When was the last time you saw a commercial for an online, for-profit educational institution? Was it the last time you watched television?

The University of Phoenix alone has more than 300,000 students, and it’s the only university that hosts a stadium where an NFL team plays. It might seem as though online education is taking over the industry.

After all, when was the last time you saw a television ad for a top university like Yale or Caltech? I never have. But that discrepancy does not suggest such schools are failing. Instead, it shows us the power of reputation and repeat business. Top universities — like top real estate brokerages — have a powerful network of past customers and a reputation of success to bring in business without a need for aggressive marketing.

Nevertheless, brokerages have lately been at the center of doubt among real estate industry pundits. Newspapers, blogs and magazines nationwide have questioned their value, and some say that many of a broker’s traditional duties can be performed by online service providers.

And the truth is that many of a broker’s traditional duties can be done online. Brokers and agents are no longer the gatekeepers to housing data and listing information. Like a good university, a brokerage must offer value that a client cannot get anywhere else. To better understand that changing role, it helps to think like an educator.

Educators, after all, face challenges from the Internet, too. Novel summaries can be found on SparkNotes. Historical facts can be learned on Wikipedia. And an impersonal, dry lecture might as well be recorded and watched online — in fact, that’s a primary offering of online courses, including those offered at Harvard and Stanford.

But those institutions will never move fully online. That’s because education is about much more than the delivery of content. The memorable and effective educator finds a way to reach every student in a unique and meaningful way. And that individualized relationship inspires, energizes and shapes the way each student learns. Think back to your favorite teachers: Do you better remember what they taught, or how they taught it?

Brokers must similarly offer individualized preparation, nuanced feedback and personalized content. And they should embrace the technologies that help them do so. Just as teachers use grading software and incorporate technology in the classroom, real estate pros can use Web tools to create individualized metrics and analysis, offer unique buying and showing opportunities on a per-client basis, and schedule maintenance and preparation jobs on the client’s behalf. Many of these tools are simple time-savers that free up brokers to focus on individual client needs. Others add value to the sale by saving the client time and helping the client make better, more informed decisions.

Consider the calculator: It saves both the teacher and the student time so that they can focus not on the calculation itself but on the structure and relationship of variables that need to be calculated. Web tools can be just as valuable. If data is easily accessed on a website, then a broker can focus not on counting and arranging numbers, but instead on forming the relationships and isolating the variables that make those numbers possible.

Mike Pontacoloni is director of marketing at OwnerAide, a real estate technology company.

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