Risks, rewards involved in adopting new business models–even in Web 2.0

A couple of “down” days with a cold followed by watching the Superbowl led me to ponder new business models and web 2.0. 

online learningAs you recall, the Superbowl was played at University of Phoenix’s stadium.  UOP was one of the first educational institutions to adopt the distance learning model.  The upside to pushing the envelope is their phenomenal growth and still cutting-edge usage of technology (there are no regular textbooks, just e-books).  The downside: traditional institutions scoffed at degrees earned online.  Some business processes (such as incentives for recruitment) had to be tweaked for an educational model. 

Standards for online learning didn’t exist when they began some 30 years ago, but we’ve come a long way.  Departments of education (state and federal) now recognize these degrees through accreditation.  In some quarters, UOPs e-learning reputation overshadows the fact that they have 200 physical campuses too.  (What, a football stadium?)   (Disclosure: I am a part-time business instructor for UOP Harrisburg campus..but for that reason I know first-hand how stringent their academic standards are). 

When bloggers write about Web 2.0 business models, they generally mean how an entire business is modeled via the web 2. 0 world (Twitter, Google, Facebook, any new startup taking advantage of trends).  But I’m more concerned with how individual nonprofits have adapted to use web 2.0–and I’m not just talking about marketing or fundraising. A couple of years ago, Dion Hinchcliffe wrote this:

There’s a whole aspect of Web 2.0 that can drive genuine business value and significant competitive advantage

This applies to nonprofit as well as for-profit organizations.  

Awhile back, I did a presentation to a statewide network of family service agencies focused on adoption of technology in service delivery.  We examined internet “counseling,” which was first emerging. It usually consisted of sort of of email communications with a therapist.  I thought e-therapy had potential to reach consitutencies not reached through ordinary means—rural residents (if they had internet access), people without transportation, or those otherwise resistant to sharing personal information face-to-face. Well, the suggestion didn’t go over too well. 

Since then, e-therapy has moved forward.   A check of sites (I’m not endorsing these, as I have no knowledge of the quality of their services) such as asktheinternettherapist  and letstalkscounseling show added services including internet video counseling via instant messaging, Windows Live, and Skype. 

Certainly, there is a need for local services and face-to-face counseling where human service providers can make appropriate local referrals and interventions.  Many family service agencies end up dealing with unexpected issues–domestic violence, child abuse, and thoughts of suicide.  But I can’t help but wonder how these agencies can benefit from selective use of these technologies to reach clients in need.  Isn’t that where hotlines came from years ago? 

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