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Edtech Intelligence #18 – Chris Fellingham’s Roundup on What’s Happening

Will edX’s Micromasters be the MOOC answer to a masters? Should we have a ‘Coursera for Doctors? Read on

Hi all

Hello Class Central Readers!

I’m Chris Fellingham, I work for FutureLearn and as a way to help people understand the world of Edtech (not least myself) I began writing updates on some of the trends and stories in the Edtech world – with a focus on MOOCs.

These reports are largely an annotated summary of the news in a fortnight and reflect my own, sometimes blunt views on what’s happening, what’s good, what’s exciting and what sucks.

The biggest story this week was edX reporting on their first graduates from their MicroMasters in Supply Chain Management. Meanwhile a Bangalore based startup aims to become the online CPD platform for doctors in India.


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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 graduates first MicroMasters students – The MicroMasters  consists of 6 MOOCs and a final exam, students can then apply to turn that into a full masters by applying to MIT, Curtin University (Australia) Rochester Institute of Technology or Zaragoza Logistics Center (Spain). 622 students have taken the courses and the final exam for a combined cost of $1,350, generating $839K revenue and over 180K learners enrolled on at least one of the courses. edX et al will be delighted with such robust financial results on what they hope will be their flagship credential.

The question now is whether edX can scale this to other courses to ensure it wasn’t an MIT ‘prestige effect’. If they can, edX could help online platforms pioneer a genuine alternative to the Masters qualification. All MOOC platforms – Udacity’s Nanodegrees, Coursera’s Specializations – are working under the assumption there is a market for a mid-stakes, online alternative to a Masters. None have obviously demonstrated this to be the case but edX’s more formal accreditation would be one route forward – here

Coursera partners with University of the Caribbean and Commonwealth (UCC) – UCC will provide its own certificates of achievement alongside Coursera’s. That implies the deal is akin to those Lynda strikes i.e. a B2U licensing agreement whereby UCC pays for the right to accredit – helping its students gain a broader set of marketable skills to help them in the job market – here

Udacity launch React Nanodegree – React is an increasingly popular JavaScript library. Udacity partnered with React Training who already train corporates –  and consumers “80% of whom go to work for Fortune 500s”. The Nanodegree will cost $499 – here

Will MOOCs be the answer to the 21st century Labour Markets? – A short article by *ahem* yours truly looks at where MOOCs fit in and the challenges they face in the 21st century labour markets – here


Omnicuris, ‘Coursera for Doctors’ – A startup from Bangalore is aiming to become the ‘Coursera for Doctors’. The platform was started by Savitha Kuttan – a former Pharma Vice President and Priyank Jain. Ominicuris runs free and some paid-for courses, it has over has 300 videos alongside its $155K in seed funding. Omnicuris are targeting Doctor CPD market and have partnered with a number of hospitals and medical associations in India. Their next target is the consumer market.

The revenue model is ad-based. Ads display in between videos and on the site, however Pharmaceutical companies and Device manufacturers can pay for courses and Hospitals can even pay for their doctors to appear. The ad model seems somewhat ethically challenging (I’ll leave you with this clip from House)  but if Omnicuris can use it to bootstrap themselves while they gain further market share and funding they could probably switch to a B2B licensing model and/or B2C subscription model – here

University of Michigan licenses GradeCraft – University of Michigan, a major player in online learning have launched the commercial version of their gamified learning tool ‘GradeCraft’. The tool is a bit like a slimmed down LMS, students plot a route through their course work, gaining badges, and analytics help nudge them to better outcomes. Michigan have already been using it on some of their MOOCS. University of Arizona are one of the first customers – here

What happened to Amazon Inspire? – Inspire is Amazon’s attempt to create a single marketplace for OER (Open Educational Resources). It caused a stir in Education because if educators can find an easy reliable way to find appropriate OER content then they can use those instead of expensive textbooks from publishers. Inspire launched last year but educators have complained of copyright infringement  – as other people uploaded their content –  and struggled to ascertain the quality of resources. Amazon are still developing it. Analyst Trace Urdan argues Amazon must see commercial opportunities in OER education materials, even if it’s just a lead generator for further plans in the space. Amazon also also ‘sell’ courses e.g. from edX – here

