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Supported by The Co‑operative Bank

The Learning Cooperative: Education with a radical, fair‑priced approach

Case study

8th September 2022
Co-op development
Student learning online

Discover the global tuition service that prices its courses based on what students can afford to pay…

When Franck Magennis met Ben Skippet at university, their shared interest in Marxism led them to explore economics from a left‑wing point of view – and together they set up the Post‑Crash Economic Society.

“From that came the idea to create a business based on a wealth index pricing model,” recalls Franck. “One that meets a person where they are at financially – with prices charged based on someone’s ability to pay.”

They decided to set up a tuition agency and in 2020 recruited Palestinian refugee Imtithal Audi. “We wanted the organisation to be political, anti-capitalist and to contribute to the Palestinian struggle for liberation from Israeli colonialism,” Franck continues.

Imtithal set up a website, a sliding scale price structure was established and The London Learning Cooperative was born, later renamed The Learning Cooperative.

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By creating and running this together, we’ve flipped the lid on how a company works and made it less of a mystery.
– Franck Magennis, The Learning Cooperative

“We were just about to start our first language tuition when the pandemic hit,” Franck recalls. “So we got a couple of Zoom accounts and became a global company overnight, that’s why we dropped the ‘London’ from our title.”

The co‑op grew rapidly, and working remotely meant they could recruit and teach people from all over the world. The organisation now has some 25 worker members from countries including Venezuela, Brazil, Pakistan and Palestine.

And in addition to languages, The Learning Cooperative teaches filmmaking, playwriting and graphic design, all with an anti-capitalist approach.

For Franck, being part of a co‑op is a more democratic way of doing business. “By creating and running this together, we’ve flipped the lid on how a company works and made it less of a mystery,” he explains.

“We wouldn’t be able to do that if it wasn’t so democratic – if the workers themselves weren’t able to determine the conditions of their own work.”

Student learning online

With the business ready to grow, and considering using an app to deliver learning, Franck and his colleagues took part in the 10‑week UnFound Accelerator – a programme to support the development of platform co‑ops.

Delivered by Co‑operatives UK and supported by The Co‑operative Bank, the programme draws on an extensive network of experts to help platform co‑ops plan their businesses and develop their products, strategy, branding and marketing.

“We’ve moved beyond our minimal viable product and want to supercharge the project. Turning it into a platform that increases accessibility is what we explored on the Accelerator.”

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The Accelerator helped us nail down our thinking. We already had a bunch of workers on board, so lots of different members could participate in the programme. One of the most important things was that it gave them the space to think about bigger strategic questions.
– Franck Magennis, The Learning Cooperative

“Some of our team don’t have much time to think bigger picture stuff through, so the programme gave them the chance to think more deeply about what The Learning Cooperative is and what it could be.

“At the moment we’ll have around eight people sign up for a language course for 10 weeks. With an app, there are no limits to the number of learners. So the Accelerator has given us the opportunity to think about virtual learning environments, and how to embed anti‑capitalist approaches into an app.”

Unfound culminated in a live pitching event where teams competed for a share of a £10,000 prize fund provided by The Co‑operative Bank. The Learning Cooperative came third and received £2,000 to support them in the next steps of developing their platform.

“We need working capital if are to expand. So the prize money will help give us breathing space to think about the bigger picture rather than scrambling to make sales. We can use people’s time in way that’s more strategic.”

Franck has ambitious ideas for how The Learning Cooperative could develop in the longer term. “I’d like to see it become a global multi-lingual, anti-capitalist university with branches around the world,” he says.

“It’s ambitious but you have to keep moving. I’d also like to develop our approach to forging ties with other organisations on the radical left. Language can be a barrier to creating solidarity amongst workers and we’d like to provide interpretation and translation services to enable these organisations to speak to people throughout the world.”

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