10 May 2017 — Education Intelligence Update

Hi all

This issue covers edX’s new Professional Certificates (somewhat unkindly), 2U’s acquisition of GetSmarter (a push into the lucrative short course/Exec Ed business) and a fascinating if disturbing Pew Internet survey on the future of jobs and learning.

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All views expressed in these reports are my own and do not necessarily reflect the views of FutureLearn.

State of the MOOCS

edX rebrand launch a new form Certificate — The creatively named ‘Professional Certificate’ is based on Specializations a survey of their learners who said the MicroMasters was either too long or inappropriate if they didn’t aim to do the Masters afterwards. The new certificate aims to help people on the corporate ladder. Learners need to complete a program of courses (2–9) many with corporate endorsement such as HSBC or North Face. As hinted it’s not really new, New York Institute of Finance are included and they joined edX in December 2014.

The bigger issue is what this says about edX. edX already have a Specialization equivalent, the Xseries, many of which are professional development oriented e.g. Essentials for MBA Success. edX also have the MicroMasters, nominally their flagship, which was to square the circle of academia and MOOCs by creating a new qualification and recruiting tool for a Masters. What’s the difference? One suspects a lack of executive decision making somewhere, they are unsure what their proposition should be so they are seeing what sticks, lucky they have the very patient capital of the world’s largest university endowments — here and here

What’s next for Coursera? — In a recent interview, Coursera CBO Nikhil Sinha outlined plans to expand their 250 employee base by 50% and were working on a custom learning plan. The latter sounds vague but likely as not they’ll use Machine Learning (they won’t be shy about saying so) to look at optimal ‘next course suggestions’ and couple it with a personal learning plan that gives learners a sense of progression between courses. A sort of macro-level version of personalised learning. Success will be more enrolments per learner — here

Coursera in India — Raghav Gupta, former country manager of BlaBlaBar India (a ride-sharing app) has taken over from from Kabir Chadha as country manager for India, the latter will take on a role at Coursera’s HQ in mountain view. India is the most competitive market for MOOC platforms with its huge population and capacity shortfall in Higher Education — here

Coursera’s annual learner survey — Coursera made a splash last year with a survey showing how learners in different countries used the platforms and the benefits they received. Their report this year shows a similar story making this a dull affair. Career builders primarily took courses to improve skills at their current job (56%) or improve candidacy for a new job (38%). While among education seekers, 34% took MOOCs to focus on an area of study and 18% used it to identify a University to apply to — here

Udacity re-purpose their Introduction to Programming course — Udacity are pricing it at $99 per month or $399 for 5 months (average completion time is 4.5 months). The drop in price likely reflects its role as a ‘gateway’ course, widening the funnel with a price drop so they can gain the revenue on other Nanodegrees down the line — here

Udacity launch careers fair ‘Propel’ in India — Launched in Gurgaon (New Delhi) with a roster of high profile companies in attendance: Paytm, MapMyIndia, Innerchef, 1Mg, Rivigo, Qualtech, GoFro, Indiarush, Simform, Witty Feed, Healers at Home, Kayako and Trade Logic — here

Udacity launch 2 free courses in Firebase Analytics by Google — It follows on the heels of their free Facebook developer courses, it’s nice padding for the meaty Nanodegree — here

Udacity Vice President joins autonomous startup spin off — Graduates of their self-driving Nanodegree have formed a start-up which former VP Oliver Cameron has joined. Excellent PR — here


Coding bootcamps, employers rate them — Coding bootcamps are growing rapidly with 91 (companies) in the US in 2016 — but do their graduates get employed? Indeed, the job site, surveyed 1000 HR managers of US companies of varying size. 80% of those surveyed had hired a Coding Bootcamp graduate and critically 99.8% of those would so so again. 12% said the bootcamp graduates were better prepared than traditional Computer Science graduates, 72% said they were same. Coding Bootcamps were also a useful source of hires for underrepresented groups according to 51% of those surveyed. All agreed more standards and regulation were desirable to help recruiters such as the voluntary code.

