True or false on the cultural learning industry in Russia
Russia’s cultural history - from poetry to art, to music to ballet, and institutions like the Bolshoi, Tretyakov, Garage - is known worldwide and highly revered by its people. We met two cultural education startups (Science.me and Synchronization) in Moscow and tested our ideas about culture, learning, business and society in the capital.
“Digital is the future”
Unsurprisingly, digital is key to growth, and one of the only ways to achieve scale. It can be either by using a website as a booking platform to communicate on events (register and pay are an option) or by developing e-seminars and digital formats. This is also an opportunity for Russian companies to address a worldwide market.
At the same time, we find that person to person interaction is a valuable asset, especially in culture, and one that tempts people back into learning - so ideally, digital should be combined with or provided in addition to in-person interaction. Science.me has been successfully implementing a Telegram channel dedicated to learning about design. This is an example of convivial and interactive digital learning.
Strategy by Anastasia Kopyttseva
“Internet suppressed the need to learn anything. Now, only knowing how and where to find information maters”.
As our guests Anna, Vera and Sasha (+links) testified, startups and companies in the learning industry are fast developing these days in Moscow, meeting the demand of numerous people keen on keeping learning after the finished universities or when their family lives are less intense. Informal learning is providing the audience with knowledge as well as a quality social life and opportunities meet people with similar interests. This huge growth area apply to adults as well as children.
“Access to information has never been easier”
With billions of web pages and the rise of fake news, in spite of wikipedia’s effort to check their collaboratively written content, access true information can still be challenging. Besides, the flow of ever new content can mislead us, when it is not simply drowning us in anxiety : how can we keep up to speed ? By creating interesting content delivered in a comprehensible language, educational programs provide their audience with the healthy distance and key information we often need to embrace the complexity of our contemporary environment.
“Learning is no longer just about education, but experience”
A key factor we found in both Science.me and Synchronisation is that the popularity of their product stems from the offer they provide in today’s experience economy. Education - particularly informal education - works in the same way. Making a choice of what you do in your limited spare time means that you will sign up to something that you enjoy, where you can meet new people, cultivate new skills and information and learn from experts. Ideally it won’t take up too much time, be in inconvenient locations or at inconvenient times, require too much home study or cost a lot of money. There are still plenty of part-time University courses and online courses - but the model of providing a social and enjoyable learning experience is growing exponentially.
“Create a great product, and the audience will follow”
Their products are innovative, but both Science.me and Synchronisation have found their success as a result of learning as much as they can about their audiences and delivering something that has value for them. Synchronisation, for example, follow international approaches to understand audience segments based on people’s cultural consumption and emotional attitudes. They know that their audience is mostly made of working professionals, post-University, 25 - 47 years being the core, and adjust their customer journey map to reflect this.
The audience is not only a customer but a great source of inspiration and information. They often poll participants on the type of new content they would like to see on a specific theme (for example, physics), or hold public polls to find out what people would like to see on the public programmes.
Artwork by Cheap Sasha - exhibited at the Artis Gallery.
“Focussing on one audience makes a company more successful”
As we learned from talking to Anna Sedova, at Synchronisation, a diverse audience is an asset. While the majority of their offer is the public programme - for someone who might want to learn about Van Gogh after work - they offer corporate programmes for companies who want to give their employees a learning or professional development experience that is ‘a little different’. Having a social purpose but meeting corporate demand seems to be a good way to become sustainable and to grow. As we found out from Sasha and Vera, Sciences.me are keeping the flexibility to programme directly for a public audience or as a result of a gallery’s commission.
“Partnering with others provides conditions for growth and much more”
Whether it’s partnering with the Ministry of Education (key for children and young people’s educational platforms) or cultural organisations, partnership working is key for the contemporary entrepreneur. This could be in terms of growth (e.g. embedding a children’s programme into the curriculum), offer for customers (hosting a great event in an inspirational and relevant cultural exhibition) or capacity (sharing logistical organisation and even office space). Long gone are the days of ‘going it alone’ or where the only partner might traditionally be the investor - we now operate in a networked economy.
“Contemporary art is for happy few”
Expert say that visual art and anthropology will be among the main interests in the future, as tools to help people understand the world, give meaning and perspective. Increasingly, it looks like a key part of what people want is to understand art and culture as a bigger part of the humanities and sciences, not only as a concrete subject area.
To avoid fueling the feeling that contemporary art would be incomprehensible without a PHD of art history, it’s important who delivers this content - and how. Synchronisation have a thorough vetting process for all their lecturers and in-house content specialists, so the educational content really is created by experts, whether they are academics or practitioners, or both. Together, the team and the lecturer iteratively test and rehearse content until it’s perfect for their audience.
Science.me has grown due to the scientific expertise and network of its founders, Sasha and Vera, which we imagine is a key offer for their cultural customers, as well as their open approach to any topic. One may find that rather than masterpiece thorough study, a good lecture provide the audience with key facts and information relevant to our current time, as attested by the success of the program about Love they organized in the Museum of Moscow.
Artwork by Cheap Sasha - exhibited at the Artis Gallery
“Russia is a very cultivated and intellectual country”
It might just be anecdotal, but we feel that the average person in Moscow has a strong level of general cultural knowledge and is eager to keep learning. More than just knowledge, there is a very strong and emotional relationship between Russians and their great artists: (play)writers, poets, composers, directors, dancers, painters… Furthermore, bearing in mind the events of the last century, it is widely acknowledged that a whole part of Russian art history has been purposefully forgotten. While cultural institutions are trying to fill in the blanks by constituting an archive as complete as possible, educational programs are an opportunity to democratize the current revised version of history and culture, more complete than that which was taught in Soviet schools. Somehow, it doesn’t seem a coincidence that rising learning startups are being founded by the younger generation. By spreading knowledge, they are helping to shorten the distance between the cultural references of their parents.