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Anyone's Learning Experience (ALEX)

We are increasing access to higher education by creating an online marketplace for in-person courses for career advancement.

Photo of Sergio Marrero
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ALEX is an online marketplace where people advance their careers by taking individual in-person courses from across colleges, universities, and training programs. ALEX empowers professionals to learn exactly what they want, when they want, and as they can afford it. In a world where we can place people in empty seats in cars and empty beds in houses, ALEX places people in empty seats in college classrooms. ALEX is uniquely positioning itself in alignment with employers to provide tuition subsidies as a method of improving employee development and retention while reducing costs for users. Our solution provides benefits for all stakeholders involved. Learners control their education by selecting courses that fit their budget, schedule, and goals. Schools monetize their excess capacity that would have otherwise been wasted, increase access to more prospective students, and offer certifications on the way to obtaining a traditional degree. Employers subsidize classes for employees as a method of reducing internal training costs while improving employee development and retention. ALEX brings higher education to people who can't afford full programs, enables people to advance professionally by taking university courses one at a time, and provides workers with access to earnings growth potential of 9-27% resulting in billions in increased earnings. ALEX is the ‘Expedia’ for higher education.

ALEX is solving the skill gap between the talent that companies need and the education institutions provide. By 2018, 78% of all available jobs will require education beyond high school. As a result, there will be a shortfall of 3M workers with the appropriate education to fill these jobs.  Meanwhile, the cost of attending college has risen over 80% in the last 10 years, while the results are abysmal - 45% of graduates end up in jobs that don’t require a degree and outside of their field of study. While university training is meant to provide relevant skills to obtain jobs, the ‘bundled’ approach of higher education has become increasingly inaccessible and out-of-date. Simultaneously, over 2M seats go unfilled in college classrooms across the U.S. per year. Excess capacity in educational institutions is wasted while economically disadvantaged populations struggle to gain access to the courses necessary to adequately meet the current and future workforce demands.

Anyone's Learning Experience (ALEX) is an online marketplace of in-person courses for career advancement. We take the empty seats of in-person courses from educational providers including universities, colleges, and vocational programs and listen them in an online marketplace for learners to purchase. Working learners visit and can search for courses by location and interest and enroll in a few clicks. For learners we streamline the search process for courses replacing the antiquated and fragmented process of going to each provider website and browsing the pages of PDFs and multiple formats. In addition we suggested courses aligned with learners current jobs and desired positions. For schools we provide a method of monetizing excess capacity that would otherwise have gone wasted. For employers we provide a source for training to retain and develop their talent. We are a marketplace of courses bridging the skills gap and building a platform for the future of higher education and workforce training.

Who is your idea designed for and how does it reimagine higher education to support the needs of tomorrow?

Our idea is designed for 'working learners'. Over 60% of the U.S. and 93% of the world do not have a higher education degree. On the other side 45% of learners who have a degree are in jobs that don't require them. There is a clear mismatch in the learning educational institutions provide and what the workforce demands. Enabling individuals to take one course at a time, allows learners to train and retrain to make sure they continuously have the skills that match the needs of the workforce.

This idea emerged from:

  • A group brainstorm
  • An individual

What skills, input or guidance from the OpenIDEO community would be most helpful in building out or refining your idea?

Ideas on how to better connect with companies to help them retain and develop talent, while making higher education affordable to employees. We have interviewed employees at hospitality, food services, and retail - all industries where you can advance with incremental higher education and employees want the training, but we need to work with human resources and leadership to offer training aligned with their job to employees.

What early, lightweight experiment might you try out in your own community to find out if the idea will meet your expectations?

We on-boarded 7 institutions and 35K courses over the last 5 months, demonstrating willingness from schools to participate. We have conducted over 100 user interviews and identified users are a point of professional transition as the target. Our next sets of tests have been landing pages on key Facebook groups offering to help in a career transition to identify our beachhead mkt. Here is a video on how we have pivoted and what we have learned in the last few months:

Tell us about your work experience:

Team: Sergio, CEO, Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School, serial edtech entrepreneur, Deloitte Consulting, Teach for America Alana, CCO, Harvard Graduate School of Education, Boston Children's Hospital, design, front-end dev Anabell, CTO, Northeastern University, EcoVent, GoCode, Procter & Gamble, Development, Full-stack engineering, Python, SQL, HTML, CSS, and Javascript

How would you describe this idea while in an elevator with someone? 2-3 sentences.

We are a marketplace for courses. When you are going for a promotion, career switching, or need to fulfill requirements to enter a degree program, you can come to ALEX. We are the place to find the in-person courses in your local area you need to advance professionally.

What is the specific problem your idea is trying to solve? 1 sentence.

We are connecting workers who can't leave there job to enter a degree program full-time with the skills and community to advance professionally.

How is your idea different or unique from what is currently on the market?

Most other modular learning options are online and do not connect learners to the community and network to build relationships and social capital beyond the course content.

How do you plan to measure the impact of your idea?

Our outputs (short-term measures) are number of students served, courses completed, and revenue saved for learners (the difference between the list price and price paid). Our outcome (short-term measure) is increased earnings tracked from surveying learners on wage and salary changes over time. More info:

How might your idea be transferable to a large number of people?

ALEX is an online marketplace of in-person courses for career advancement. We connect people to the empty seats in courses across universities. In a world where we can place people in empty seats in cars, ALEX places people in empty seats in college classrooms. ALEX empowers workers and career switchers to select courses that fit their budget, schedule, and career without leaving the workplace or going into debt - connecting people to the experience and network for career advancement.

What are your immediate next steps after the challenge?

(1) Onboard as many schools from supply side (2) Iterate on the user experience and test with different user segments (personas) to identify out beachhead market (3) use a combination of financial feasibility and user feedback to determine what group of user to focus on initially (4) interview employers about partnerships to develop talent. More on Fin Model: More on Comp: Prioritizing research b/c of interest in the education to career matching.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Nicole Sorci

I love this idea! It is nice to see that you are serving the needs of both students and universities. I would love to see how you develop certifications along the way to getting a traditional degree. It is great to give students the opportunity to go at their own pace (and budget). I am curious to see what happens if they are only able to complete a few courses. What does certification look like in these cases? Excited to see more!

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