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Human Learning #35 — edX’s strategic drift, Do we really need Blockchain in Higher Education?

edX need to get a handle on their product, and Higher Education needs to think hard about whether Blockchain is overkill

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

Issue #35 gets underway with a mini-essay on the role of Blockchain in Education. Audrey Watters has done some excellent work on this, mine is a narrower focus — based off Learning Machine’s latest round. The second story of the week is edX’s strategy, or apparent lack thereof. The not-for-profit has introduced a vague ‘support fee’ to bolster the organisation. An awkward name for a company not comfortable with its strategy.

There will also be a GDPR-thing for this newsletter, heads up.

My article — on how the strategies MOOC platforms are pursuing to overcome the problem of trust in their credentials (hint it’s not about using blockchain :-p)

My article ‘Does higher Education need Blockchain?

Top story

edX get a bit more premium — It was typically edX, amid their unfiltered blog of English and Spanish, edX announced they were ‘furthering their mission. ‘What?’ you ask. The rambling post can be distilled to the follow: We are pretty great, we and our partners need more money’. To this end edX will be introducing a ‘support fee’ — I have no idea what that means.

What is edX for? On the one hand, they have Open edX, it’s done well (18m users) but has hardly proven the ‘killer move’. edX itself isn’t obviously different from Coursera or FutureLearn, it had ‘less’ of a paywall now it has even less of one ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.

Then there is the platform itself, on the one hand it’s great that it is open-source on the other hand it’s a bit like the National theatre on London’s Southbank (a Brutalist construction) it varies things up but I’m glad none of the other buildings look like it. edX platform is ugly and cumbersome to use and felt dated on arrival and one wonders if being open-source has hamstrung their ability to develop it. For now edX are safe enough, their elite founders and members keep them afloat but the risk is less of falling than of mediocre engagement, whereby key partners see them as a nice bit of public engagement, the equivalent of corporate social responsibility for a big bank, to avoid that fate they need to do a better job of explaining why they exist and what they are trying to do — here

State of the MOOCS

Coursera hire new CPO and Head of Consumer Revenue — Sharavan Goli will replace the position vacated by Tom Willerer. Goli’s has an impressive background covering product work at dictionary.com, Yahoo and Microsoft but perhaps most relevant is his experience at Tech Job Marketplace. MOOCs are fundamentally targeted towards the graduate professional job market and his experience of the job marketplace ought to aid Coursera to be the provider of choice in the tertiary segment — here

Lyft launch hiring challenge with Udacity — Lyft, the company have launched the ‘Lyft Perception Challenge’ to students of Udacity’s Self-Driving Car Nanodegree. Winners of the contest will get an interview with Lyft. It’s a familiar trope for Udacity but likely a successful one — in vogue company of in vogue subject sponsors a Nanodegree, high on PR low on job recruits one suspects — here

edX quick news

  • edX have 16m learners and 18m via Open edX — here
  • edX to launch a new MicroMasters in Data Science and Statistics by MIT — here

Tecnológico de Monterrey looks to the future of Higher Education in Latin America — Teclabs, which also runs MOOCs for the Mexican University argues that Latin America needs a 15-fold increase in Higher Education provision if Latin America is to develop its economy and serve its population. For Teclabs, which also acts as an Edtech incubator, MOOCs have three problems on the continent: awareness, price and trust. Just so — here

Business of Edtech

WeWork acquire MissionU — Or rather MissionU was about to close and Wework acquired it, it’s not quite clear. MissionU was founded as a 1-year alternative to University which focused on ‘what companies need’ like quantitative skills, analytics, presentation etc. It didn’t charge tuition but took 15% income for the first 3 years. WeWork said they’d be discontinuing the 1-year program i.e. the business, so it looks more like a grab for brand and staff — Adam Braun, CEO of MissionU will become COO of WeGrow — which currently only has their K-12 offering but may become their overall education brand as they continue to acquire in this market- here

Teachable raises $4m to help educators establish their business online — Teachable’s USP is that it makes it easier to setup an online teaching business, previously you either setup your own website or were restricted to setting up on the likes of Udemy which were narrower in terms of what you could control. Teachable, which built its name by offering popular programming courses like Ruby and Python, offers a range of B2B models. Starting businesses can be charged by a % of their revenue while bigger businesses can switch to subscription options (up to $299 per month) which offer more services. One of their key features is the opportunity to have instructors deliver your lectures for you, this was primarily introduced to reduce tutor burn out (and thus for the % revenue, the loss of income) — it’s a clever twist on tuition as a service at the micro-level — here

OPM market — maturing into diversity — Phil Hill of e-literature argues that the debate around OPMs — namely that the old model of large upfront fees coupled with higher revenue share for the OPM provider is being replaced by a service model — is a false debate. Instead he argues that the steadily growing market is simply diversifying to suit different needs. The market currently stands at an estimated $1.5–2.5bn in annual revenue with the star act, 2U, currently valued at $4.8bn (market capitalisation). Phil Hill gives a nod to MOOCs as the new entrants but doesn’t see them as fundamentally disrupting the market. He’s right at this point, barriers to entry are high — MOOC platforms collectively took in hundreds of millions in capital before offering degrees and while online degrees scale — there are still big variable costs in ensuring tutor support and seminars in order to deliver a reasonable level of education experience — that will limit the MOOC platforms market growth as they can’t simply put a few elite degrees up and sweep all before them. The more likely result is a continual squeeze on providers (and universities with undifferentiated online offerings) in the middle and bottom of the rankings — here and here

Edtech under the spotlight for diversity — elearningsinside have been running a series on workforce diversity in Edtech, they emailed Coursera, Udacity, Duolingo etc and received some vague responses. Edtech is still small enough to be below the public conscious on this in a way that Facebook is not. However, it would be foolish for Edtech companies — especially those with millions of users — to ignore this trend. There is growing public awareness that tech companies are de facto public institutions and therefore ought to be subject to more scrutiny. It’s only elearninginside for now but one dodgy algorithmic recommendation and a much harsher spotlight will be on edtech companies — best to get ahead of the curve — here

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Agree, Disagree, have something to add? Following on a recent surge of comments, I’d like to invite everyone to do so and where possible I’ll feed discussions into the following edition.

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Chris Fellingham Profile Image

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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