Transcript of Getting Smart About the Business of Education
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John Jantsch: Hello and welcome to another episode of the Duct Tape Marketing Podcast. This is John Jantsch, and my guest today is Danny Iny. He is an educator, entrepreneur, founder and CEO of Mirasee, a business education company. He’s also the author of a book we’re going to talk about today, Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners and Experts with Something to … And my notes stop there. It must say, “Something to say,” right?
Danny Iny: Something to teach.
John Jantsch: Teach. Sorry, it got cut off there. So Danny, welcome back.
Danny Iny: John, thank you so much for having me. I’m excited to be here.
John Jantsch: So what led you here? I mean this is … We’re going to come back to why it’s so on topic, but it’s a little bit seemingly off topic for a entrepreneur and founder of a marketing related company.
Danny Iny: Yeah, so in one sense it’s very on topic. I’ve been working in the space of education for my entire adult career. I run an education company. We teach people how to build and sell courses. But this is a departure from the more tactical focus of how do experts build courses based on their expertise. And this was really prompted by two experiences I had in my life.
So the first was when I was 15 years old and I dropped out of high school. As a kid, I was the biggest goody two shoes, teacher’s pet, gets all his homework done before leaving class, like I was that kid. But then I go into the ninth grade, and it’s like a switch gets flipped in my head, and I’m just sitting in class thinking, “Oh my god, I am so bored. I can’t take it anymore.”
And so I started cutting classes. And I don’t do anything halfway, and so in that first semester I missed like 152 classes. I was barely there. And this went on for about a year and a half. And then I looked in the mirror, and I stopped. I paused. I said, “Danny, what are you doing? What’s the plan? Am I just going to keep cutting classes and going to the gym and watching MTV?” Like that’s not a plan.
And so I decided to quit and make it official and start my first business. And the prevailing narrative around me was, “Danny, you are making a terrible mistake. You are throwing your life away.” And that’s interesting, right? Because, you know, “Danny, you’re making a terrible mistake.” You know what? Maybe. I mean I was open to that possibility. Maybe this is the wrong move. I don’t think so, but it could be. But, “You throwing your life away,” right? This implication of it being an irreversible decision; this is the end. That just didn’t make sense to me.
I was always thinking like, you know, “In a worst case scenario, I can just go back to school.” So it didn’t really make sense to me. I dropped out of school, and it turned out to have been a great decision, one of the best moves I made for myself in my life. And then fast forward 10 years, and I’d been involved in a bunch of startups, and I had done a whole bunch of interesting things. I had just tried to build a software company. That fell apart when the markets crashed. And I walked away from that with a ton of debt. And when you have a setback like that, you kind of rethink your decisions, you question.
And I thought, “Maybe I need a little more structure. Maybe I need more stability. Maybe I need a safety net, so maybe I should go back to school and get an MBA.” And the prevailing narrative around me now was like, “Wow, Danny, that’s a great idea. You are setting yourself up for success in life. You’re going to open doors. It’s amazing.” And nobody gave any thought to reversibility because why would you want to reverse something so wonderful?
So I applied to business schools. I got into Queen’s School of Business, one of the top business schools in Canada, without a high school diploma or undergraduate degree. It turns out, even institutions of higher learning only value the signal of a degree in the absence of better signals. And I go through this program. I invest lots of time and lots of money. And it turns out, if I had to rank the five or 10 worst investments of my life, this would be high on that list. Right?
I met some great people, but I also met a lot of mediocre people. I had some great teachers, also a lot of mediocre teachers. The brochures promised the future leaders of tomorrow. The class was filled with the middle managers of today. So that was basically the experience. And I had a lot of debt.
