Open courseware: yes, Royal Roads: no

This is my evaluation of the Royal Roads pitch. The open courseware initiative at MIT is successful, and the creation of  the open courseware consortium both points towards the concept of open courseware as being successful. The pitch for RRU is asking for money without a cash return – not in itself a problem since I believe investing in education is a smart move, but for the reasons outlined below I feel this pitch is weak.

Criteria Royal Roads University open courseware project
CEO Credibility Presenter was committed, but no indication given as to her position in the project. Style was conversational, did not give me the feeling of confidence in her ability to guide the project through development and success.
Management Team Presumably the faculty at the university, but little information was given and no information was given about who would oversee the IT end of the development.
Business Model The goal of the open courseware project seems to be to increase enrolment and attract faculty by using the free courseware as a marketing tool. No information was given regarding how this has worked in other universities – no statistics about MIT’s enrolment since the inception of their open courseware project. No information given about what kind of marketing will be required to get students to try the courseware – interesting since the presenter talks about how RRU is a niche university that has a history of not sharing its ideas and research with the world.
Competitive Products The presenter avoided talking about the competition that MIT and 200+ other open courseware providers would create. If the concept is not new, and a large successful institution like MIT is in the picture then it would be important to cover how RRU will compete against them for students and faculty.
Market Readiness From the presentation I concluded that what they are asking for is money to develop this project from the beginning. It would take several years to create the technology and then at least a few more to create the courses within it. This is a very long-term investment. If they are planning to use the technology of the open courseware consortium that would take several years off the plan, but reduce the innovation factor.
Technical Innovation This plan has already been put into place at MIT. The only avenue for innovation that RRU has was hinted at when the presenter talked about being in a niche market. This was not elaborated on, so it is difficult to evaluate whether RRU would effectively solve a market problem that has not been addressed by any of the other open courseware universities.
Exit Strategy Presumably, success would be an increased student body, a decorated faculty, and a well subscribed open courseware project. Unfortunately the presenter did not address this, so the EVA is left to speculate. There seems to be no way for an investor to recover their investment, so this must be a “social wealth” style proposal where the investor is being asked to be altruistic.
Overall Investment Status? I like the idea of open courseware, and I think there is some possibility that it would attract paying students and faculty. I am also not opposed to investing in education for the social good it involves and the benefits to the economy of a well educated population. Unfortunately there was not enough detail about how all this would work for RRU in the presentation, which leads me to believe that there has not been enough investigation and planning to support this pitch. I would not invest in this project at this point. If there were to be a more evolved plan and pitch I would consider putting funds into it.


1 Liz Hood { 09.20.09 at 2:40 pm }

Good point about competition from other open source software ventures. Maybe the market is sated?

2 Ammar Al-Attiyat { 09.20.09 at 5:14 pm }

Hi Annette,

I reached the same investment conclusion, but what if the presenter has just focused on one market segment, the adult students coming from the workplace (as she mentioned in the very first begining of her presentaiton; RRU main target), so if she would prove the RRU Open Courseware would be the first unviersity to address this market segment, then they will have an edge, what do you think ?

3 Annette Smith { 09.20.09 at 7:21 pm }

Hi Ammar,

If the presenter could show proof that RRU had a unique market and could reach that market, then the pitch would be stronger. The problem here is that the adults coming to university from the workplace are not a small market that is under served. Look at UBC. How many of us MET students are coming from the workforce? Probably most of us.

If RRU wants to cater to adult students then they will have to compete with universities like UBC (to name just one). I know that U of Toronto has also had an increase in adult students, so it is probably not a huge leap to say that the other universities may also be serving adult students in larger numbers.

If this is the niche that RRU is talking about, then I would stand by my decision not to invest.

4 Cindy Leach { 09.24.09 at 5:34 pm }

I would agree that adult learners is not exactly a niche market. Looking at the Royal Roads curriculum they do have some interesting courses though. If they marketed those courses that specifically are unique they might be able to get their foot in door and I agree this would make their pitch stronger. However, competing against well established highly acclaimed universities like MIT is a hard road, making unique courseware that much more important

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