Bootcamps supply a market demand. Universities taught coding as part of Computer Science, but bootcamps recognised this wasn’t a requirement for many jobs and decoupled the academic from the practical to deliver an affordable and profitable MVP. Furthermore the IT industry has a long history of hiring self-taught coders which weakened the need for formal credentials. The Coding Bootcamp model is already being replicated across similar industries where demand overcomes the desire for a degree, with bootcamps in Cybersecurity and Data Science proliferating — here

Harvard Medical School (HMX) puts its preparatory courses online — It’ll cost $800 per course, $1,000 for 2 or $1,800 if all 4 are purchased. The courses last about 10 weeks and will be ‘certified’ a la MOOCs. HMX will use a mercifully/tastefully re-skinned version of the Open edX platform to deliver the courses. This may be HMX testing demand for their courses ahead of a more formal entry in the manner of Harvard Business School’s HBX which offered a limited but highly lucrative set of courses to monetise its elite brand — here

Smart Sparrow create Learning Analytics dashboard — Smart Sparrow, the adaptive learning system (ALS) have released a new dashboard to help educators understand how students are using their courses. Analytics dashboards are nothing new but arguably they are more important for adaptive learning systems given pathways vary per student creating a more complex course structure to understand. Smart Sparrow’s pitch among ALS providers is that they are educator first, making such a dashboard a prerequisite — here

The rise of stackable credentials — The Atlantic has an excellent, if unoriginal, summary of the rise of stackable credentials — the term apparently originating from ‘Full stack developers’. In short, employers want more ‘narrow’(read granular) credentials rather than a monolithic degree — here

Team human vs Automation

Labor’s end game — Team Human vs Automation was created in order to talk about 21st century skills in the context of their biggest threat, automation of the workforce. Even if you’re not bearish on the impact of automation, many jobs will still be defined by their relationship with automated processes. That’s important for Edtech which is looking at both what people should learn while it seeks to maximise the number of people who can learn and how they do it.

The latest survey by Pew Internet hits this category squarely. Pew surveyed 1406 experts across Technology, Education, Internet and Economics on the future of jobs and job training. The broad theme would be what is the future of jobs? What skills would be required? How would they be delivered? There were 5 clusters of responses:

The concerns:

  • Learning systems will not keep up with skill demand by 2026
  • Technology will outpace humans, millions of jobs will be lost and capitalism is under threat

Rather existential, but such people are hardly scaremongers with a number of serious economic reports detailing the travails of labour (Frey and Osborne 2013, Haldane 2015, Acemoglu 2017). The fear here is twofold; learning systems won’t be able to improve humans fast enough to match the changing skill requirements created by technological change and economies won’t create enough new jobs to replace those automated. Even optimists acknowledge that the rate of automation is such that there will at least be a gap between when the jobs are automated and the economy generates the next wave of jobs.

And 3 ‘hopeful’ themes:

  • Learning systems will increasingly move online and that the key innovations will be in AR, VR and AI AI includes personalised/adaptive)
  • The key skills of the 21st century will be: creativity, communication (especially intercultural), critical thinking, emotional intelligence and adaptability or H2H (Human to human)
  • Credentialing systems will evolve rapidly to meet this proliferation of educational systems

In the short term Universities are vindicated again, the skills of the future are precisely those the university environment can create — dialogue, communication, critical thinking — the ‘intangible’ skills. VR is the logical extension of the online scalable, location agnostic development of these same intangibles. H2H points not merely to social learning as important in future learning but as a prerequisite for future learning. If the authors are correct, knowledge by itself is insufficient and needs to be critically understood, communicable in a social context in order to be useful in the workplace — here

OPM (Online Programme Management) & LMS (Learning Management systems)