And the contrast between these two experiences just got me thinking, “Wow, something’s really out of whack with the way people think education functions and how it actually does. And that set me on a path of just doing a lot of casual research to see what’s really going on. And that accelerated over the years. And in the last couple of years, it became a full blown research project, hundreds of books and articles and journals and interviews with experts. And I did all this just for my own personal curiosity because I would have all these discussions with people saying, “Look, I think education is broken. I think it costs too much. I think it’s not preparing us for the world.” And there would be all these, “Yeah, buts.” “Yeah, but it helps you be well rounded. Yeah, but you needed to get a job. Yeah, but it’s still a good investment.” And none of these things are true according to the data
John Jantsch: I met my wife at university. Don’t forget that one.
Danny Iny: I get that every once in a while and I’m like, “You know that’s not in the brochures, right?”
But so I did all this research kind of looking for the data to show once and for all definitively, you know, “Look, this thing that I’m saying is happening with education, this is really where it’s going.” And what I actually found is that it’s already here.
I really thought I was going to find data showing that in 10 or 20 years, the college degree is going to be more or less defunct. What I found is that we’re pretty much there right now, and it was just too important and too compelling message. I mean college debt in the US is over one and a half trillion dollars now. The average university graduate from an undergraduate degree comes out of that experience with over $30,000 of debt. The average interest rate on student loans is 6.8%. This is the only kind of debt that you cannot for yourself of by declaring bankruptcy. It’s also the kind of debt that you are most likely to incur before you’re even legally an adult. And this was just too … It wasn’t okay. It was too awful, and so that led me to write the book.
John Jantsch: Yeah. It’s interesting. Of course we could go a whole nother course and talk about the, sort of the whole lending industry’s role in this, of course. But that would be another book, wouldn’t it?
Danny Iny: It absolutely could be. But honestly, as much as the student debt is like this whole egregious, enormous number, I’m less concerned with the costs and I’m more concerned with what it’s buying, which is not much.
John Jantsch: Yeah. And what’s really interesting is when this person goes through, acquires all this debt, and then realizes that what I really want to do is start a business, which they could have done six years ago, especially today. I started my business almost 30 years ago, and it’s amazing how the sort of culture has changed around that.
When I started it, my friend said, “Oh, something will come up.” I mean It was like, “You lost; you started a business.” And now it’s just the opposite. I think you see a lot of these kids in college, you know, while they’re in that experience, and certainly right after that are saying, “Oh wait, that’s the way to go.” And I don’t know if that … Is that because this degree is so worthless, and they thought they were gonna make all this money, but now they’re seeing the only people making money are controlling their own thing? Or is it just culturally shifted in your mind that that’s now cool?
Danny Iny: I think part of it is a cultural shift. I think part of it is that the biggest celebrities of our modern age are not pop stars or movie stars, they’re entrepreneurs. It’s the Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk and Steve jobs. I think that’s part of it, but I also think it’s just that the economy is a lot less stable than it used to be because the pace of change has grown so quickly. It used to be 30 years ago you could graduate, get a job and have more or less the same job a decade or several decades later. The world is just changing too fast now. That doesn’t exist.
John Jantsch: Yeah. And the industry you were in might not exist. So, we probably ought to define what leverage learning is.
Danny Iny: Yeah. So the way I think about it, most of life involves trade-offs, right? The way people tend to think about education involves trade-offs. Either we can create a thorough, intensive, transformative educational experience for a very small number of people at very large cost. Or we can create a very mediocre, watered down educational experience that reaches a lot of people and is affordable. The first half of the book is about here’s everything that’s wrong with education today. The second half of the book is here’s what we can do instead. And I think we are really at the beginning of a golden age of education where we can leverage the best of what we know to create an empowered, transformative experience for everyone in a way that is accessible and cost effective.
John Jantsch: It’s interesting. Part of it starts with this definition, and we always think of education as a place that has buildings, and you go to classes, and that kind of thing. And of course that’s changed because people do it online now at those institutions. But really, you and I’ve been educators for a long time. I’m calling myself a marketing consultant, but ironically in our beginning of the year, actually fourth quarter planning, we had this really silly insight that we’re really a training company more than anything else.
Danny Iny: Yeah, no kidding.
John Jantsch: But we don’t … I don’t know that everybody accepts that that’s kind of what all the businesses that are really succeeding have some element of that, don’t they?
