How Econome Helps Learners Own Their Future Careers and Curate Individual Purpose
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“Build the skills you need to unleash your future,” says the Econome website. That’s exactly what this Australian-based learning community is setting out to do.
In our conversation with founder Alexander Horton, we learn how this budding community is on track to create prolific learning experiences designed to help people find purpose through careers they love by using Disco’s time-saving features.
Tell us about yourself and your role at Econome.
By trade, I’m a learning designer and have been for the past five years. I fell into it after I started a course on social entrepreneurship, but I found that students weren't finishing it as much as I would have liked because it wasn't a compulsory course and it was in person. Instead, I tried running it online and retention rates went up 100%. I found it so interesting, so I got into online learning design. I’ve made online learning experiences with corporate partners, nonprofits, NGOs, but I also work at Melbourne Business School.
Econome is the opportunity for me to create learning experiences that I'm really passionate about and that I think are missing in the market. It’s become a vehicle for me to experiment with new forms of learning.
Online learning design has become quite a stale industry. A lot of the time, people just do what's known or what's easy. I think with online learning — and learning in general — people aren't that imaginative around it. They just kind of hash together a simple video and slides and a PDF, but I think learning has the opportunity to be such a different experience.
We can really transform the industry to make it a lot more engaging and exciting. It can be the foundation of every industry and every single profession or practice. That’s what Econome represents to me: An opportunity to experiment, to play, to engage in things that I'm passionate about and, by extension of that, looking to try and use it as a vehicle to help people connect with what they're passionate about and what their life purpose is by providing learning pathways for them to gain the skills and experiences that better allow them to pursue the careers that they're interested in.
Human performance and sustainability are key to the Agile Academy mission. They’re another learning community that’s utilizing the Disco platform to improve the member experience and create life-changing courses.
We’re in full agreement with that mission. Tell us more about Econome’s origin story.
It started in 2019. At the time, I was just creating learning experiences for other people. I was bringing on clients that I would create courses for, but it was always their brief so it was limited in scope.
At the start of this year, I began to try and create our own brand and offer our own learning experiences. Now, we have one short learning experience that’s a five-week online course teaching people how to set net-zero strategy at the company level and we're launching a free accelerator next week, actually. It’s called The Impact Accelerator and it gives people exposure to what a career really looks like in the fields of impact investing, modern slavery, circular economy, and natural capital.
This year has been more focused on trying to build our own brand whereas, previously, I was building these experiences for other people. Those opportunities all kind of informed Econome and more cutting edge learning designs.
“Online learning design has become quite a stale industry. A lot of the time, people just do what's known or what's easy. I think with online learning — and learning in general — people aren't that imaginative around it.”
Do you still do client work, or are you invested full-time in building the Econome brand?
I'm still doing client work to fund the development of Econome, but I'm increasingly focused on community and developing community. We just launched our own community channel last week, and I've just taken on a role at Melbourne Business School as Community Manager there, so I'm learning a lot of skills around how to be a community manager and what that means to help inform what that will look like at Econome. I do really feel the future of education is in community-based education and bringing more social and emotional elements to learning within our learning experiences, so I'm trying to develop skills in that field and do that for Econome.
It sounds like the Econome ethos really aligns with ours at Disco. What’s your vision for this community?
My mission for Econome is to help people connect with their purpose in their professional lives.
I think the boundaries between life and work are getting increasingly blurred. I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. I think some people may be pushing back against that. Personally, I really enjoy my work and my job, and I get a lot of fulfillment and purpose out of it. But a lot of the time, the things that make me want to push back against having those boundaries blurred is that, at your work, you're dealing with people that don't prioritize that sense of community or personal touch or humanity in their day to day interactions.I want to be able to create a community that prioritizes that and that uses education as a vehicle to help each other out in finding their purpose, finding that next role, or finding that next project that allows them to build careers that they're really passionate about.
Humanizing community to humanize learning. We love that. Is it just you working on Econome right now?
It's pretty much just me, but with the Impact Accelerator, I’ve partnered with two other organizations. We're trying to strategically partner with people with our accelerators to help push our brand.
I had a co-founder, but he recently stepped back. That’s part of the reason I love Disco — it makes running this thing solo a lot easier.
There’s a lot to do as a solopreneur, especially in learning. How often are you running courses?
I’ve run two cohorts of the net zero strategy course. They’ve been pretty intimate, about ten people a piece. I’m launching another one in about three weeks, because they tend to revolve around my schedule.
This is the first time I’m running the Impact Accelerator, and it will be 35-40 people. I want to try and get corporate sponsorship for the accelerator next year to develop it more.
“I do really feel the future of education is in community-based education and bringing more social and emotional elements to learning within our learning experiences.”
So you mentioned you have a Slack community. How big is that community? And how are you activating alumni within it?
I only just launched Slack last week, so it’s very new. I’m really trying to figure these things out in the moment. With the accelerator, we’re going to host launch drinks and closing drinks in Melbourne and Sydney.
Once the community grows a little bit, I’m really interested in figuring out ways people can graduate through the ranks and become a facilitator or a mentor or become a subject matter expert where they can create their own course within the experience.
I’m inspired by other models here in Australia like Earlywork – they run local events and have a culture where people want to help host and attend. I like bringing the physical aspect to networking. That’s something I really want to double down on.
Online learning is awesome, but it’s always great to connect IRL. How are you marketing Econome?
Right now, I’m really just marketing through the Impact Accelerator. It's an educational program, but it's a free educational program, so we've had 36 people sign up for that. They're all going to go through the Econome experience and, hopefully, talk to their friends about it. We're going to create a tile that people can share on social media saying that they've been accepted into the Impact Accelerator.
