The best-known face of online learning today is a teenager from Mongolia—the "Boy Genius of Ulan Bator"—who surprised the world with a perfect score in MIT’s sophomore-level Circuits and Electronics course, completed via edX MOOC. But while tech-savvy teens may have been the early adopters of online learning, education companies are now eyeing a new potential user base: Baby Boomers.
"They're living longer, staying healthier, and they don't want to retire," says Sophie Vlessing, senior vice president of strategy and innovation for Kaplan. "They're interested in encore careers, they're interested in new possibilities. To me, that's such an opportunity to think about how learning could help them."
Kaplan, which offers online degrees and certificates in everything from nursing to real estate, today launched Learning Advisor in collaboration with the AARP. The site is designed as an entry point to online learning for aging Baby Boomer and Gen X students, who already comprise a significant portion of Kaplan's enrollment—though apart from the testimonials and stock photos, that targeting isn’t immediately obvious.
"What we've created here together is almost a GPS for learning," says Emilio Pardo, AARP executive vice president and president of AARP subsidiary Life Reimagined. For the older professional looking for new skills or to "up-skill" an existing area of expertise, Learning Advisor aspires to "help you become a more educated consumer about your learning experience."
Whether the site can deliver on that goal remains to be seen. Learning Advisor is divided into a directory of "free and paid online courses" from across the web on one side, and Kaplan "degrees and certifications" on the other. For the "online courses," the site offers a potentially useful combination of course descriptions and user reviews. But for the Kaplan courses, marketing copy takes the place of transparency. Moreover, the site’s structure has the potential to create the false impression that by definition "free and paid online courses" are not accredited.
Whether or not Learning Advisor becomes that "GPS," Kaplan and AARP have clearly identified a true opportunity. Millions have made career changes later in life—according to a MetLife Foundation/ Civic Ventures report, nearly half of Americans aged 44-70 have pursued a second career or expressed interest in doing so.
Vlessing, who recently attended her 20-year business school reunion, says that many of her peers are starting to think about "what comes next," after two decades or more in the labor pool. "You have to stay current, you have to stay fresh," she says. "Learning never ends. Just because you have a degree doesn't mean you're done."