School for Sustainability
A Proposal Letter
To whom it may concern,
I am Lindsay Hodge. I am reaching out to you today because of your interest in sustainable living skills, and I wonder if you would like to participate in building something awesome?
My husband, Christopher, and I have always been interested in helping people to learn about the homesteading and sustainable living skills we deeply value. That's why we decided to build our place, Haven Homestead. We've come up with any number of plans for how to create a school where folks can come and learn. We've already been teaching classes on our homestead through the local community college for about two years. We've started a newsletter, two blogs, and I have plans to write so many books. We are so excited for the possibilities that are ahead of us.
Recently, Chris and I made a goal to establish an online school and host at least one, once-a-year, week long workshop on our Homestead, in addition to the courses we already teach. We are currently in the process of establishing housing where folks can come and stay on the property, and our plans for the week long workshops are coming along. I was worried about how the online course would work when I came across a site, Lynda.com.
How It HAS Been Done
If you've never heard about Lynda.com, here's the short story. This site was first established in 1995 by Linda Weinman and her husband in order to teach folks web design. It was recently purchased by LinkedIn. They offer courses on everything from photography to web design, and all sorts of other business and computer related content. They are different from most online courses in that they offer a monthly or yearly subscription rate for access to ANY class, at ANY time. Most massive open online courses have you commit to one course for one fee, and the contributor/teacher gets a set royalty from that course. From the research that I've done online, Lynda.com's structure goes something like this:
I personally think that this is a great model for our online school. However, because of the differences in the industries (Lynda.com is business/computer oriented and things change rapidly, Homesteading and sustainable living skills don't change very often) we will need to make a few important adjustments.
In the industry of homesteading and sustainable living, we are a bunch of DIY-ers, and many of the skills that we would want to teach would need to be taught outside in gardens and in other locations. Instead of having a set where the videos are produced and shot, we would look for contributors who could produce their own videos according to a set of standards that we would establish. Support would be provided to the contributors in order to foster their abilities to participate, and to ensure a high quality learning experience for subscribers.
New contributors would need to apply for inclusion in our library through an online submission process in order to control duplicate and low-quality content. We would encourage folks to apply who we think would be a great fit.
Content from contributors would be submitted to a quality control team before being released. This team would watch the videos in full and ensure that all quality standards are being met. Quality standards will need to be established, however I feel it important that we keep all of these courses “family friendly.”
Possible Pricing and Structure
I would like to offer courses much like they are offered on Lynda.com. Students would subscribe at either a monthly or yearly rate and have access to all courses for that period of time. I would like to have two paid levels of subscription: Video Basic, and Video Plus. In a Basic subscription, students would be able to watch the videos from the courses anytime. The Plus subscription would include a workbook or PDF download of course material, and the ability to download the video and/or audio from the courses. There would be both monthly and yearly options with the ability to cancel, or restart your subscription at any time. For example:
$25/month or $250/year
$40/month or $400/year
Alternately, for subscription cancellation we could offer pro-rated refunds for Yearly option only, and pro-ration would be based on the number of months left in the year. For the monthly subscriptions, the student would have access to courses until the end of their month and would not be billed any further, but would not receive a refund. (ie: A student subscribes for either level for one month of classes and then decides on day 15 that they want to cancel their subscription. There would be no refund, and the access to courses would end at day 30. OR A student subscribes to the Video Plus for one year, and decided in the middle of the 3rd month to cancel their subscription. They would receive a prorated refund based on the number of months they have had access. In this case their refund would be $400 minus three months at $40, which would make it a $280 refund, and their access would end at the end of the 3rd month.) I am also open to a combination of these options.
Payouts to Teachers
Every month, revenue for the month would be pooled. Overhead costs, such as website maintenance, quality control, contributor support, and customer support, and the royalties for contributors would be divided. Contributors will be paid based on number of views, similar to they way it is done at Lynda.com.
Justifications for Proposed Methods
There is a definite draw for the subscription method in this industry. Folks who are interested in sustainable living seem to be interested in learning how to do many different skills, and it is nearly impossible to learn how to do everything at once! The number of books that have been both self-published and traditionally published has blossomed in recent years, and there is definite room for growth in the availability of this information. Books are great references, but I believe that YouTube has proven the need for real-time visual instructions.
With an online school like this, folks will be able to learn at their own pace. They can learn beginning gardening at the beginning of the summer. By the end of the growing season they may want to take classes on canning and preserving food. Then by the next spring they may be ready for the intermediate gardening class, but may have an interest in a brief review of topics learned in the beginning classes before starting, and so forth. That same person may also have an interest during that time in learning how to live plastic free, or how to clean a stain using home made soap, or even how to make their own pallet furniture. With the subscription to access all classes, the DIY-er would be able to tackle projects at their own pace with support from experts at an agreeable price.
There has been a rising interest of late to live more sustainably and I do not see an end to it. There is so much “traditional” content, new sustainable living techniques are being pioneered or reinvented all the time, and new research on old home food production and farming is being done all the time. I do not see an end to new content in the foreseeable future.
In my opinion, free content is going to be an important part of this online school. I'm not sure how best to go about this, and I am open to suggestions, but with the internet and information being so available for free, I feel we are going to need some free content in order to be competitive.
At first my thoughts are to do something along the lines of having a sustainable living basics course that is free to anyone and everyone, you just have to open a free account, which would require nothing more than a name and email address. This basics course would have six to ten skills that no one should live without. We would ask permission to send them a newsletter and information on our other courses in order to encourage a paid subscription.
Other options, which could be used in tandem with the free basics course, could be as follows:
Obviously, credibility and expertise will need to be encouraged in contributors in order to encourage subscriptions as well. We will want folks to subscribe to paid content because we have authority, and proven positive results.
I can see the incredible potential in creating a space like this where folks can come to learn, and share what they have learned. What I am looking for next, is an action plan. I need to know what it takes to build a school like this. I need to know who to ask for help, and I need to know who wants to be on my team. I need to gauge interest from contributors and students alike.
I will be sending this letter to folks that I believe can help. I will be posting it on my blogs, and I will begin by gauging interest by using an online survey. If you are interested, or if you know others who may be interested, please take the survey, and pass this information on. I really appreciate all your support.
Lindsay Hodge is our resident Writer here at Haven Homestead. She keeps this blog, a GRIT blog, and writes other fun things too.