I think our core piece of marketing right now is going to be that program and act as a way to bring people in, help them get a feeling of what it's like to learn with Econome, then give them a little bit more clarity into the direction of their career.
We're working on building another accelerator called the Future Skills Accelerator, which is in digital marketing, product design, and different sorts of skills. The intention is that, once we've built those accelerators, we'll start building more individualized courses in other fields that allow members to develop more specialized skills. Moving forward, marketing will revolve around giving people an opportunity to learn something for free.
What does the net zero strategy course cost?
You can do the solo learning experience for $175 or in a cohort for $249. I want to keep it relatively accessible. I believe very strongly in that.
Democratize entrepreneurship at scale; this is the YSpace mission, and this is how they’re using Disco to connect like-minded founders through their incubator programs.
What does scaling Econome look like to you — more courses? More offerings? Bigger cohorts? Bigger team?
I'm imagining way more courses and a self-sustaining community that takes ownership over helping to shape the direction of Econome’s existence.
I'm also really interested in the intersection between the workforce and education. I think there's a huge opportunity in that space. Organizations are having to upskill so quickly with the development of the economy and freelance working and all that jazz. People, especially Gen Z, are becoming more and more comfortable with juggling multiple careers. I think that's going to become increasingly more the norm. I want to create a platform that helps to enable people to navigate that world.
“I had a co-founder, but he recently stepped back. That’s part of the reason I love Disco — it makes running this thing solo a lot easier.”
I 100% want to build a bigger team, I just don’t know when. I'm really interested in building products that maybe utilize AI to create a career path for someone. Once the tool has created that career path, it becomes malleable, but it creates the learning they need to do each step of the way to take that next step in their career.
Once I’ve fleshed out Econome a little bit more in terms of the areas we play in, from an educational point of view, I'd be interested in putting together a pitch deck in that sort of space and trying to get some investment to build it.
So you’d definitely consider yourself an early-stage or emerging learning community.
Totally early stage. I’ve come to realize that for a community to be successful, I need to put scaffolding in place to give the community a leading role in building itself.
More broadly, where is the future of learning headed in your opinion?
- The future of learning, if it's not there already, is people are learning as required on the job. We don't necessarily design our learning experiences based around that reality. Incorporating more project-based and actual on-the-job experiences into our designs is going to be pretty crucial to making that happen.
- The future of learning is obviously going to be a lot more disaggregated and modular. People are going to be able to pick their own learning journey as opposed to having to sign up for a degree or a particular course. Learning will instead become tailored to what the learner is needing, because people might not need a whole course on, say, data analytics, they may just need like one little component of that. I think people should be able to pick and choose which components of a learning experience they need.
- The future of learning is online. I'm not trying to take away from physical learning. I think physical learning is really important, but I think we haven't properly harnessed online learning. It offers us the opportunity to travel around the world a lot more freely, and work on an actual project whilst they're learning about it online. I think we just need to get more imaginative around breaking down the boundaries between learning physically and learning online. Learning online can play a supporting role in enabling the way that people move physically throughout the world.
Accessibility and affordability are pillars of the allWomen mission, and this women-led team is using Disco to help unlock access to tech careers at global scale. Learn more about them here.
Affordability, accessibility, and flexibility. Love that. Let’s pivot to Disco. Were we the first platform you used to run your courses?
I have run courses through other platforms like Thinkific and Circle, but I had not yet found a platform that met the UX/UI requirements I was looking for because, to my earlier point, learning should be modernized. In 2022, for some reason, a lot of LMS is out there weren’t prioritizing it. When I saw Disco, I was really excited about that. It just had all the core functionality that I thought was necessary for running and scaling online learning. I was trying to figure out how to better position Econome so I could get investment or build my skills to build a learning experience that was a lot more modern and I was spending a lot of time trying to figure that out. When I came across Disco, it was a very welcome break.
How did you learn about us?
I listened to a Tim Ferriss podcast with Margaret Atwood. Her course is currently live on Disco, which is awesome.
That’s awesome to hear! Okay, but what Disco features have been the most helpful to you in meeting goals or solving for challenges?
I think the fact that the event invites sync with people’s calendar when they click attending makes life a lot easier. I like that there are individual profiles for all members. Plus, the curriculum layout is clean and fresh. I like that when you post to the feed, you can also automatically push it to people's email.
Can you quantify the amount of time saved by using Disco, especially for you as a sole founder?
I set up and launched the Impact Accelerator yesterday, within, like, half a day, including setting up onboarding calls, inviting people to the platform, sending out comms about what they should be expecting from the course and that sort of stuff. more as you know, That previously would have taken probably a full day or even two days, so it saved me a lot of time.
Let’s put it this way — Disco probably saved me from having to hire another person and having to get someone else to help out with this type of stuff. It cuts down my administrative time significantly and allows me to visualize where all my users are and how they're moving through a learning experience and what levers I may need to pull to try and encourage them to do the next step. It just takes on the labor of another person.
That’s great to hear. Has it had much impact on the learner experience?
I'm interested to see how this Impact Accelerator goes, because it's the first learning experience I will have run with a larger cohort. Previously, the cohorts have all been relatively small.
Some initial feedback: In some of the onboarding calls I had with new members, they really appreciate the user experience. It’s really easy to use compared to other online learning experiences. Other online course platforms do it in a fragmented way and try to use a really extensive tech stack.
I think having a platform for the end user was the biggest priority, and that’s ultimately why I chose Disco.
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