Researching Online Education

We've blogged about many aspects of USV, including our investment thesis and our preferences on deal terms, but we've rarely shared our internal research on new markets and industries. On reflection, we've decided it would be better to make that work public.

Starting today, we'll share more of our preliminary work on specific markets, industries, and technologies on We hope it will be interesting and useful to you all, and we're looking forward to your feedback: what "required reading" did we miss? Which service must we try out? What conclusions have you drawn?

Our bias is toward openness, and we're glad when we can align our methods with our instincts. Blogging about our "proprietary" ideas and investment thesis has been personally satisfying and has helped Union Square Ventures. We expect publishing our research will yield similar outcomes.

First up is an overview of online education. The first section looks at whether web software can change students' outcomes and what sort of pedagogy could be appropriate for the internet. The second section overviews the higher education market in the United States. The third section includes information on efforts by American schools to link test scores and teacher performance.

The work led us to a few hypotheses:

  1. We're skeptical a business model that charges for content will work at scale and in the long run.
  2. We expect education platforms that offer vertical content and/or specific education experiences will be more successful than horizontal platforms, though we think credentials and careers offer two opportunities for horizontal aggregation
  3. Without credentialing or careers, online education seems aspirational and removed from the day-to-day of many people.

What do you think?

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