Hi all

This week looks at the deepening of Udacity’s business model as they move into softer business courses and double down on their recruitment partners. Meanwhile edX go big on MicroMasters and Microsoft aim to use their cloud and LinkedIn Learning to reach out to India’s younger population.

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

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State of the MOOCS

Udacity branch out to to become the business school of silicon valley — Udacity aspires to to be the answer to the question ‘Do you want to work in Silicon Valley?’. A business school answers this question through courses, recruitment opportunities top top firms and networking. Since their pivot by Sebastian Thrun, Udacity have developed a competitive curriculum of Computer Science skills required to work in the valley and last year they added a recruitment tool to top companies. While they don’t offer the networking of business schools, they arguably make a strong enough play of the first two that it won’t matter.

Udacity have been doubling down on this business model, adding to their Nanodegree curriculum and recruiting partners with gusto — their latest announcement of a Robotics Nanodegree in partnership with Electric Movement comes with an impressive list of hiring partners such as Lockheed Martin and Bosch (Germany is a target market) and Google-X. In addition they’ve added IBM Brazil and Telefonica Vivo Brazil to expand recruitment into another key market.

Udacity have now added Digital Marketing to their curriculum — signalling their confidence they can expand beyond their Computer Science focus. The course is co-developed with Mailchimp, Google and Facebook as well as hiring partners like Capital One, Zalando and Rakuten. It’s likely the first of many and reflects a growing confidence that by cracking the content model (i.e. financially sustainable courses) and the the recruitment model they can become a de facto online business school for Silicon Valley — here and here

Udacity acquire in-browser coding platform CloudLabs — CloudLabs is a platform that allows coders to collaboratively code within their browsers including for learning (they created terminal.com). Udacity were already integrating aspects of this in their product before deciding to just buy the 5-person company outright. Udacity will use it to improve the learning experience of coding on their platform with plans to also automate grading and assessment. The latter will help them drive down labour costs on the platform — currently they pay online tutors to assess and grade on a per-assessment fee.

Given the huge demand of coding, many platforms that teach it are looking for ways to ease new learners onto it — TreeHouse also have their own custom application for teaching coding. Udacity claim they have the leader in the field and will hope this proves another differentiator. If nothing else, the acquisition marks a financially confident company — here

Coursera — In a somewhat bland interview for the FT, Coursera CEO Rick Levin released a few insights into the company:

  • 30% of Coursera’s courses are now business-related testament to the enthusiasm of Business Schools and a likely indicator of where they are generating their revenue
  • Coursera’s two online degrees(iMBA and Masters of Data Science) have a 98% retention rate for full fee paying members (~$20K)
  • The real purpose of the interview was a crude plug for Coursera’s new venture ‘Coursera for Governments and nonprofits’: “President Trump talks about building physical infrastructure…the people who supported him would benefit greatly from mid-career training to get themselves better jobs.” It’s not entirely obvious that rust-belt factory workers would benefit from more Coursera courses — here

edX bet on MicroMasters to guide them to unlock B2C revenue — edX have announced a further 16 MicroMasters to bring their total to 35. After a successful pilot with MIT’ Supply Chain Management last year, edX are pushing ahead with MicroMasters. MicroMasters differ from Coursera Specializations in that the learner on successful completion can apply for a full on-campus Masters. If accepted the learner’s MicroMasters counts towards the full Masters — allowing an accelerated course and saving money.

In theory it’s ideal — it supports rather than challenges the University business model and edX and universities alike gain a rev-share from both the MicroMasters and the subsequent leads for on-campus Masters. Furthermore, the association with a formal masters may make the ‘MicroMasters’ a more credible form of learning.

A more sceptical take would question whether the two are really compatible — wouldn’t it make more sense to take the whole Masters online? It may also be the case the draw to a full masters because a minor part as learners are primarily drawn to the MicroMasters — here

edX sign an MOU with Pakistan’s Information Technology University (ITU) — Namely it seems ITU will award credit to students that take edX courses

MéxicoX, the Mexican MOOC platform — Founded in 2015 by the Mexican Ministry of Education, the platform has has 1m learners, 15 employees, 40 partners and 140 MOOCs and unusually for a MOOC platform 56% female (FutureLearn also has a majority female demographic). The platform runs off OpenEdX and claims a ~18% completion rate on its free courses. Given the the relatively short time frame these are strong numbers — but it’s also explicable; localisation is powerful, especially in large markets like Mexico — here


