A new business model

For the win!This is a big deal!

There's a new business model in town. This is not a business model for me, Kieran Mathieson. Cyco is open source, free, and always will be. This is a business model for authors, people like you, who make Cycourses. The bottom line:

Authors can make a living selling access to high-quality Cycourses. No publishers needed.

Organizations - businesses, schools, colleges - can reduce costs and increase learning outcomes, by replacing textbooks with Cycourses.

Scenario: Spokane high school math

Spokane, Washington, is a city of about 210,000 people. Spokane Public Schools (SPS) has nine high schools and equivalent academies.

Bill and Dave have been teaching high school math in Spokane for about 20 years. They've won state level teaching awards, and are active in the community.

Like many teachers, Bill and Dave have summer jobs, to make ends meet. They work in construction. They'd rather work in education, but there are no jobs for them during the summer.

Spokane students are behind in math and science. This is a problem for a city that needs a skilled workforce. Bill and Dave approach Shelley, SPS superintendent. They explain a skills based approach to math education. Students will be better off if they learn how to use math in the real world.

Rather than:

  • Find the surface area of a cylinder with a radius of...
  • Find the volume of a rectangular prism with the dimensions...

Tasks would be like:

  • Figure out how many gallons of paint you'd need for the outside of those strange milk bottle buildings (ask someone from Spokane).
  • What do Spokane's downtown roads weigh?
  • How much does the water cost for the Ice Palace in Riverfront Park?

Shelley talks to the board of education. They agree to an experiment. Bill and Dave download CyberCourse, and install it on a shared hosting service costing $10/month. They write several modules for a high school math course. The modules have Spokane examples, with Spokane locations, personalities, and activities.

The Chiefs is the local ice hockey team. Dave is a rabid fan. When there's a game, Dave adds statistics to the Cycourse the next day. The data is used in a module on making graphs.

SPS tries the Cycourse in four classes. Students like it. They can go to the places shown in the Cycourse, and see math at work. Some of the students' graphs on the Chiefs are put on the SPS Web site, and shown on local TV news.

Math teachers like the modules as well. The teachers spend their time helping students one-on-one, rather than lecturing. Teachers in science classes say that students' problem solving skills have improved. Students are learning how to think about problems, rather than just "find a formula in the book."

Bill and Dave show reports on student skills and behavior to the school board, reports generated by CyberCourse. The board is impressed by the results, and by the decline in failure rates. Repeat courses and math tutoring is a significant expense for the district.

The board agrees to expand the program, to cover all of 11th and 12th grade math. They agree to pay Bill and Dave $20 per student per semester. This is less than the district was paying for mediocre textbooks and workbooks. 

Bill and Dave complete two full Cycourses. They move the CyberCourses from a shared host to a private server. Even with the extra expense, they are making far more money from the Cycourses than they ever did in construction.

Bill talks about the Cycourses at a state education workshop. Soon Bill and Dave are negotiating a Seattle version.

Scenario: Toballul Drupal training

Drupal is an open source content management system (CMS), used to build Web sites and Web applications. CyberCourse is built on on Drupal.

Drupal use is growing fast. There is high demand for Drupal skills. Toballul is a leading Drupal training company. They offer in-person training, and a series of videos. The in-person training is expensive, but helps students build skills quickly. The videos are cheaper, but not as effective as in-person training.

Geoff Sparrows, Toballul CEO, wants to offer customers a price point between in-person and videos, for upcoming Drupal 8 training. Cycourses are the perfect solution. Like the videos, Cycourses have the cost effectiveness of canned content. Like in-person training, Cycourses have one-on-one feedback. Cycourses only use people time for the things that only people can do. They use computers for everything else.

Toballul creates three Drupal Cycourses:

  • Introducing Drupal
  • Building Drupal sites
  • Drupal development made easy(ish)

Toballul hires part-time graders, paying $25 per hour. Every exercise has a clickable rubric, streamlining and standardizing feedback. Each student absorbs four hours of feedback time per course, on average. Even with the extra expense, Toballul's new training products are very profitable.

What's going on here?

CyberCourse makes new business models possible, because of:

  1. Effective and efficient skill learning
  2. Customizing to niche requirements
  3. Authors get the revenue

How do these factors work in the scenarios?

Spokane math

  1. Bill and Dave's math Cycourses are better and cheaper than standard math textbooks.
  2. Their Cycourses are for one school district. They can fit that niche exactly.
  3. Bill and Dave get all the revenue, rather than the small royalty they would get from a traditional publisher.

With the revenue, Bill and Dave can afford to make their Cycourses good. Really good.

Like many teachers, Bill and Dave are passionate about their work. They could earn more by taking their math skills to a job in, say, auditing. They stay in school because it's meaningful work.

What the revenue gives Bill and Dave is opportunity. CyberCourse revenue helps pay their mortgages, so they can spend time improving their Cycourses.

Who knows? If they get the Seattle business, their Cycourses could become their full-time jobs.


  1. Toballul's Cycourses are better than video training, and less expensive than in-person training. They give Toballul's customers good value for money.
  2. Each customer gets personal feedback. In a sense, each customer is his/her own niche.
  3. The Cycourses are very profitable, even with feedback costs.

Many buyers are skeptical about online training. They've bought cheap training -narrated PowerPoints that are useless for building skills.

CyberCourse offers something new. Effective training, at a good price. Companies like Toballul could change the skill training landscape.


There are millions of teachers, instructors, and professors around the world. Many are passionate about their work and their students.

What would happen if they created high quality Cycourses for their own locales, in their own languages, on their own topics? Using open source software that costs them nothing?