2U acquire GetSmarter for $103m — 2U, an OPM provider focused of degrees have acquired GetSmarter, a South African OPM provider of short courses, including Executive Education which has delivered to over 50K learners in 150 countries. 2U argued it enabled their expansion into new markets (2U partners are all in the US) and new course types (they only do degrees). Analysts were divided on the deal, some suggested GetSmarter’s university partnerships were a steal at $103m, some questioned if short courses and degrees strategically support each other and others wondered how GetSmarter’s ‘coaches’, a platform USP, would scale to 2U’s degree courses — here

Purdue University has acquired KaplanU — Purdue University, a public not for profit University has acquired KaplanU, the online arm of for profit education provider Kaplan. Purdue justified the move by arguing it allowed them to move quickly into online education at a time when they were short of capital. This explains the second, somewhat unusual nature of the deal, Purdue acquired KaplanU for a token $1, in return they’ve entered into a 30 year contract for Kaplan’s services with an exit option at 6 years. The deal is a little like an OPM deal whereby a University surrenders revenue share to avoid upfront costs usually on a 10 year contract, however Purdue have agreed a 30 year deal which is unheard of. The move has met with controversy including faculty protests — here and here

How big is online learning? Pretty big, in the US — A new report by the Babson Survey Research Group shows online learning at an all time high with 29.7% of all HE enrolments in the US being taken at least partially online in 2015. Public institutions have the lion’s share at 67.8% but not for profits have surpassed profits. This is probably partly due to the Obama administration crackdown on for profits but also due to the not for profits focus on pedagogy first, then scale, which has started to bear fruit. More broadly it points to a growing acceptance of online learning that is starting to go beyond the college drop-outs — here and here

OPM turnkey contracts being unbundled — A ‘classic’ OPM contract involves the OPM provider delivering all the services e.g. marketing, recruitment, content design and platform, student experience and assessment for an online degree in return for a majority share of the revenue over a long term contract. Increasingly however, Universities are developing the capabilities to market, recruit and design online courses themselves, pushing the OPM provider to a smaller more consultative role. It means more work University side to establish such operations but arguably many universities need marketing, recruitment and other online services for their on-campus anyway. This is good news for those who don’t provide turnkey solutions *wink* — here

UKHE (UK Higher Education)

The Higher Education and Research Act has passed — It’s been covered almost ad nauseum such that you’ve probably forgotten what it means, a summary: (here)

  • An Office for Students will be setup which will become the new regulator for Universities, responsible for qualities and standards. It will also setup the Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF)
  • Universities can increase their fees in-line with inflation up until 2020 an then afterwards their fees will be set by TEF
  • By this point you are surely asking what TEF is? It’s complicated but in a nutshell it’ll become a new standard for assessing how good universities are at teaching students, their score will determine their ability to raise fees
  • 7 Research councils will be folded into the UK Research and Innovation — it’s being pitched as a UK DARPA, that’s probably a bit ambitious

Will Brexit dampen enthusiasm for studying in the UK? It depends — In their annual survey of student sentiment globally, Hobsons, an education services firm, asked students if they were more or less likely to study in the UK following Brexit. 13% said they were less likely to do so but 11% said they were more likely, particularly among Saudi and Chinese students. It’s likely not a disdain for continental Europeans, rather: a falling pound, drop in enthusiasm for the US (following Trump’s election), national campaigns by the UK and possibly a hope (naive, one suspects) that non-EU work visas restrictions may loosen post-Brexit — here

What comes in, must go out — Universities UK, a lobbying group, has published a strategy to double the number of UK students going abroad. Aiming to get 13.2% of students to study abroad by 2020. There are eminently good economic reasons for doing this chief of which is to boost language and intercultural workplace experience, prerequisites for C21 — here


The education endgame is… brain uploads? Tim Urban at ‘Wait But Why’ tracks Elon Musk’s latest venture to create brain implants that will allow humans to upload knowledge — or have a ‘Wizard Hat’ as Tim Urban calls it. It sounds fanciful but the blog piece has a number of fascinating insights into the future of human knowledge in the age of robots and Urban’s wit makes this mega piece enjoyable throughout — here