Online learning and media business: experiences and opportunities

min read


As a media professional, how would you react if you read that you can learn the basics of a media profession in a couple of hours? Do you think that what you spent years on learning and practicing can be taught in one course? Maybe not, but the online courses suggest that it is possible. And the media outlets should take a stance on this.

Online learning is a big market, more than a decade old, and the Covid pandemic only accelerated its development. There is a substantial B2C market offering journalism and media related courses, targeting various types of population, from students to professionals in various industries. However, one thing is striking: most of these courses are not offered by media outlets.

This article aims to present the global trends driving the online learning market and suggest ideas for possible educational formats to be developed by media outlets in the Western Balkans.

The structure of global e-learning market for media professionals

The online market offering media and journalism related courses is booming. The market is dominated by the US-based online platforms, such as Udemy, LinkedIn Learning, Skillshare and Masterclass. Users can learn how to start a podcast, how to become successful bloggers, get some fundamentals in investigative journalism, etc. and all for a reasonable price – courses start at 15 dollars.

The list of courses offered is very long, as numbers suggest it: Udemy, a platform gathering more than 50 million users, offers 164 courses on journalism and 8817 courses on media! 

These figures can be quite impressive and media outlets can certainly source some innovative ideas from these platforms. Platforms are well-made, videos are professionally produced, the content is inspirational, everything is supposed to create the impression of “ease and flow”. You are interested in mobile journalism? That is perfect, there is a course adapted to your level. Or maybe you prefer a course in entrepreneurship? Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin are here to share some insights into how to become a successful entrepreneur. Users have a huge choice, and everything seems at reach.

At the same time, as an education professional, I have certain concerns about the overall organization of these platforms, and I believe that you as media professionals feel the same. The quality of the courses’ content is not properly reviewed. Users can create and upload the course content quite easily. This means that self-proclaimed media specialists can create the content which will be labeled as “course”.

However, these “courses” very often turn out to be simple videos, the interaction with the professor is very limited. Users (or should we call them “students”) can get a certificate, but one must wonder – what is the value of such a certificate?


What can we learn from platforms offering media-related courses?

These platforms also raise some questions about the future of media business. There is a question about the necessary skills that media professionals need to develop, especially those related to the digital environment. In this sense, these platforms might give some innovative ideas to media professionals.

There is also a question of the global demand for media content: these platforms can give insights into what global users are looking for when it comes to the media profession, in terms of themes.

Finally, there is also a question of the overall business model of these platforms that can be inspiring for media businesses. These platforms are developed in partnership with other tech forces, mainly startups, and backed by substantial VC funds. This might seem too disconnected from the Western Balkan environment, but it points out the necessity to develop projects jointly with other business actors.

The visibility of these platforms makes them leaders in journalism and media related online courses.  However, few courses are offered by established media outlets. They are also not adapted to the local context. Do Western Balkan media businesses need to develop online platforms that will gather millions of users? Probably not. But they can certainly get inspired and produce some content responding to local challenges.


Courses and training as a viable source of income for Western Balkan media

Online learning platforms cannot be directly competed since they have been developing for more than 10 years, backed by substantial funds, and targeting millions of users. However, the content of these courses remains too general and limited in interaction. Without directly competing with these platforms, media businesses in the Western Balkans can use their expertise and legitimacy in producing more specific online courses for aspiring journalists and media professionals, adapted to the local challenges.

One inspirational example comes from the UK: The National Council for the Training of Journalists in the United Kingdom was founded in 1951 and has been in charge of supervising the training of journalists. The Council organizes several courses and events, including Journalism Skills Academy. Their courses include: Core Skills for All Journalists, PR and Communications for Journalists, Public Affairs for Journalists, Business and Finance Journalism and Distance Learning.

Western Balkan media outlets could also join their forces with academic institutions in producing courses on journalism and the media. In that sense, they can get inspired by successful partnerships between universities and platforms, such as Coursera, or Get Smarter. They produce content which considers political, cultural, and business challenges that media businesses currently encounter.

