Creative Innovation thanks to the wisdom of crowds

In this blog I would like to return to one of my earlier central themes: business models, co-creation and collaboration. As the Business Canvas of Osterwalder shows, there are two linkages between the value proposition and the customers: the customer relationships and distribution channels.

One of my students, Rick op den Brouw, wrote a Msc-thesis on critical success factors of co-creation. Based on nine case studies, he concluded that -among others- the chosen strategy of co-creation and the actual business model not always coincide (4 of 9). However, most of the theoretical expected results of co-creation, as an increase in sales and a reduction in risks, were realized.

©Business Model Generation by Alex Osterwalder & Yves Pigneur

Romero en Molina (2011) try to describe co-creation on a more concrete level. The role of the customers changes in this approach. No longer are they seen as the destroyers of the value produced by the firms. Instead, the act of consumption is seen as the ultimate contribution to the creation of value. A product or service not consumed is without value.

In this process of co-creation of value are several possible partnerships of the consumers.

  • Co-designers, in which customers are used as partners to generate, develop and test new ideas.
  • Innovators, where organizations give so-called toolkits to make their own products and services; the knowledge gathered in this process is used to improve the original product or service.
  • Marketeer/Branders, customers become marketeers, for example for event marketing or lifestyle marketing. Viral marketing, on-line word-of-mouth commercials is mentioned as one of the most effective instruments.
  • Social Corporate Responsibility, by entering a dialog with the customers as stakeholders, the organization can reach a common perspective with respect to the effects of a product or service on the environment. Customers are not only involved with the CSR of an organization as passive clients, they participate actively by using the products or services.

Technical and social developments facilitate collaborative networked environments, in which organizations collaborate with so-called con-colleagues. Romero en Molina (2011) call these networks collaborative network organizations (CNO). Although these play a central role in Prahalad and Krishnan’s co-creation, Romero en Molina (2011) do not go into the role of the CNO’s in co-creation.

Next to the organizations do customers organize themselves in on-line communities; Romero en Molina (2011) call these Virtual Customer Communities (VCC’s). The VCC’s are aimed at discussing shared experiences with products and services.

These communities can be used to realize eight different kinds of co-creation:

1. Adjusting Products (IKEA);
2. developing new products (Procter & Gamble);
3. Feedback and evaluation (Microsoft Knowledge Base);
4. Mass-customisation (NIKE);
5. Using customer creativity (LEGO);
6. Developing new services using old services (TeliaSonera);
7. Real-time marketing and adjustments to services (FEDEX);
8. Personified value and knowledge creation (IPod/Itunes).

The examples above require new core-competences. To realize the diversity of demands, to react to the increase agility and the increasing complexity, an organization has to be flexible, agible and adaptive.

In the contacts with (potential) customers and co-creators, the Virtual Consumers Communities play a central role. To stimulate the creation of the VCC around your products or services, Romero and Molina (2011) give ten tips:

  1. Invite the right customers, keep the community private and be familiar with the essential characteristics of the customers (which is more than the geographic or demographic facts).
  2. See members of the community as advisers, not as simple marketing instruments.
  3. Focus on the interests of the members, not necessary on those of the organization.
  4. Create common activities and rituals.
  5. Be open and honest, even as the facilitator of the community.
  6. If you want information, ask for it.
  7. Listening is better than talking.
  8. Don’t ignore the negative, learn from these comments.
  9. Don’t ask to much.
  10. Communities are about people, not about technics.

Romero en Molina (2011) concentrate their analyze at the customer side of the organization by describing the success factors of the VCC’s, giving less attention to the collaborative network organizations (CNO).

The research of Bengtsson en Kock (2000) concentrates on collaboration, especially on those firms which are both competitors as collaborators. They analyzed several companies in three different industries. For example, Skega Ltd. and Trellex Ltd. worked together developing new materials, whereas they are competitors in the field of lining materials. In the deary industry, companies work together in developing means of transport, but simultaneously protecting their geographical markets. In the beer industry, bottles are standardized so the collection of empty bottles can be done in cooperation  whereas they compete through lifestyle – marketing and brand loyalty.

The conclusions of Bengtsson en Kock (2000) are:

  • heterogeneity of resources stimulates collaboration;
  • firms collaborate on the input side of the organisation, whereas they compete on the output side;
  • – the decision to collaborate or compete is a strategic decision, it involves the position of the organization within the network;
  • individuals can not be responsible for both collaboration and competition;
  • the combination of collaboration and competition within the same organization will give rise to internal conflicts and stress, which should be addressed by the top management.

Combining Bengtsson and Kock (2000) with Romero and Molina (2011) we can state that with respect to the development of a N=1/R=G strategy, involving co-creation and networks, organisations have developed good practices with respect to the consumer side  but the development of virtual network-organizations lags behind. The rise of the Organization 3.0 (Marco Derksen) might be predicted, but not yet realized.


Cover of "Business Model Generation: A Ha...

