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Freemium + Open Source = Freemium Source Education

A combination of the Freemium business model and open source community. Together Everyone Achieves More

Photo of Abraham Castro
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Who is the target audience for your idea and how does it reimagine the cost of college?

My target audience is anyone willing to gain a quality education at an optimal cost.

Imagine building a village. At first, everyone begins to pitch in. They don't have much money but they volunteer their time and efforts into the design and begin to create a tangible vision. The smaller houses go up first, next comes the Town hall. Now, we need to live together, so we each take the skills that we are good at and buy, sell, or trade to whomever is interested.This collaborative solution works well for any concept. In particular, it will provide the optimal cost-quality solution for the achievement of higher education. 

In the research phase, the notion of Freemium education and an open community platform for educational achievement were introduced. Combining the free entry to a collegiate degree with the availability of open sources of knowledge and volunteering, higher education doesn't seem as costly as it used to look. Collaboration between the two ideas, and between the educational population and institution, could lead to an optimal, cost-effective degree that everyone would be able to benefit from. 

Let's start with the Freemium portion. How could an educational institution provide quality education at no cost? In short, they won't. However, this is not the purpose of the Freemium model. The free aspect is there to draw in, or market, your service or product. It provides a greater understanding of the quality services of a business and will get users to partake in them. After a while, users will want to increase their bandwidth, or availability of this product; this is where the premium aspect comes in to play. Sure, you could satisfy fundamental needs with the free business model, however as the user diversifies and develops more complex needs, the premium model is the only way to be assess the problem.

That being said, lets translate this into a university model. At first, an educational institution will grant incoming students a free education for the first two years of school. This is where the concept of open source ties into the equation. A university could incorporate its well vested sources of knowledge and networking capabilities. They can ask business corporations to donate their time and expertise for speakers to bring a concept, theory, or fundamental education to students. This will add great PR to the business for delivering pro bono education and consultations to the developing student body. This will decrease educational costs for the university since their won't be the need to have someone on the payroll to deliver and grade the course concepts. Also, this will eliminate the purchase of a class that is "basic" for all students allowing them to conserve money for future courses.

Furthermore, universities will create simplistic software applications that will incorporate an open source community to discuss the current lecture, conduct surveys and quizzes, as well as gather live data in order to tailor, or steer, the education provided to better meet a students needs. This is Freemium at its best. Students will now have real-world knowledge on course topics and have a much better understanding of how it has been utilized in the industry or their field of study. This could continue on for all basic courses required in educational institutions. Ultimately, collaboration between students via an open source community (such as Piazza, or Canvas group postings) could drive deeper thoughts for both students and educators - utilizing and advanced degree feel to the basic education experience. Students are now hooked on the institution and will spend to finish their degree at their current university.

Primarily, retired professionals would be the targets to delivery such insightful lectures since they might have the most time to attend multiple lectures, but currently employed professionals would be benefiting from this as well. Many corporations have days (paid time off) set aside for their employees to attend a volunteering event of their choice, thus some would elect to use this time to share some knowledge they wish they had during school. Now that students have been hooked on the quality of this free education, they will be willing to pay for advanced courses. Hearing the fundamental applications from direct sources will also allow students to better understand what major of study they would like to employ. This will decrease costs since such insight into the professional application of subjects could deter students from investing time - and financial resources - towards a degree that they will most likely opt out of. Universities would then make money by charging a premium for advanced course, much more specialized to fit appropriate degree paths. Furthermore, student often find the better educators through online platforms. This data could come from the open source community application previously mentioned. Institutions can now up charge the higher demanded professors or educators - driven by your basic supply and demand economics. 

Now let's go just a bit further. Students are now fully invested in a university and have paid for the education they would like to pursue. This education could be priced by individual courses that a student has elected to take. In order to generate higher revenue for the universities, the institution could grant certifications and higher educational courses throughout the baccalaureate tenure. Here students will get even higher educational status and advancement if they choose to pay for it. These courses will allow students to better procure education by eliminating unwanted expenditures for basic curriculum and pay for a better quality education for the optimal price point. 

Students could now attain higher education faster, cheaper, and with a better understanding of what they would like to spend their money on to build their professional development. 

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

This is currently being done in one of my courses. Each day we have a guest speaker come in to talk about a subject matter on our course syllabus. He, or she, uses this to talk about their daily job duties and shows us how the course work is actively used in real-world applications, not just in theory.

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

The availability of current professors and educational institutions willing to provide a proof of concept. The software application will also call for some developers to initiate the proof of concept.

This idea emerged from

  • An Individual

Are you interested in the Path to Pitching track we've developed for this challenge?

  • Yes


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Photo of Joanna Spoth

Great post, Abraham! I'm curious to learn more about how your current course came about. Who were the main people who pushed for that at your university and what other goals do they have? I'm also excited to see the financial piece built out a bit more. You mention the first two years of the education would be free. Is that made appealing from the university's perspective? What partnerships might they need to build out before they're able to execute a model like that? Interviews are a great way to gather this information!

Photo of Abraham Castro

Hello Joanna,

Im not too sure who pushed for the course but my professor finds industry experts and heavily experience professionals to come talk about their roles and careers. A lot of them are project sponsors for the course. Project's are assigned to group member and we coordinate with the sponsors to get better perspectives on how to gather information and complete our projects. For example, my team is currently creating a framework on the differences between On-Premises software or Cloud (SaaS). We will develop a systematic plan to help consult people onto which path to take. We have interviewed many experts (PwC consultants, WholeFoods IT directors, Amazon Web Services Professionals) all pointed our way by our project sponsor.

Taking this same approach for all basic core curriculum could help the university develop free courses. The professionals in my class take time off their work and come in at no charge (I'm sure my professor talks to them and coordinates the best time for them to come and speak). This has captivated my attention and has brought better insight over the field of IT Security (the course topic). I am sure that this will do the same for other courses. By bringing in interesting topics, the university will look more appealing to students and drive in future revenues as they begin charging students for upper division course work. This is would allow students to save a huge deal of money by eliminating up to two years of course work and find insight into their major of choice. This will prove to be attractive to the university because it allows them to capture a larger population of students due to their tailored education system.

As far as partnerships, Universities could begin with their alumni association. Many will gladly be willing to partake in such course work - especially if they could teach just a lecture or two. Also, Business could provide such services as a way to attain Corporate Social Responsibility. A lot of business donate to schools as it is so why not utilize their professional staff to add even more value to an educational institution.

Photo of Joanna Spoth

Really interesting that courses have a sponsor and students work on a real life application of the skills they're using. I'm curious to know how this model impacts the finances of your school, if at all. Do you mind me asking what school you're at and the degree you're pursuing? I think the sponsorship model is different from a few different perspectives, including sponsorship at the student level, course level, major level or beyond.

Photo of Abraham Castro


Sorry for the late reply. I attend the University of Texas at Austin and am pursuing a degree in Management Information Systems. I understand that the sponsorship might be difficult to replicate across all levels, however the concept should remain somewhat stagnant. This will help the students better understand the material that they are provided. Now I know that History might be one of those where sponsorship could be hard to replicate, but there could be an online option to further reduce the cost of a student enrolling in the course. 

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