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(This blog is excerpted from an article that originally appeared on Forbes.com.)

A great place to launch new products and services is often in places where there is no competition. Finding such an area of nonconsumption—where customers can be delighted by something that is infinitely better than their alternative (nothing at all)—is key to launching a disruptive innovation.

Spotting and sizing a nonconsumption opportunity is often challenging, however, because there is, by definition, no existing market.

These two factors are part of what makes the market for helping adults learn basic skills or develop workforce skills so intriguing.

Thanks to reports by Digital Promise, Tyton Partners, and others, we know that there is a significant number of adults—roughly 36 million—in the United States who are low skilled, in many cases lacking basic numeracy or literacy skills. Yet only 11 percent—just shy of 4 million—adults who lack these skills are served by the public and private educational system today. In other words, some 32 million adults are nonconsumers of basic education that could help them gain critical skills to bolster their lives and society, according to Tyton Partners.

A new report being released at LearnLaunch’s Across Boundaries conference this week titled “Accelerating Change: A Guide to the Adult Learning Ed-Tech Market” from Digital Promise in partnership with Entangled Solutions (where I serve as a principal consultant) and the Joyce Foundation and written by Amber Laxton and Mike Berlin of Entangled Solutions and Patti Constantakis of Digital Promise, tackles how entrepreneurs can serve this market, which remains unknown to many.

As Vinod Lobo, CEO of Learning Upgrade, a company that serves the adult learning market with online courses, says in the report, “The best part of the adult learning market right now is a lack of a leading company. In K–12, there is just so much competition. You go to a conference, and there are 30 other products just like yours. In the adult market, it’s just not like that. People are waiting for something. They’re starved for some solutions. So, I think, there is more room for innovation and for small companies to do well and to be heard. That’s the excitement of it. A small company has an advantage because this is too small of a market or too fragmented of a market for the big companies.”

That is the textbook foundation for disruption—a market that appears small and inconsequential to leading incumbents. And the new report illustrates that technology can play a critical role, another important ingredient for disruptive innovation.

Read Accelerating Change: A Guide to the Adult Learning Ed-Tech Markehere.

 


About Michael Horn

Michael Horn speaks and writes about the future of education and works with a portfolio of education organizations to improve the life of each and every student. He is the co-founder of and a distinguished fellow at the Clayton Christensen Institute for Disruptive Innovation, a non-profit think tank, and he serves as a principal consultant for Entangled Solutions.

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