Microsoft, if in doubt grow — How Microsoft, LinkedIn and Lynda will merge is still in doubt — the phrase ‘exploit synergies’ is being used which translates as ‘something should pop up’. Rather than standstill, Nadella has opted to expand. Project Sangam aims to educate the middle and low skilled workers in India by leveraging LinkedIn Learning and Microsoft cloud. The service will be optimised for slower connections which are common in India. The business upside is it will expand LinkedIn beyond its traditionally well-heeled professionals to India’s huge young population who’ll be its future workforce — here and here

Quizlet introduces a smart study feature to its app — Quizlet, a free study app with over 20m monthly active users in the US, has introduced a new study tool based on Cognitive Science and Machine Learning (as always in Edtech…). Users enter their exam data among other inputs and the app then optimises the student study sessions by date and time.

Learning science has proven popular, Coursera’s most popular course is Learning how to Learn. However, while a course is good, many of the tips are behavioural e.g. revising the material after specified periods of time to maximise memorisation. This is better suited to an app which can prompt. Other learning platforms should take note — many already have such data on the learner’s usage and one suspects the basic insights such as these will be de rigeur across any online learning platform within 5 years — here

Google acquire Data Science and Machine Learning Competition platform Kaggle — Kaggle, a Data Science and Machine Learning competition platform has been acquired by Google. Google recently ran a $100K prize competition on Kaggle to develop an algorithm to categorise YouTube videos.

To a point, Kaggle is the gig economy for knowledge workers. Google’s competition is a big trial and error experiment, Google only pays the winner which means all the other contributors worked for Google for free. And while $100K may seem generous it’s likely much cheaper than dedicating a team of engineers to work on the problem, who may generate an inferior solution. Google can outsource the problem and then pay engineers to integrate and refine the solution.

Why did Google buy Kaggle? As they haven’t officially announced it yet, no one is sure. They may want access to recruit its users who comprise of significant talent in Data Science and Machine Learning. Equally likely, Google may want to introduce such a community to its Google products (e.g. cloud) to help cement its market share — here

Edtech Finance

Eduventures, the online education intelligence company, have released their Tech Landscape report for 2017 — here

  • Top growth segments are: Online Program Management, Adaptive Learning Systems, Learning Analytics, eportfolios and Social media
  • Cloud is also becoming ubiquitous as universities swap switch to LMS providers cloud-based offerings

E-learning market is set to grow at 7.2% pa for next decade to reach $325bn — ReportLinker, a Tech market research firm, argues that the e-learning market (covering academic and corporate) will continue its impressive growth as demand continues for online learning solutions — here

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

Do online courses offer value for money? Not according to a controversial new paper by Stanford economist Caroline Hoxby. Hoxby looked tax and student data between 1999–2014 in the US and concluded that while online courses did tend to give a wage boost to students, they offered a poor return on investment for the government (many are subsidised by loans and tax deductions) when compared with on-campus programs. Furthermore, many students never even recover their loan costs. Given the scope of the paper — this would appear very damning indeed for the online movement which has seen OPMs grow 130% 2011–2015.

However, a number of commentators note that Hoxby’s paper overstates the number of for-profit online course providers in her data — Hoxby says 77% of students took them at for-profit colleges but others argue the figure is closer to 32%. This matters, for-profit may well offer a poorer ROI — but that becomes the explanatory variable not online — here and here

Study Group, a pathway provider, has signed a partnership with the liberal arts college Oglethorpe — The pathway will prepare international students for undergraduate degrees at Oglethorpe with intensive english language and study training and is Study Group’s 11th pathway in the US. Universities like pathways because they provide a reliable supply of fee paying international students students pay because it boosts their chances of applying and coping with western universities. However at ~$45k for the year the costs would seem to represent very poor value for money for services that could arguably be provided at a much lower cost in the sending country — here

International Education

India aims for 20 universities inside the world top 100 as it seeks to become a study destination — Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley noted India would need more top ranked universities to sustain its growth as an international student destination. At present the Indian Institute of Science (IISC) is the the highest ranked in the country (201–250 in THE) and IIT Bombay is next (351–400). Jaitley was also distinctly relaxed about brain drain from India, noting somewhat mischievously ‘we are producing enough to take care of the rest of the world’ (a likely nod to the likes of Sundar Pichai of CEO of Google and Satya Nadella CEO of Microsoft) — here