In the Western Balkan context, these courses could be offered to future media professionals and topics could be decided according to local business and social priorities. The list of the topics could also include business skills necessary for running media outlets in the Balkans or for cooperating with other economic and institutional stakeholders in the Balkans.

Another possibility is to tackle digital environment issues with partners from the tech entrepreneurial ecosystem. Digital environment is both challenging and offers many opportunities. Online platforms and universities offer various courses on producing news in the social media environment, the fake news phenomenon, internet and citizen journalism, mobile journalism and social media marketing. It seems a good opportunity that media outlets in the Balkans engage with these topics and offer courses and training on tech challenges and opportunities that media professionals are facing. These courses could be offered in partnership with tech startups and other tech actors. That would create more synergies between the media and the tech entrepreneurial ecosystem.


Going beyond media professionals as a target audience

Moreover, media outlets can use their legitimacy in offering educational formats on transferable skills for non-media audiences, both B2C and B2B. Media outlets could also consider the opportunity of offering capacity building courses for younger audiences (students and young professionals). These courses would aim at developing soft skills that are valued in a business environment: public speaking, effective communication (oral and written), media training, art of presenting oneself. Partnerships with digital actors would enable media to offer courses on personal branding, citizen journalism etc.

However, the risk of this business model is the effort – benefit ratio. As we have seen, the platforms that offer B2C formats have years and decades of visibility on the market or can invest important funds to develop such an offer. Most US-based platforms have been backed by substantial VC funds. Some of them have faced important financial difficulties or generate weak revenues.

B2C business models can therefore provide good inspiration for the quality of the educational content, but not necessarily for the business development of media outlets. The B2C format could be developed later when the general tech ecosystem in the Balkans attracts more investors.

Part of the above-mentioned topics could also be offered in a B2B format for companies who need to position themselves in the media environment.

For instance, media training and public speaking could be customized for top management of companies. Training on public and media relations could be very appealing to PR teams, as well as to marketing and sales teams. Finally, training on online branding and skills in the media space could also be interesting for HR teams in charge of career development of employees, not only in terms of their individual online branding, but also in terms of their corporate branding – employees being “ambassadors” of their companies.

This business model seems more plausible than B2C: media outlets could use their legitimacy and network in the field to attract local businesses and this process would need less financial means than B2C development.


Final things to keep in mind

Once these different options are explored, it is important to highlight that developing online educational formats needs skills that combine media expertise and educational formatting. Media expertise is crucial for developing good content, but it is not enough to guarantee its success. Media outlets should find educational partners to make sure that the educational format is properly conceived. Therefore the synergies between the media, education professionals, and the tech ecosystem seem necessary to guarantee the success.

Given the opportunities provided by online learning, it is certain that the online learning market will continue to develop even in the post pandemic world. Media outlets in the Balkans could benefit from this trend and use online learning opportunities for their business diversification. They would fill a gap in the Western Balkan market, where the interest for online formats exists.

The international benchmark has shown that the main actors are B2C platforms based in the US. This business model is not realistic for media outlets in the Balkans because of the necessary funds and time that building such platforms require. Media outlets in the Balkans could focus more on B2B models, where they would share their media expertise and transferable skills with established companies.

Another opportunity is to tackle the issue of media development in the digital environment. This could be done in partnerships with tech professionals and such training could target media professionals who need to update their technical skills. Creating such a platform in the Balkans would not just boost the competences of media professionals, but also create valuable synergies between the media and educational professionals with digital skills.

Sanja Beronja has gained ten years of professional experience on projects related to educational management and international cooperation in higher education, as a lecturer and program manager at the Faculty of Sciences Po in Paris. She has developed a passion for innovation in education there nd realized the importance of new technologies in creating educational content. She is currently a PhD researcher in the sociology of entrepreneurship at the School of Advanced Studies in Social Sciences in Paris. The topic of her doctoral dissertation is start-up entrepreneurship in Paris and Berlin. Sanja sees innovation in education and technological entrepreneurship as drivers of local development and researches and writes about these topics. She lives between Berlin and Paris and is active in those two cities, as well as in her native Belgrade.

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