Bring Back Venus Boy

Crowdsourcing is becoming a great way for consumers to directly fund innovators.  I’m trying this myself to republish one of my favorite childhood novels.  I tried to buy one for my own kids and found that collectors wanted over $300 for a copy.  This is such a good book that I want it to be available for others at a reasonable price and I’m trying kickstarter to see if others feel likewise.


The Future of Education?

Last month the Atlantic ran a piece by Michael Godsey, an experienced high school English teacher.  It shows his thoughts on the future of education.  As with any forecast, you know it is wrong, but how wrong is it?  Is he wildly off base or just a bit off?  As an educator, one of my biggest challenges is keeping the most advanced students challenged without losing the least advanced class members.  Automated individualized instruction could help with this issue, but will most likely generate new challenges to overcome.

I recommend you read the entire article – very thought provoking.

Startup May Disrupt Makeup Industry

Most brilliant ideas look obvious in hindsight. Grace Choi had such an idea when she realized 3D printing technology could be applied to makeup. She is working on Mink, a product that may greatly disrupt the makeup industry if it can deliver quality makeup. There is no theoretical reason why this will not work, 3D printers can use the same materials used in makeup provided by established companies – both at the high end of the market and ingredients for the cost conscious consumers. So let’s assume Grace releases Mink as a quality product that works as described.

I expect this will do very well with not only the target group (girls 13 to 21 years of age), but many women may also adopt. So long as Mink can provide quality equivalent to that of the established market, I believe Mink’s print-your-own makeup concept will succeed and dramatically disrupt the current makeup market. I expect Grace has already considered these options, but here are several ideas that would help Mink succeed. Product-wise, I’d recommend a software feature that allows Mink’s customers to scan colors (ideally with a smart phone) and then print that color of makeup without the need for a fancy art or photography program.

Market-wise, while some people will love the ability to print their own makeup, others will not want to buy and master yet another device. For these customers, there are two other business models Mink should consider. First, they could market a version of their makeup printer to department stores themselves. These stores could then print custom makeup for their regular customers, delivering better customization while reducing inventory. Second, Mink could also pursue an affiliate model where Mink certified specialists could resell makeup to their friends and acquaintances.

Technology and the Future of Higher Education

As part of UMW’s Domain of One’s Own initiative, I have been participating in weekly talks and readings about internet tools, what digital learning means for scholarship, and how it can and will impact teaching.  In talks, most of those I have heard greatly appreciate the ability for technology to facilitate communication – for learning, for teaching, for collaboration – but are skeptical that technology will ever significantly compete with the traditional higher education model of a teacher and students together in a classroom.  It doesn’t matter if the classroom is real or virtual, the model will remain the same and these technologies may greatly compliment the current model, but will not enable effect substitutes.

I wonder.  Granted, the skeptics certainly have plenty of ammunition.  For instance MOOCs – massive open online courses – have not (yet) become the substitute for higher education that many of its advocated claimed.  One of the most appealing forecasts about MOOCs was that they will bring “top-notch courses to the world’s poorest citizens and reshaping the way all students learn” (Scientific American, 2013).  True, it has this potential, but the evidence shows that this is currently more theoretical than realistic.  In a recent study of University of Pennesylvannia, Edmunds (2013) found that “83% of surveyed students already had a two- or four-year post-secondary degree” and that the education gap was even greater for students from other parts of the world.  Other studies also show very low completion rates, averaging under 7%.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that neither element changes for these massive open online classes.  Most enrollment will consist of the already highly educated and that completion rates will remain very low.  Would this eliminate MOOCs as a viable option?  No.  I’ll tackle the completion rate first.  Low completion rates do not mean MOOCs are not effective.  Let’s say I teach Principles of Marketing to 100 students a semester, two semesters a year, and 95% complete the class with a passing grade.  In one year, 190 students would have completed my principles class.  Now let’s say I carefully design a MOOC, complete with recorded lectures, interactive homework assignments, and computer simulations that allow the students to put the theoretical lessons of the text into practice.  Judging by the results of others, I expect it would be safe to estimate 4,000 people a year register (registrations 10 or 100 times larger are not unreasonable in this context if the university promotes the MOOC).  So, continuing to use conservative numbers, if only 5% of my MOOC students complete the class, 5% of 4,000 is 200 people who have gained the required skills, higher than the 190 that completed my regular principle classes.