Danny Iny: Well, it’s incredibly, incredibly common, and it makes sense because when you empower someone to do something that they couldn’t do before and you can do it in a way that is scalable to some degree and leverageable to some degree, it’s like it’s a great business model. It’s a great outcome. It’s a great value proposition, so what’s not to like?
John Jantsch: So, and I’m going backwards a little bit here, but I remember a jotting down the the one … I think it was a sub topic, not a title chapter, but that really struck me is that you … You, kind of after talking about what’s wrong with education, you also then say it’s really a life problem. So, break that open.
Danny Iny: Well, the fundamental challenge is not that people are going to college and spending too much and getting too little. The real issue is that people … Because what is the role of education in society? It’s to give us a way of becoming valued by and valuable to society. And when that pathway breaks down, you’ve got a lot of people who are basically sitting there thinking, “Well, now what? What am I going to do? How am I going to contribute? How am I going to be able to do something valuable and meaningful?” And that’s a life problem for everyone, right? Just like when the economy’s down, people don’t have money to spend, there’s less money going into the economy, and there’s a vicious cycle. The same thing happens with education.
John Jantsch: Yeah. And in a lot of ways, you can’t really knock education. It’s really more the approach to education. Because I mean, I couldn’t be a teacher or trainer if I didn’t know something, if I didn’t learn or experience something. So what’s the way that we need to educate ourselves now? If you’re that person thinking, “Okay, Danny, I won’t go to college,” what do I do?
Danny Iny: Well, the key thing is to think … And I’m not anti-college. I’m just anti-college as a magical golden ticket. I think, and this applies to if people have kids and they’re thinking about college. This also applies to adults. Fundamentally, education is meant to bridge a gap from where you are now to where you want to be. It’s meant to be a shortcut. If education doesn’t let you get to where you want to go in less time, or at less cost, or with less risk, then what’s the point, right? It’s supposed to do one of those things.
And so rather than … You know 30 years ago, you could go to college and spend a very small amount of money, and it was affordable, and it would open a lot of doors because not a lot of people have a degree, and it was a differentiator, and all that stuff. That’s not the case today.
So just like we do in every other area of life, if you have a goal, think about carefully, diligently, what is the goal and what is the best way for me to achieve that goal, right? If I’m looking to advance in my career, don’t go to get that continuing education certificate and hope that somehow magically puts you over the top and impresses people. Think about, what are the real gaps? What do I need to know that I don’t know? Who do I need to know that I don’t know? And be intentional about that. It always comes down to allocation of time and resources. What is the best way for you to get the outcomes that you’re looking for?
John Jantsch: So you work with a lot of … I mean it kind of started … Well, I shouldn’t put words in your mouth. Did it kind of start with this course building work that you saw as a way for people to build legitimate businesses and train others exchange value that then turned into this kind of journey on what education means in general and how … I mean obviously you start with the very practical: I have a course. I want to teach somebody something. How do I make sure that they get value out of it? How do I make sure they actually learned something? How do I make sure they come back? I mean, kind of practical things. I get the sense in the book that you’re now kind of almost making part of the wiring of the human existence in some ways.
Danny Iny: Very much so. All these transitions in education, they also create a lot of opportunities. So one of the big transitions that we’re seeing is a shift from just-in-case education to just-in-times. It used to be we would do a lot of just-in-case education at the start of our career, you know, four years just in case I need it. And that’s always been challenging pedagogically because we know that what you learned 10 years ago, we don’t retain a lot of it. But the world is changing so quickly that even if we did retain it, it wouldn’t be relevant anymore. And so we’re shifting to actually a lot more education over our lifetime, but just in time. So instead of it being months or years early on, it’s weeks or months as you go when you need it.
Now when you have that granularization, “I don’t need one giant education. I need a lot of small units of education. I need it to be relevant. I need it to be cutting edge,” the people who you need to teach it change. It becomes different people. And this is a subtle distinction, but it’s a really important one.
