Editor’s Note: This post has first been published on edCetera – straight talk on edtech.
On Monday Comcast announced a partnership with Khan Academy to promote affordable Internet access and free access to quality education to low income families throughout the United States.
Inside the urban tech bubbles people often forget that the devices and high speed Internet access they enjoy are not a commodity for everyone out there. If you remember, part of the reason why Udacity and San Jose State University put their pilot on hold earlier this year was based on the “revelation” that many students could not take part in the MOOCs due to insufficient access to computers and high speed Internet which is essential to stream the video lectures.
What’s in it?
The partnership between Comcast and Khan Academy will first and foremost bring a further boost to the general awareness that free educational alternatives like Khan Academy exist.
“For Comcast, this is one of the largest commitments the Company has made to a non-profit partner. The commitment includes hundreds of thousands of PSAs, significant digital promotion in both English and Spanish, as well as multiple joint promotion opportunities around the country over the next few years.”
Comcast’s Internet Essentials program offers high speed Internet access for $9.95 per month to families with children who qualify for free lunch programs. Up to now more than 250.000 families have applied. In a related survey 98% of parents stated their children used the Internet access for homework, 94% felt that it helped them to do better in school and got them better grades. The Internet Essentials program also gives the families a $150 deal on Internet ready computers.
It all started with Khan
I think the partnership between Comcast and Khan is yet another Canary in the Coalmine. From the Silicon Valley and therefore tech industry perspective Salman Khan is the person that had started the whole craze that eventually turned into the MOOC hype. If we now take this partnership with Comcast as a forecast of things that will happen in 2014 I think it is safe to predict that Coursera, Udacity and probably edX are going to announce similar deals with Internet providers very soon.
There have been some experiments of TelCos in Japan, South America and France in the past that tried to bake in learning offers to your monthly telephone bill. Adding free educational resources is of course much easier to sell.
Just imagine an exclusive deal between Time Warner and Coursera that gives Time Warner exclusive access to newly produced ivy league courses for only their customers. Something like “Attending Harvard has never been easier. Just turn on your computer and get access to the best lectures for free. Only at Time Warner Cable!” – this could be a key asset in a marketing strategy to win new customers, especially with MOOCs entering the mainstream coverage.
The same will subsequently happen in the mobile space as well. Already today most mobile traffic is generated through streaming videos on smartphones. So why should Verizon or AT&T not bake in a MOOC channel so their customers can watch lectures on their way to work or during lunch breaks? The video lectures could be specifically produced for mobile consumption, meaning them being shorter and using less bandwidth. On the other hand, the mobile provider wouldn’t count the bandwidth used for streaming the content of the MOOC partner, which could also be true for the scenario over wired Internet at home.
Of course, this will eventually lead to issues with net neutrality and a further digital divide as the access to free learning content would be determined by the Internet provider. But I guess that most consumers wouldn’t mind as long as they get access to free quality education.