So despite low completion rates, MOOCs may allow me to reach more students who will complete my class than traditional methods.  I suspect the low completion rates have two components.  First, it the low cost (many times free) of registering for a MOOC.  As any first-year student of economics could tell you, if you lower the price, you will have more demand.  So it is reasonable to assume that the current MOOC studies with very low completion rates may be partially explained by the fact anyone can register.  If you did not pay for the class, you also are less likely to feel bad about dropping the class.  Second, I also believe the medium does hinder completion for many people.  While the people writing the MOOCs are very comfortable with PCs, that is not necessarily true of the students.  The fact that it requires ample self-discipline and computer skills to complete a MOOC may explain the finding that most MOOC participants already have a degree.  So if this does not change, what does this imply?  With these limitations, MOOCs still show great promise for upper-division classes and continuing education for the self-disciplined with computer skills.

Keep in mind that MOOCs are just one option technology provides.  McGraw-Hill is a leader among textbook producers when it comes to interactive supplements to their textbooks.  They claim that by integrating the use of their online homework modules they can increase the class average by half a letter grade or more.  This is a substantial claim and I decided to put it to the test this semester in my Principles of Marketing class.  I replaced my normal homework assignments with Connect homework the students must do online.  Since the computer does all the grading, I allow the students to resubmit their homework as many times as they want until they are happy with their grade.  Since I set up Connect to use question pools, the students who try again, get a different set of questions and activities covering the same material – thus preventing people from quickly answering wrong answers, writing down the correct ones, and resubmitting.  The average of my first exam was indeed up half a letter grade compared to last semester.  One set of exams is hardly conclusive evidence, but since it is in line with expectations, I am optimistic and eager to see how the class does throughout the semester.

Since McGraw-Hill owns the textbooks and is creating very interesting ways to learn (the questions are not limited to basic test questions, but require students to drop and drag constructs into models, analyze video cases, and otherwise interact with the material in ways they previously could not), they are well positioned for the future.  I wonder if my grandkids will graduate from McGraw-Hill University.  Whatever the future holds, I am skeptical about the skeptics dismissing challenges to the current model.  While there will always be a place for traditional higher education , I expect it will not be the only model.  Rather, it will compete and complement multiple ways of learning and students will be able to choose the method that best fits their needs and resources.  Time will tell, but I predict my grandchildren will have multiple viable educational avenues to pursue of which some will be fully automated.

Watch Out Walmart!

Pretend you are a marketing executive at WalMart.  Amazon has been growing very rapidly, in large part because they don’t have to collect sales tax and you do.  However, as Amazon added more distribution centers to more states, they had to start collecting sales tax from many states.  So the competitive playing field is becoming level.  Then you see this:

Amazon is working on drone delivery.  If you live close to one of their distribution centers – and if you live in an urban area the odds are high that you do – Amazon is working on being able to deliver small packages to your house by drone within 30 minutes of your order.  Amazon thinks this is probably 4-5 years away.  Once the bugs are worked out, I expect people will order from Amazon just to have a drone visit.

Once drone delivery is established, I expect their capabilities will improve rapidly.  Between drone delivery and self-driving cars – expected to be available about the same times as the drones – our world is going to change rapidly.  Smart marketers should already be thinking about how these changes will disrupt business.

A Mother’s Perspective on Marketing Innovation

Good marketers come up with products that meet consumer needs they don’t even realize they have.  Tide Pods are a great example of how innovation can revolutionize and disrupt a mature industry with a simple, but innovative change that adds value to the consumer.  After discussing this in class, one of my students (Thanks Simone!) sent me a great article showing a mother’s perspective on marketing innovation.