ZBW MediaTalk

by Birgit Fingerle

The University Education Report 2020 (Hochschul-Bildungs-Report, 2019 Report, link in German language) was published in August 2019 by Stifterverband in collaboration with McKinsey & Company. This year’s focus was the topic of further training. The report revealed that the further training market for future skills is increasingly being stirred up by education start-ups.

They achieve success, in particular, by placing a major focus on practical applications and could be competitors or even role models for universities.

Start-ups set the tempo when it comes to technological future skills

Eight out of the ten highest turnover education start-ups in the world offer further training for technological future skills. There are around 50 start-ups in Germany that focus on education. German start-ups that offer further training for technological future skills include the online service CareerFoundry (27,000 graduates) and Code University (230 students), an innovative university with face-to-face teaching.

Education start-ups have a big impact on the further training landscape, which affects how future skills are conveyed, and already have a considerable number of participants, amounting to up to ten million registered students. As well as the quality of their services, the fact that education start-ups are able to easily overcome barriers to entry for new providers in the further training market is probably due to the fact that traditional training providers and universities have failed to sufficiently meet demand to date. Universities could learn a lot from the services that start-ups are offering and from their business models.

Focus on practical applications and low barriers

This makes education start-ups stand out:

  • They usually replace face-to-face teaching with online learning. However, some intentionally focus on face-to-face formats and then often follow the flipped classroom concept.
  • They can roughly be split into two categories: one is start-ups that predominantly view themselves as curators and make existing content available to a broad audience. An example of this is the platform Coursera, on which MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) are provided by various US universities. Another example is that of platforms that predominantly provide their own content. As an example, these include US coding bootcamps, like General Assembly or Thinkful.
  • In contrast to traditional training providers that predominantly focus on formal training and knowledge transfer formats based on facing a tutor at the front of a classroom, they mainly use application-oriented learning formats with project-based, successive and individualised learning content, often accompanied by mentors, coaches or teaching assistants.
  • In contrast to traditional training providers that predominantly focus on formal training and knowledge transfer formats based on facing a tutor at the front of a classroom, they mainly use application-oriented learning formats with project-based, successive and individualised learning content, often accompanied by mentors, coaches or teaching assistants.
  • Education start-ups generally keep the monetary barrier low at the start of the course. They use freemium models for this (paying only for premium content, such as tests and certification), ad-based services, subscriptions or payment after actually completing the course successfully.

Education start-ups as a source of inspiration for universities

Education start-ups can also contribute to innovation in universities if universities use them as a source of inspiration to rethink university teaching from the basics upwards:

  • The growing importance of training makes having a rethink at universities necessary. This includes training being seen as a fully-fledged counterpart for teaching with respect to basic academic education. Among other things, incentive systems should be created that reward university tutors for commitment to scientific training.
  • IUniversities should use their extensive expertise in the area of technological skills by significantly expanding the organisations’ basic education and training services for technological future skills. Universities should also integrate interdisciplinary future skills, like creativity and problem solving, into the curricula.
  • By combining application-oriented methods from education start-ups and expanding the services in terms of digital content, didactic innovations could find their way into universities. At the same time, resources could be used to implement flipped classroom concepts and lecturers could further develop their role towards that of a coach. Strategic cooperation between universities and education start-ups is therefore recommended.

Supporting start-ups with training contracts from the public sector

The University Education Report also recommended state support for education start-ups. This includes taking education start-ups into consideration for awarding training contracts in the public sector, the largest employer in Germany. Another option would be to directly support education start-ups that could be seen as real labs for innovative teaching and learning formats for lifelong learning.

Further Information:

Birgit Fingerle ist Diplom-Ökonomin und beschäftigt sich in der ZBW unter anderem mit Innovationsmanagement, Open Innovation und Open Science. Birgit Fingerle holds a diploma in economics and business administration and works at ZBW, among others, in the fields innovation management, open innovation and open science.

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