Bengtsson, M., S. Kock (2000), “Coopetition” in Business Networks—to Cooperate and Compete Simultaneously, Industrial Marketing Management, Volume 29, Issue 5, September, Pages 411-426

Romero, D., A. Molina (2011), Collaborative networked organisations and customer communities: value co-creation and co-innovation in the network era, Production Planning and Control: The Management of Operations, 22: 5-6, 447 -472

It’s not a market if no money changes hands! An answer to David Kernohan

David Kernohan ‏@dkernohan

@IHEtech @FrankOUNL it’s not a market if no money changes hands!

Inside Higher Ed quoted Simon Nelson (CEO of Futurelearn):

“Until now, this market has been dominated by companies based in the U.S., but with 18 U.K. partners, we are determined to provide the smartest and most engaging online learning experiences and revolutionize conventional models of education”

and twittered: British #MOOC provider expands and eyes India market.

David Kernohan replied to the InsideHigerEd-tweet and my retweet with the text above.

As English is a second language to me, I first consulted some dictionaries for the meaning of market (Webster, Cambridge, Oxford). There is some consensus that it can be different things. Either a real or abstract place where people trade goods or services, or the demand for something. As a verb, it can be understood as marketing or shopping.

Taking the quote above, I would say that the CEO of Futurelearn indeed sees the learning and education as something for which is a demand, so Moocs should form a supply meeting this demand. If money will change hands directly is to be seen but that each educational offer has a financial aspect is certain.

Although I don’t think that I have to defend the CEO of Futurelearn; I found several reactions interesting in the sense that it seems to be “not done” to question the effect of Moocs (also see Cathy Davidson). In a discussion last week, every question with respect to the learning effect, the high dropout rate, the high level of lurkers; not participating in discussions, etcetera (MOOCs and the AI-Stanford like Courses: Two Successful and Distinct Course Formats for Massive Open Online Courses) were countered with the argument that Moocs are free, even when people do not participate, do not finish a course or do not learn anything from the Mooc, who cares?


MOOC (Photo credit: Sarah_G)

Well, we should for different reasons. Firstly, if Moocs are ineffective in delivering education, the effort of teachers, multimedia specialists and administrators had been better directed in another way, providing other kinds of courses. Even if courses are offered for free, producing them involve costs and labour hours which could be put to another use.

Secondly, I think Moocs offer a very interesting alternative to Open Educational Resources and the possibility to develop sustainable (business) models in which the free provision of valuable education worldwide will be possible.

On the input side, Moocs use courses which are developed for brick-and-mortar universities. Most courses are used for the on-campus students during the regular semesters. An on-line translation of these courses is made publicly and free available. So the additional costs of the online course are only the added costs of the recording and changes made to make the course more independent of the face-to-face situation. Of course, as I have argued earlier, a full distance course would be more labour intensive and so more expensive than the online copy of a regular course. The usage of Moocs to increase the public of the original course could be seen as a more efficient use of the public subsidies which were used to develop and deliver the original course.

In several publications, earning models for Moocs are suggested and seem to be translated into contracts. Among those are data-mining using the email addresses of interested students, marketing of the offering institute, advertisement space or selling the course as an in-company training. The Moocs also offer opportunities for other institutions. Using the Moocs, they can offer degrees within their own institution or in cooperation with the original provider of the Mooc.

So both on the input as on the output side of the educational system, Moocs can help the educational system to become more effective. However, an important assumption by this is that both the original course as the online massive translation of this course are worthwhile to begin with.

If the dropout rate is high because the content or the didactical form of the course dishearten people to accomplish the course, disappointing and discourage people to participate in distance higher education later on:

  • The efficiency on the input side is gone;
  • The effect on the total level of education of a country is lost;
  • No one would be prepared to pay for a commercial usage of the Mooc.

To conclude:

  1. If there is a formal market or not; money is used in the production and exploitation of Moocs;
  2. The usage of scares resources requires that these are invested in the most effective way, whether this effect is calculated in monetary terms, social benefits or civil rights.

Education as a service: Moocs, ODL and production of knowledge.

Education As Service by Jiddu KrishnamurtiAs I have argued elsewhere, education resembles a service more than a product. The characteristics of a service are that production and consumption are simultaneously. Yet, education is special, in the sense that sharing is non rival; it has this characteristic in common with information and knowledge. When you teach something to someone, the knowledge is doubled in the sense that you both have the knowledge, whereas in the case of a rival service or product the seller transfers the use of the sold good over to the buyer. And sometimes the process of education increases the knowledge of the teacher throughout the process.

 The linkage between educational production and educational consumption is broken by the usage of distance learning. Instead of standing before a class delivering a lecture, the teacher designs a course, taking into account the perceived problems of students. In Open Education, Moocs or otherwise, students will be more diverse than in traditional education. To quote Andrew Ng

Throughout the entire MOOC creation process, educators must constantly be student-focused, figuring out what is the most useful content for their students to experience next. With no admissions office, on-line students are vastly more diverse than the students in a typical college classroom. They vary in educational background, learning ability, and culture. Students are also at different points in their life, and range from teenagers to working professionals to retirees, and may have different learning goals. Educators have to make classes accessible without underestimating student ability.

