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Human Learning #38 — Coursera still loves MOOCs its just ‘things have changed’ — Edtech innovations on the horizon?

Coursera’s enterprise business continues to grow, 2U acquiring tech capabilities

Welcome to issue #38 of Human Learning! Mercifully there was more MOOC news in the past fortnight, the highlight of which was Coursera’s expansion of their B2B model Coursera for Business. The move highlighted what Maggioncalda their CEO was saying in an interview that their primary monetisation is now coming through their B2B arm and their degrees. It’s been a tough month for MOOCs.

My article on what an Edtech arms race would look like?

As ever, I always appreciate your comments so just hit respond for questions, suggestions etc.

Top story

Coursera’s three-pronged approach — Jeff Maggioncalda, CEO of Coursera interviewed with Forbes (and like many Forbes interviews it took 4 pages when 1 would have sufficed). That one-page was Coursera’s strategy which is distilled to three prongs (I did toy with a title of Maggioncalda’s trident…). The strategy has three parts: (1) A Virtuous cycle of learners, courses and universities (somewhat amorphous) (2) Degrees and (3) Corporates as course providers. Given recent news I think that’s a touch disingenuous and in fact Coursera’s strategy might be better read as — generate virtuous cycle of growth via universities, learners and courses -> monetise via higher value products e.g. degrees and Coursera for business. In essence, the MOOC business operates more as a roughly self-sustaining marketing engine (sustainable from Coursera’s point of view anyway) and the aim is to monetise the learners elsewhere. That’s hardly revelatory but now it’s being spelt out. A second implication, is that the B2C model isn’t showing sufficient growth so Coursera are doubling down on B2B (Coursera for business — see further down) and Degrees — one for the other MOOC platforms to ponder — here

State of the MOOCS


  • Coursera for business targets SMEs — Launched in August 2016, Coursera for Business was the enterprise version of Coursera enabling customised learning paths, learner dashboards etc. Coursera for business has been doing brisk…business with 300% YOY growth and 1K enterprise customers to date — It was originally targeted at just big businesses because — money. Either way Coursera are now ready to target SMEs, they note most loan capital to SMEs goes on training so this market segment is hungry. Coursera’s revised pricing will be $110 per employee for the basic package. Udemy did a similar thing last year and Udacity have been doing the same with a focus on India where it doubled its 2017 revenue in the first six months of 2018 and has 100 partners — here
  • Coursera allows instructors to A/B test — Coursera have decentralised testing to allow instructors to test interventions and effects. One early test experimented with using different male/female characters in videos to test gender cues in STEM learning (e.g. do women do worse if only male scientists are used in videos). 12 such experiments are currently running. This is excellent and the others should look to do this, ideally with a commitment to sharing the insights across platforms — applicable learning improvements on MOOC platforms have been underwhelming — here


  • Udacity launch a Blockchain Nanodegree, obviously and What took them so long? The Nanodegree will cost $999 for each of the two terms. Blockchain is fairly perfect for Udacity (my thoughts on its suitability for HE here) — it’s tech — there is intense demand (2nd fastest growing job in the US according to Burning Glass) in short Udacity exploit supply/demand gaps in hot areas. That plays to one of Udacity’s key strengths over other MOOC platforms — they commission their own content and thus can adapt to such trends — here
  • Udacity end subscription — Udacity found the single per term payments had a 16% higher completion rate, they’ve also moved them onto a term structure — presumably to push people towards (soft) deadlines . Subscription is probably the better bet for continuous MOOC consumption (Coursera should know if this is the case) but for Nanodegrees i.e. single large outlays subscription may make it too easy not to finish — here

University of Michigan creates suspiciously MOOC platform-like portal for their online content — University of Michigan one of the biggest investors in MOOCs has created an online portal for people to search all their courses — it even opens with a search box ‘What do you want to learn today?’ — they must’ve at least discussed secession — here

Team Human vs Machine

Japan’s struggle with coding — Reuters has an excellent article on the challenges of bringing coding — and its culture to Japanese manufacturing. Coders are undervalued in Japanese industry, earning roughly half what their peers do in the US. That’s a problem since the next wave of manufacturing — 4.0 is predicated upon software driven innovations — Virtual factories, Internet of things, Robotics and AI. Industry is trying to catch up — with a new specialist coding bootcamp but it is running into deeper problems within the Japanese system. Learning tends to be geared towards standardised testing and lectures — making it difficult for students to adapt to the project based learning of coding schools and the ‘fail fast’ mantra struggles for oxygen in a culture where failure is viewed less benignly. This is exactly where bootcamps ought to be most potent -working in teams, experiencing coding culture in a social context and project based learning are difficult to create online and universities far too slow and conservative to adapt — here

Business of Edtech

2U acquire annotation based feedback company Critiqueit– Although the name reminds me of the obnoxious professor in Midnight in Paris, the tool does sound useful. Students and teachers can share annotated feedback with each other ultimating facilitating more interaction between staff and students. 2U were already using it but have now decided to acquire it and formally incorporate it into their platform. Technology acquisitions have been few in the Edtech sector (reflecting the low capitalisation) — Udacity acquired Cloudlabs in 2017 — here

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Human Learning is a newsletter written by Chris Fellingham. You can signup for it here and find other Edtech articles by Chris Fellingham on his medium page

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Chris Fellingham

To stop himself dying of boredom in a former job Chris discovered MOOCs. It was a short hop to working in Strategy and Insights for FutureLearn from which he was inescapably drawn to to trying to understand the macro forces at work. Otherwise Chris is a policy wonk, a political geek and a long suffering fan of Tottenham Hotspur.

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