.

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EdTech in China: Goldmine, Minefield, or Both?

In examining all sides of the equation, some words of wisdom from an experienced founder.

GUEST COLUMN | by Rohan Pasari

credit-google-mapsFaced with a massive opportunity, most people become one of two things: excited or skeptical. With a booming education sector, the chance to go abroad for studies is one such opportunity. Studying overseas has transformed from an elite luxury into the latest necessity for well-to-do Chinese families, and local and foreign businesses have been quick to capitalize on China’s major export—students. Businesses are offering everything from online tutoring to admissions consulting, summer school programs and more. Is this just another bear trap for a foolishly bullish market, or is there gold at the end of the rainbow? Here’s our two cents on the matter.

The potential is real

There are times when an influx of capital and competition are signals of an over-hyped market or impending bubble, but we strongly believe education is not one of them. Education in China is a red ocean in some sectors (e.g. online test prep and overseas study consultancy) but much less crowded in others (e.g. newer forms of education technology, big data plays, marketplaces and even learning management systems).

Good old hard work, solid intuition, and flexibility are required to make a vision come to life.

There exists a corner of a learner’s life that has yet to be dominated by a core group of players. Data-driven technologies are in their very early stages, so there is profit yet to be realized. On one side of the macro equation, with incomes rising and a language barrier propping up Chinese families’ desire and willingness to spend for global education, market demand will remain strong at least for the next generation or so.

On the other side, consistent activity from investors and education conglomerates like TAL Education Group, means that new businesses have multiple options for both initial support and an eventual exit. This means that it’s viable for startups to enter the edtech space, provided they offer an innovation solution to reach previously untapped consumer segments. That said, execution is still key to scaling, and the biggest enabler for this in China is localization.

Don’t transplant solutions here; build in China, for China

A product that has succeeded elsewhere will not necessarily work for Chinese consumers. Just look at eBay! Despite very comparable features and technical capabilities, Alibaba took the market via ground game: a clear understanding of the local consumer, and swift execution to make the necessary business changes. Cultural differences, language preferences, and even simple norms can easily become the reason for a company’s downfall; don’t let it be yours.

We’ve learnt our lessons the hard way — piggybacking our product off of our original tech setup in Singapore, and only to discover that Chinese customers couldn’t use our platform without Chinese servers and full translation capabilities. The solution is to have a local partner or team to understand your end user and other stakeholders, conduct business in Chinese, and build networks around friendships (not just business transactions) or else risk being shut out.

Lastly, decide how you’ll deal with the red ocean

It’s surprisingly easy to rock up in Beijing with an Ivy League degree, tell people you’re an education consultant, and win clients with a few insider introductions or a better price point. The business model is well known, readily replicable, and income dependable—a good formula for boutique enterprise. But scale looks very different.

If you want to be a major player in the space, you need to either bypass or work with all the other fish in the sea. When my company first entered China, we had it in mind to expand our admissions consultancy, only to discover that there are literally hundreds of other players, many of whom operate with a very similar value proposition; that’s when we decided to change our B2C strategy into a B2B Software as a service (SaaS) offering for China’s existing admissions consultants and school guidance counselors.

The bet is starting to pay off.

Instead of competing with the market’s trusted players, we are engaging them, learning from them, and improving their work through tech-enabled insights and efficiencies! It so happens that this is not only our business model in China, but globally as well.

So you need to ask yourselves—if you currently look like a “me too” business, are you happy with doing that same thing at a smaller scale, finding whatever niche is left untouched by the competition? Or are you willing to pivot and gun for a different position?

We’ll end with a caveat that there is no recipe for success. Good old hard work, solid intuition, and flexibility are required to make a vision come to life. But as each of you embarks on your own adventures in China’s edtech landscape, we think these three things are important to consider. Keep hustling, and connect with us if you think we can work together to build great things for China’s student market!

Rohan Pasari is CEO and founder of Cialfo, a Singapore-based online college admissions SaaS platform available on web and mobile for independent college counselors, private organizations and high schools to streamline their overseas college application process. Rohan founded the company in 2012 driven by a passionate belief in learning to learn, not for grades, and to democratize education for all people. Active in the Asian edtech community, he speaks at various conferences including Echelon, EdTech Summit, and EdTech Asia. Write to: hello@cialfo.co

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Settling Down for a Long Winter’s Read

‘Tis the season to relax, study, and learn new skills.

GUEST COLUMN | by Todd Rothman

credit-wyzprepThe holiday season has officially started. Like every year since the emergence of e-commerce, many people around the country have been checking out online deals on the latest gadgets and looking for gifts for their friends and relatives. But, while online shopping is undeniably the most popular use of the Internet over the festive period, it definitely isn’t the only one.

With the rise of online learning and education technology over the past few years, students and professionals have begun to use this invaluable tool for a new purpose: learning. Even though holidays equal relaxation and down time for most, it is actually the perfect time to study and learn new skills. Days off mean more time to consecrate to hobbies and self-development and, with the temperatures dropping, many prefer to stay home rather than brace the cold weather.

Between holiday shopping and family dinners, many of us can find some free time to sit down and finally dive into the topics we always wanted to learn.

It is no secret that the job market is becoming increasingly difficult every day. Employers’ lists of requirements for each position keep getting longer and longer and with the rise of technology comes the need for new skills, even for mid to senior level professionals.

In this challenging environment, the success of education technology comes as no surprise. In fact, what better way to learn and update your resume than do it on your own schedule in the comfort of your home? Students looking to join MBA programs can prepare ahead of time while professionals can learn new skills while on the job. It is also a great way for everyone to acquire knowledge of virtually any topic for their own personal pleasure.

In short, online learning marks the beginning of a revolution in the way we learn and prepare for our dream careers but it also requires dedication and a certain time commitment that can be difficult for most. This is why the holiday season is so crucial. Between holiday shopping and family dinners, many of us can find some free time to sit down and finally dive into the topics we always wanted to learn. Sure, Netflix is always tempting but so are the high-paying jobs looking for professionals just like us, only with a couple more skills.

The past few months have seen various e-learning platforms emerge, from test preparation services to tools for struggling professionals looking for quick fixes and tips. The industry in undoubtedly booming and the increasing number of players are there to prove it. Schools have started incorporating edtech in their curriculums, hoping to make the classroom more interactive and better suited for every child, while universities offer more and more online degree options for students who are unable to attend regular classes.

The U.S. is finally starting to see the importance of investing in this sector and right now seems like the ideal time for everyone to jump on the bandwagon. With so many options to choose from, it is important for everyone looking to use education technology to gain skills or prepare for exams to carefully compare the services offered by each company and to pick the right one for their needs and learning styles.

This process can take time and it can be tough to navigate through the sea of options, especially with a busy schedule. During the holidays, those who are lucky enough to enjoy some time off can finally consecrate some time to research and ensure they make the right decision.

At the end of the day, the current job market is highly competitive and it is often down to who is willing to invest time in gaining the necessary skillset to create opportunities for success in their chosen career paths.

Todd Rothman is co-founder of New York City based wyzPREP, a GMAT preparation platform. He brings 16 years of test preparation experience to his self-funded startup, and a passion for education which includes tutoring over 30,000 students directly and indirectly with products he has brought to market. Write to: info@wyzprep.com

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