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Online Language Learning Site to Add Textbook Content
Posted by Donald A. DePalma on March 12, 2009  in the following blogs: Business Globalization, Best Practices, Translation and Localization
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Livemocha, which bills itself as the world’s largest online community of language learners, this week announced a strategic partnership with Pearson, a major international textbook publisher. In the first of what it plans as a series of partnerships with other content producers, Livemocha will bring Pearson's English-learning content to its language training and learning site.

Livemocha is a community-based language-learning destination that came into existence in September 2007, founded in Bellevue, Washington by a gaggle of former Microserfs. Based on estimates of US$20 billion in worldwide language education, the team scored US$6 million in venture capital from Seattle-based Maveron. When we first spoke with Livemocha CEO Shirish Nadkarni in September 2008, the social networking site had just celebrated its one millionth registration. When we caught up with him and marketing VP Clint Schmidt this week, they told us that Livemocha now has two million registered users.

Two million registered users? If you ever tried to learn a language on your own, you probably know that it's easy to drop out of a course when you don't have a set schedule and an ultimate grade hanging over your head. Who doesn't have a Pimsleur or Rosetta Stone box gathering dust on their shelf? So, our first question was "how many people actually get past the first lesson?" That query relates directly to Livemocha’s potential for monetizing what is today a mostly free, ad-sponsored offering:
  • Continue attracting and retaining eyeballs. Schmidt told us that 42 percent of visitors return to the site more than nine times per month, spending an average of 15 to 16 minutes. He keeps a tight watch on retention rates. He said that he undertakes a monthly cohort analysis, grabbing a batch of people who registered, follows them over time, and compares it with previous cohorts. He says that each successive cohort has been more active than the last, thus indicating that the site is getting stickier -- and providing more reasons for advertisers and partners to sign on.

  • Encourage learners to sign up for premium content. To date, Livemocha has relied on its users to learn and teach a wide array of languages, mostly in a community-based exchange of linguistic expertise. Those with language fluency help those without, leading to what the company calls a "reciprocal learning dynamic." While the RLD model benefits the participants, it doesn't do much in the way of keeping the lights on at Livemocha. Enter premium content: Nadkarni says the Pearson deal, which will result in a paid-only English course, will offer more instructional depth than the community-taught option, thus offering more value for which he thinks engaged language-learners will pay. Nadkarni told us about some other initiatives to bring in more revenue, such as a crash course that teaches last-minute travelers 500 essential phrases, premium offerings in French and Spanish, and live scheduled English conversational tutoring. Schmidt says that structured corporate language training, an enabling service for business globalization, is in Livemocha's future, but not until they perfect current efforts at monetizing the site.

  • Partner with other premium content providers. Livemocha will share revenue with Pearson for each of the course components that its language-learners buy. Nadkarni says that the Pearson deal is exclusive to general English language learning, but does not cover test preparation, business, other specialized courses, or any other language. Livemocha reserves the right to bring in other publishers for other languages. We think that language textbook publishers will queue up to partner. Their paper-based or DVD-ROM products are expensive to produce and update, are sold through limited channels on a seasonal basis, and require large-scale commitments to break even. This revenue-sharing move benefits everybody: Livemocha adds proven coursework, traditional publishers such as Pearson can push their content directly to consumers, and Livemocha’s global community receives a new option.

  • Add more languages. Following the lead of companies like Facebook and Plaxo that we profiled in our report on "Translation of, for, and by the People," Livemocha created a crowdsourced translation hub that lets its community translate lesson content and the site itself. The latest candidate language is Cherokee. Meanwhile, Livemocha has been coordinating the addition of Arabic as the next language offering to be entirely translated by the community. Once the entire text and audio course has been translated and signed off on by community experts, it will be available as another free course on Livemocha.
The future for its initiatives look very promising. Livemocha has created an engaged social networking community, made its site a frequent destination for its members, is on the lookout for more content to add, and benefits from its online ability to keep its courses fresh and relevant. Its biggest challenge remains making money, something that it is actively addressing with consumers but will surely pull more revenue once it can offer paid structured courses to corporations and government agencies.


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