Danny Iny is a lifelong entrepreneur and founder and CEO of the online business education company Mirasee. He is also a best-selling author who has written nine books including the recently-released, Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners and Experts with Something to Teach.
In this episode of the Leading Learning podcast, Jeff talks with Danny about the core messages of his new book including some of the major changes impacting higher education and the opportunities and challenges they represent for learning businesses.
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[01:19] – A preview of what will be covered in this podcast where Jeff interviews Danny Iny, CEO of the online business education company Mirasee, and author of the recently-released book Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners and Experts with Something to Teach.
*It’s also noted that Danny is offering a completely free, Web-based version of the book as part of an effort to make sure as many people as possible will be able to read it. And check out Course Builder’s Laboratory training program, which is a great resource offered by Mirasee. (The program only opens periodically, but this page provides information and a form to sign up for the waiting list.)
[03:18] – Introduction to Danny and some additional information about his role as CEO of Mirasee and what they do on a day-to-day basis.
[04:57] – You have written many books, but Leveraged Learning seems a little different – you synthesized a tremendous amount of research and you really seem to be on a mission to make sure people truly understand our current situation. Is that a fair characterization, and if so, what drove you to pursue this mission? Danny says it is and it’s something he cares deeply about. He acknowledges that this book is different from things he’s written in the past in terms of content and research but also in whom he’s writing to. All his prior books (not including his children book) have been for online entrepreneurs. However, this book is much more broadly for anyone who has a stake in the future of education. There is a massive amount of college debt that exists ($1.9 trillion) and the system for higher education is fundamentally broken, which affects just about everybody.
[07:26] – You take aim at a number of issues not just with our education system, but also with how we tend to go about teaching and learning in general. What were some of the most surprising, or even shocking findings for you out of the huge amount of research you did? Danny talks about the process for writing the book and how he didn’t realize how broken the system actually was until he did the research. He didn’t know the magnitude of college debt or the scale to which a college degree does not create a lot of the outcomes we thought. He also points out this book is not just about college but also about education across the board (past elementary and secondary). He was shocked at just how little it actually delivers to the people going through it and how systemically the challenges are distributed across the entire landscape.
The conclusion he ultimately arrived at was that he doesn’t think college is fixable and this is not what he thought going into the process—he says there will have to be something new and different in it’s place. Another striking/frustrating aspect to the book is that when working with a publisher, at some point the manuscript gets locked and goes to the printer but Danny says he still keeps finding new research that he would’ve liked to include. For example, our expectation is that going to college means more in terms of lifelong earnings but the data actually shows that’s not the case. He explains why this is and also illustrates how the research found that attending the top tier of colleges (Ivy League) doesn’t necessarily correlate with higher earnings—a student could attend a lower tier and still make about the same.
[12:54] – I like the concept of “last mile” education that you introduce in the book. Please tell listeners a bit more about what that means and how it will function in the future of education. Danny explains how he divides post-secondary education into three categories and the value he sees in each:
- Foundational adult education – currently done mostly through college and specifically non-vocation granting college experiences.
- Last mile – refers to the bridge between whatever the foundation is and a career. Danny recommends the book, A New U: Faster + Cheaper Alternatives to College by Ryan Craig who he says coined the term “last mile” education.
- Continuing adult education – this is a huge and growing opportunity because one of the shifts we’re seeing in education is to provide less “just in case” education at the start of our career to more “just in time” education throughout our career.
[17:46] – How do you think traditional lifelong learning providers will fair in this new world of education? I have in mind providers like trade and professional associations or college continuing education divisions. Can these organizations really be nimble enough to thrive in this environment? Danny admits this is a tough question with no yes or no answer, rather a bit of both. One of the topics he explored in his book was looking at where disruption comes from. And when you look at the incumbent versus any individual challenger, the odds are very heavily weighted towards the incumbent. However in aggregate, when you look at the incumbent versus all challengers that could arise, Danny explains the odds are very stacked towards the challengers and that there’s a reason why disruption tends to come from the outside.
[19:11] – For anyone who wants to jump into the online education business – or maybe kick-start their current business, what is some the most critical advice you would give? Danny shares that one broad market/industry shift that’s really important to think about and plan for is that people’s expectations from education have changed a lot. It has mostly been about transferring knowledge but that’s because there was no other way to do it. However today we live in an era where information/knowledge is abundant. So the need of what education has to do has changed—it’s much less about transmitting information and much more about delivering competency and capability which is a much harder thing to do. It’s especially challenging because in parallel we’re also moving from education being mostly mandatory to education being volitional. Danny talks about how this idea of choice is great because it offers a lot of flexibility but it’s harder for people to consume. So the big thing people need to think about when designing curriculum is that it’s less about what you want to teach or even what people want to learn and more about how good at it they have it to be having learned it. Danny says there are three steps in a learning process: the consumption of the content, application of what you’ve learned, and feedback on how well you’ve got it and what needs to change. We need to shift a lot of our work away from the consumption part and spend more time with our students on the application and the feedback ,which is where real competency comes from.
[22:56] – It would also be good to address the title “Leveraged Learning” – why did you choose that as the title of this book? Danny explains how through most of the history of education there’s been a tradeoff—either you work more closely and intensively with a few people or you essentially water it down and work with a lot more people. So do you help a few people very much or a lot of people a little? This tradeoff is what has prevented a lot of people from getting where they want to go. He cites research done by Benjamin Bloom in the 80’s that found the average student that received the mastery approach to learning and individual instruction performed at the 99th percentile of the regular class. So we’ve known what it takes to help the average person perform at this level but the challenge is we don’t have the time or the money to actually do it. It’s not that people need to necessarily change what they’re spending on education, we just need to much better invest it, which allows us to transcend that tradeoff to finally move towards a place of deeply helping a lot of people.
[26:35] – As a result of writing this book, is there anything you plan to do differently at your own company? Danny says yes and no. Yes because the research they do is constantly shaping their ideas and work. And no because he started writing the book because he already had certain ideas about what’s going on and had been running tests internally around how they can act on these. One thing they had started doing in the past few years – and will continue to do – is around a concept he discusses in the book called the “triangle of learning”. He explains that one corner is knowledge and that you also want learners to develop insight to extract something new which is not easy. Another thing he encountered after the book went to print was research about flow and flow states—if you’re looking to achieve a flow state, the balance of difficulty to your ability is supposed to be 104%–so 4% harder than your best. Staying in that zone (of proximal development) is hard and while some people persevere, many quit. Danny says the third leg of this is fortitude—everything that comes under the umbrella of positive psychology research (grit, resilience, mindfulness, etc.).
[29:31] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education? Danny shares that it has been writing this book and he explains how and why the process of doing it was so impactful.
[32:39] – How to connect with Danny and/or learn more:
- Amazon: Leveraged Learning: How the Disruption of Education Helps Lifelong Learners and Experts with Something to Teach
- Free online version: https://leveragedlearningbook.com
[34:14]– Wrap Up
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[36:34] – Sign off