In a static world, in a world where the curriculum stays more or less the same, what you want is a great teacher who also knows the subject matter because teaching is hard. It’s a skill, right? So if it’s a great teacher who also knows the subject matter, you’re in good hands. But when the curriculum is changing all the time, when when the stuff that you’re teaching now is not going to be good anymore in three years or five years, it needs to be updated because the world has changed, well, a good teacher who also knows the subject matter can’t keep up fast enough. So what you need as a subject matter expert who is also a good teacher.
And it’s a subtle distinction, but it’s a very important one because what this means is that it’s not career educators anymore who are the go-to people to deliver it. Really it’s got to come from people who are experts and professionals on the cutting edge of their field, boots on the ground. They’re the ones who know the stuff that every other person wants to learn and they’re the ones who are very well positioned to take that knowledge and expertise and package it up in a way that is impactful and transformative.
John Jantsch: Yeah. In a way the typical, and I knew it sounds like we’re bashing the education institutions, but in a lot of ways they’re almost incentivized not to change.
Danny Iny: Well, they don’t really have a choice. People sometimes ask me, how can colleges change? And I really don’t think they can. Clayton Christensen has said publicly that he expects that 50% of colleges will be bankrupt in the next five or 10 years. I don’t know if I’m quite that aggressive in my expectations. The statistic on average is that for every dollar taken in by a college from a student, only 21 cents goes to instruction, right? Everything else is the administration, the amenities, the grounds, the buildings, all that stuff.
And the thing is, looking at it as a business, a lot of that stuff, these are fixed costs. These are things that they can’t get rid of. They can’t just decide, “Oh, we want to cut costs, so we’re not going to have these buildings anymore.” Right? They’re stuck with it. There’s a ton of inertia, and so it’s not very likely that colleges are going to be able to pivot quickly enough to make that happen. And that sucks for colleges, but for independent experts and professionals who have really valuable things to teach, it’s a great opportunity.
John Jantsch: Yeah. So if I’m this person that is a subject matter expert, how do I flip that around then and say, “Okay. Based on the way that people need to learn, how do I need to teach?”
Danny Iny: Well, it’s not an if; you are at that subject matter expert, and you do actually do it, right? But a good way of thinking about it is this, and this is … again, it’s going to point to the big opportunity. When we want to go and learn something, when we want to really develop a competence, internalize a skill, there are three steps in that process. The first step is the consumption, right? So that’s when you read the book, or watch the video, or listen to the audio, or hear the lecture, right? We consume the new ideas. That’s basic exposure. And you need that to start because without that, you’re nowhere, but it’s not enough. You don’t get a lot of deep learning there.
The second step is application. And that’s where you take what you learned and you do something with it. And that can be theoretical, essays, or homework, or worksheets, or whatever. Or it could be practical. I’m going to do something in the real world, in my business, in my life.
And then the third step is feedback and iteration. That’s where someone who is qualified, a coach, a teacher, an instructor looks at what you did in the real world or in your exercises and tells you, “Here’s where you need to improve. Here’s what we need to do differently.” They give you feedback. And most of the deep learning happens on the part of feedback and happens on the part of application.
Now again, this presents a really interesting opportunity for experts and professionals because there are a lot of platforms out there: There’s the Courseras, there’s the Lyndas, there’s the MasterClass sites, right? There’s all these sites that you can go and you can spend a hundred, $200 for a video course. You can go take a screenwriting course with Aaron Sorkin on MasterClass for a couple hundred bucks. But that’s just the first bucket, right? That’s just the exposure to the ideas, and we get that.
Nobody takes a course with Aaron Sorkin on screenwriting, on MasterClass with the expectation they’re actually going to be a dramatically better screenwriter at the end of it, right? They’re taking it because they’re interested. It’s edutainment, and that’s great for the people who have that reach and that reputation and that brand.
