By Joseph A. Doiron, Senior Analyst
Congratulations on your recent move into the teacher professional development market. Your opening act, the launch of twenty-eight MOOCs developed in partnership with some of the top teacher organizations in the country, was big, bold, and demonstrates both your ability to generate excitement within the education sector and your potential to impact teacher professional development in the United States. Take it from me, someone who focuses on teacher training and has a privileged view out across the higher education marketplace, you are one of the very few companies around with the potential to consolidate the multi-billion dollar teacher professional development market in the United States and capture significant market share. You have a slick learning platform, fantastic brand recognition, and most importantly, great content development partners.
However, while you have tremendous potential, I’m afraid your current professional development strategy could put you on the path towards irrelevancy instead of market dominance. Here’s why: You need to partner with P-12 school districts in order to become market dominant.
Teachers consume professional development, but school districts drive teacher professional development consumption.
You’ve failed to recognize that the teacher professional development market doesn’t function like a free and open market. While teachers are the direct consumers of professional development content, they are not the primary drivers of professional development consumption. Professional development consumption is driven in large part by state legislation and individual school district policy. While it’s great to think that teachers everywhere will enroll in and, more importantly, complete courses just because they’re wonderful, the reality is that teachers already have professional development programs in which they are required to participate. In essence, your current strategy is to hope that teachers will use Coursera as a professional development supplement – an add-on – the extra dessert at the end of the meal. If you partner with local school districts you will make Coursera part of their core program, ensuring that their teacher professional development time is spent on your learning platform, engaged with your content, instead of elsewhere with someone else’s. This strategy moves Coursera from second dessert to main course.
Teacher professional development is effective when it is comprehensive, continuous, and includes coaching.
Questions about the effectiveness of your teacher professional development courses are coming, if they have not already arrived. “Effectiveness” can mean a lot of different things. However, you’ve now entered the world of P-12 education – you brave souls – where effectiveness means the impact your professional development courses have on improving teacher job performance, and teacher job performance refers to the amount of student learning that a teacher is able to drive. We actually know quite a lot about teacher professional development programs that improve teacher job performance. They are individualized, have high quality content focused on practice, strong institutional leaders, communities of practice, and quality coaching or mentoring. You offer some of those components, but not all of them. Partnering with districts ensures institutional buy-in and increases the likelihood that Coursera will improve teacher job performance – the metric by which Coursera will ultimately be judged.
You have the potential to transform teacher professional development but not if you are content to remain a novelty.
If you want Coursera to be more than a flash in the pan in the teacher professional development space, you need to partner with school districts. You are already a trusted marketplace for course content created by some of the top teacher training institutions. Everything you do right now generates excitement in the education space. Leverage the strength of your content development network and the excitement that you generate in order to secure partnerships with large school districts and integrate into their professional development programs. You have the ability to be the connector between schools of education who want deeper connections with school districts, and school districts who want deeper connections with schools of education. Coursera could play a major role in enabling these connections, disrupting and consolidating the professional development market, and further driving the rapidly emerging new teacher professionalization movement.
You’ll notice that I didn’t address a number of other issues that you still need to resolve – in particular, financial sustainability. If you’d like some ideas on how to solve that, or any of the problems I’ve discussed here, let’s talk.