This could be interpreted as the hypothesis that good distance education requires better teachers than face-to-face education because of both the distance (making their didactical skills explicitly available) and the heterogeneity of students.

 A misunderstanding with regard to ODL is that on-line education is less expensive than face to face education. Experience shows that the costs of developing high quality distance materials is more expensive than developing a classroom lecture. However, the deliverance costs of distance education are less than those of the classroom lecture. Having made some calculations for a program we would develop in collaboration with traditional f2f-educational partners, we estimated that the break even point between the two methods was around the 60-100 students; below this amount of students, the higher development costs of ODL were not compensated by lower deliverance costs in comparison with the costs of the face to face situation. Of course each course can have a different break even point, but as a rule-of-the-thumb 100 students is a save number.

Part of these higher development costs is caused by breaking the direct linkage between teacher and student. In our experience at the Dutch Open University, the classroom teacher can partly be replace by high quality materials, partly by offering distance tutoring (email, webinars) and partly by organizing meetings between experts and students. In this sense I do not agree with the caricature Bob Samuels sketches in Inside Higher Ed, describing ODL:

The web also creates the illusion that all information is available and accessible to anyone at any time. This common view represses the real disparities of access in our world and also undermines the need for educational experts. After all, if you can get all knowledge from Wikipedia or a Google search, why do you need teachers or even colleges? In response to this attitude, we should recenter higher education away from the learning of isolated facts and theories and concentrate on teaching students how to do things with information. In other words, students need to be taught by expert educators about how to access, analyse, criticize, synthesize, and communicate knowledge from multiple perspectives and disciplines.

A Wikiversity Logo for Open Educational Resour...

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we all know, there is a difference between data, information, knowledge and competences. The facts and figures resulting from web-research have to be put into a context to be understood. However, there is a world of difference between the facts and figures of the CIA Worldfactbook and ODL. And even within ODL we can make a distinction between simple components offered as Open Educational Resources (OER), full OER-courses as by, taped lectures and assignments (Moocs) and the distance courses as developed and offered by the Open Universities and similar institutions.

Each of these resources or courses, free or paid for, is designed within a certain didactical context, whether you agree with the chosen method or not. The free availability of information and data on the Internet should not be perceived as a treat to teaching, but as an advantage, at most a challenge when there are conflicting opinions on subjects.

I think that more free available information demands more (educational) experts to provide contexts and meaning to this avalanche of data. However, it still remains to be decided in which context the traditional teacher of Samuels is better than the on-line teachings in ODL. This does not only (and perhaps not even mostly) depend on the costs of producing education, but on the nature of the competences to be learned, but also on the economical and social situation of the learner. As Amanda Ripley showed us, ODL-courses can play a major role in the development of poor learners in developing countries/regions, or the underprivileged in richer countries.

However, as we see in the Netherlands, it are not only underprivileged or remote learners who profit from ODL. There are individuals studying degree programs to further themselves; there are also individuals and groups studying a single object or course because of a gap in their former education.

And agreed, in some situations, the “canned” teacher or peer support will not be enough. Other kinds of tutoring should and can be offered without relying on f2f support alone.

So from an international and even a national perspective on economic and social growth, distance education can be a good investment. Yet, good distance learning will not come cheap, unless there are very large groups of students interested in following the same subject at the same institution; putting the Massive in Moocs. Question is why educational institutions should participate in these programs.

Well, Kevin Kiley, in Mainstreaming MOOCs, interviews Mark Becker, Georgia State’s president. Kiley states that:

“He sees open, on-line courses as benefiting the university in three ways: by providing content — and therefore potential courses — that the university doesn’t offer, such as languages or highly specialized topics; by meeting demand that exceeds what the university has resources for, such as for some introductory classes; or by supplementing what faculty members do in the classroom. The technology could also allow for more flexible scheduling. Georgia State serves a high number of low-income students who often have to work, as well as nontraditional students who might have other demands on their times”.

So, ODL’s including but not exclusively Moocs, can be used to involve non-traditional groups in education (low-income, working). It can make education more efficient by providing education at lower costs and similar or higher quality and -assuming that more institutions participate- broaden the choices for students by collaborating in ODL, accepting each other courses and credits. However, openness may be taken equivalent to free, but it will still demand a lot of effort (and costs) to develop good quality ODL.

Another interesting feature is that open distance education either on paper or through the Internet is available for more than a quarter of a century. The correspondence education goes back to the 1800’s, the open universities were developed in the second part of the last century.

Open educational resources as a concept emerged in the 1990’s, the first projects were about the same time. Yet, the discussion on electronic and open learning as a disruptive mechanism to education is only started with the emergency of the first Moocs and their hosting companies as Edx an Coursera. From a business economics perspective, it is interesting to know if this has to do with the reputation of the providers, the acceptance of social media and openness or has their popularity to do with their commercial potential which is perceived but not yet realized?

On another note, I don’t think that Moocs are a true disruptive innovation to education as some argue; but that’s for another blog.

The Evolution of Distance Learning to the Digital Age