But then after people have gone through Aaron Sorkin’s MasterClass and they’re like, “Okay, this is cool, but I really actually want to become a better screenwriter,” then they’re going to go and look for, “Where is the expert or professional who can deliver all three of those buckets? Not just the exposure to the ideas, but also the work that I can do to apply and then the feedback to improve.” And whereas for just the exposure to the content, that’s not something that can command a ton of money, right? A couple of hundred bucks at the high end is as far as it’s going to go, and that takes an Aaron Sorkin level of brand reputation.
But if I’m going to get all three of those buckets, and that can actually create a transformation, the value of that is dramatically higher. And now we’re looking at thousands of dollars rather than hundreds. And what we as experts have to do is build experiences that give all three of those buckets, and that’s what justifies the investment and really drives the business model.
John Jantsch: Yeah. Think about all the people that bought courses and courses and courses. I mean, they’re just kind of skipping that stuff now because they realize they’ve not gotten much out of it. And they are looking more for, as you said, that more transformative experience.
Danny Iny: It’s the maturation of the market. Online courses, and this is one of these things that’s a little tricky for us because we’ve been in this space for so long so it’s like, “Online courses, that’s old news.” But go out into the world and talk to a quote-unquote ‘real, regular person’ and say, “Where can I take a course?” It’s only very recently that the idea of online is starting to enter the public awareness, right? We’re, we’re crossing the chasm from innovators and early adopters to mainstream buyers, and mainstream buyers have very different expectations, right?
Early adopters, when they got cell phones that came out on the market, it was a giant brick. It had maybe four apps. They didn’t work half the time, and early adopters are fine paying a fortune for that. Mainstream buyers expect a great form factor, and a thousand apps, and a great battery life, and it works all the time, even if you drop it in the pool. And so the expectation of how much you’re going to get as part of the experience is changing because of the market is maturing.
John Jantsch: And LinkedIn fairly recently paid $1.6 billion to acquire Lynda.com because … I think that’s an indication as big as anything that it’s gone mainstream, isn’t it?
Danny Iny: Absolutely. It’s one of the … There’s a lot that went into that tipping point, but the eLearning market is projected to grow to just shy of $400 billion in 2026, which sounds like a huge number, but education globally depending on the numbers you look at is between 4.4 and $6.9 trillion. So as big as eLearning and online education is getting, it’s still a relatively small piece of that, which is why we’re early in that phase, and it’s just going to grow.
John Jantsch: One of the things that I thought was very fun is at LeverageLearningBook.com somebody can actually read the whole book there, if they want to sit there on your website all day, can’t they?
Danny Iny: Absolutely. So the bet I’m making is … First of all, I don’t make money selling books. I run a business, so that’s how I get paid. Second, I think this is a very important message to get out there. A trillion and a half dollars, that’s just … That’s insane. So I want people to read it. I wanted to be able to share. And I’m also banking on the fact that if somebody really likes what they’re reading, they’re not going to want to read 300 pages on a website. So, no strings, no limits, anyone who wants to check out the book can go to LeverageLearningBook.com, and hopefully they’ll like it enough to then go to Amazon and order dozens of copies.
John Jantsch: Well, Danny, and important topic and one that that I think hits on a couple fronts. I mean culturally I think it hits on a really, really big important topic. But certainly far from an entrepreneur’s standpoint, I think it addresses an opportunity that’s really pretty much open to anybody.
Danny Iny: I think so. I mean anyone who’s got expertise and depth of knowledge in something that’s valuable to others, which is most people.
John Jantsch: Well, Danny, it was great catching up with you. LeverageLearningBook.com is where you can find the book. Do you want to tell people where they can find more about you and your work as well?
Danny Iny: Well, LeverageLearningBook.com is a great place to go. People can go to Amazon and order dozens and dozens of copies, or leave a review. That’s good too. And you can find more about me and my work at my company’s website, which is Mirasee, M-I-R-A-S-E-E dot com.
John Jantsch: Awesome. Thanks, Danny. Hopefully we’ll run into you some day out there on the road.
Danny Iny: I will look forward to it. Thank you for having me.