Russia expands international student visas from 150K to 200K — It’s partly to account for growing demand and to increase soft power. However it is also to offset an ageing population that can no longer fill university places and the need universities to be more financially independent as the Russian state’s economy continues to falter — here

Finland aims to triple international student numbers to 100K by targeting Asian countries — here

Many African countries poorly placed to develop the Science and Technology capacity to compete in the global economy — The African Capacity Building Foundation, a Zimbabwean think tank, has argued the continent as a whole has failed to sufficiently invest in Science and Technology and risks being left behind as these jobs dominate the global economy. Despite a promise in the 1980s to spend 1% GDP on R&D the average across the continent is only 0.5%. The African Capacity Building Foundation advocates moving R&D spending up to 1% or higher as a first step — here

Demand for bilingual workers grows in the US job market — The New American Economy, a business lobby backed by Michael Bloomberg and Rupert Murdoch, has argued for a push in second language learning. The report notes that between 2010–2015 630K jobs emerged requiring languages — namely Mandarin, Spanish and Arabic across low and highly skilled sectors e.g. Banking and Healthcare. Readers may recall the debate in California towards making education bilingual — as ever the golden state is ahead of the curve — here

Malvern College, a British private school, opens its 5th international campus — There has been a growing trend in international secondary schools. Wealthy parents perceive that they prepare children well for a globalised economy — a trend MOOC platforms et al could also capitalise on. British private schools such as Eton, have been capitalising on this trend by offering themselves to the global elite but the likes of Malvern and Harrow have gone a step further and created new school campuses. The appeal for the elite is partly the education and partly the crowd. This latest move shows Britain can now export its class structure as well as education — here

UKHE (UK Higher Education)

What did the Chancellor’s budget mean for UKHE? While the headlines were predominantly focused on taxation of the self-employed, the budget did contain some important announcements for UK Higher Education — here

  • T-levels to be introduced — Nominally these will be the technical equivalent of A-levels and aim to give technical subjects equal prestige. The goal, as with apprenticeships is to develop high skilled labour for advanced industrial jobs (low-skilled manufacturing is being automated)
  • UK Government to offer maintenance loans for part-time postgraduate and doctoral students at a rate of 6% for those earning above 21K. This is to address the fact Part-time study has plummeted
  • The Department of Education has been awarded £40m to spend on pilots for new approaches to lifelong learning — We have these things called MOOCs…

Are international students immigrants? — The question is vital for UKHE as Universities UK. a lobby group, outlines in their latest paper in 2014/15 alone, international students brought in over £25bn to the UK economy.

Currently international students count towards the UK immigration figures. For May, immigration is a destabilising force in UK politics — evidenced by Brexit . May believes the government must demonstrate it can control and reduce immigration to assuage a restive public and howling tabloid press.

To this end, Theresa May as Home Secretary and now Prime Minister has tightened visa requirements for international students including post-study visas (a key draw for international students). Consequently, the UK has been one of the only countries to see a drop in Indian students and was overtaken by China as the number 2 destination in the world for international students overall.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for UKHE. The Office of National Statistics (ONS) has announced it is changing how it counts international students — it was heavily criticised by the IPPR (a think tank) for using an unreliable data set which the IPPR claimed radically overestimated the number of international students who stayed on. If correct, that would allow Theresa May some leeway as the contribution of international students to net migration would drop. Furthermore 30 Conservative MPs have apparently written to May to ask for students to be excluded from the figures entirely. Theresa May may relent anyway, the UKHE is a huge strategic strength, one that it would be foolish to jeopardise as the Brexit brings if nothing else, significant uncertainty to the UK economy — here, here and here


Study find Learners thats comment more, have high completion rates — This will not be news to regular readers, “People that do more stuff, do more stuff” comes to mind. Still it’s nice to see others validate this. The study examined 25K learners over 9 MOOCs — here

Three waves of international student mobility mapped — Dr Choudaha AKA Dr Education, has put out a paper that breaks student mobility into 3 waves from 1999 until present. Each wave has distinct events and drivers with the current wave (2013–2020) being defined by career oriented students, the closing of key western receiving countries like the US and the UK (Trump and Brexit respectively) and the rise new origin countries such as China — here

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