Team Human vs Machine

Udemy survey reveals employees turn to training to reduce stress – In a survey 58% employees are turning to training either out of anxiety around technological replacement such as AI or due to the ‘current state of politics’ – i.e. Trump. Sad! – here

Do humanities have a role in the 21st century? Erm, obviously yes. The longer answer is addressed in two books reviewed in Harvard Business Review. Hartley, a venture capitalist argues for a synthesis of the two skill sets – STEM skills are often the answer to the problem, but finding the problem is better done through humanities training which focuses on broader critical thinking skills. Cents and Sensibility (Who isn’t endeared by a good pun?) is by two professors (Economics and Humanities) who further note that technical barriers are actually dropping – coding languages are much easier on the beginner today than some of their forebears – putting the onus back on the critical thinking. In practical terms this ought to mean specific courses that help apply humanities thinking to problems with technical solutions alongside dual degrees that are being rolled out by the likes of Stanford – here

US Universities up their game to help dropouts complete their degrees – Universities in the US are going on the front foot by no longer just providing routes to completion but actively seeking to find dropouts. Several universities are hiring marketing firms to track the dropouts and then provide flexible, short, on-demand courses to give the students a ‘quick win’ in case they lose motivation. Partly its financial, but the pressure also comes from states putting pressure on state funded universities to push people to finish their degree and thus enable them to get better jobs – here

Silicon Valley – fun loving folk spreading the love or sinister corporates? Two stories this week over Personalised Learning and Coding raises questions over the role of Silicon Valley in Education policy.

Code.org, a silicon valley backed foundation, aims to advocate the benefits of coding to school children in the US. Code.org is backed by many big Silicon Salley companies such as Microsoft and provides free training – it has trained over 57K teachers. So far, so good. More dubious is that it also has a lobbying arm that pushes for Education policy to be steered towards Coding, that may not seem sinister but in some states that push has been a license for specific companies to try and get education policy to reflect either their products or their specific needs. Code.org says it does not support such moves.

In a similar vein, Zuckerberg-Chan is making a huge push for Personalised Learning (a form of learning analytics that judges the strengths and weaknesses of a learner and then alters what and how they learn accordingly) to become the norm in education systems. The foundation has significant political clout, it is being led by former Deputy Secretary of Education James Shelton and has the huge wealth of the Zuckerberg’s behind it. Critics such as Larry Cuban at Stanford University Graduate School of Education have noted that if the Zuckerberg-Chan really wanted to really advance Personalised Learning they could open source their products – to allow others to experiment  – something they have ruled out at present – here and here

Edtech Finance

Audrey Watters of Hack Education tracks EdTech investments (year to date) – Audrey Watters (an Edtech blogger and notable critic) has tracked 95 investments this year totalling $1.8bn (Watters includes student loan companies). The average investment has been $21.2m, the median $4m. The bulk of investment has been in the US, Bootcamps and Tutoring startups are the most popular – here

CB Insights have their own map of Edtech investments –  here

Edsurge article on Edtech – The article didn’t really have an argument but some useful tidbits – here

  • Chinese investors in US EdTech are often looking to acquire the users as much as the technology
  • Chinese parents will pay 3x more for live video tutoring education than self-paced. This has led to a much bigger focus on live video in Chinese education platforms – something they hope to export back to the US and something those looking to get into Edtech in China ought to be mindful of

OPM (Online Programme Management)

HSBC’s ‘Value of Education’ Survey shows strong support for Online Degrees – The 2017 survey of parents across the world saw 67% say that cost and the chance to learn flexibly i.e. their child to work and study, means they would  consider an online degree. 30% of the same group said an online degree would need to be 50% of the price of on-campus, while 18% said 75% the price. Parents surveyed spent an average of $44K on education for their child (Nursery to Tertiary). Over 40% of parents said they’d consider sending their child abroad for their degree – here

2U Update

  • 2U partner with Fordham University Graduate School of Education and Social services to deliver Masters programmes in Childhood and Special Education and Social work – here
  • 2U partner with Rice University Graduate School of Business for an MBA – here

Global Higher Education

Rise of Nursing Practitioners is an opportunity for Higher Ed – Eduventures, a research and consulting firm for HE in the US, argues that Health Care policy research showing Nurses are a cost effective way to improve health outcomes (vs Doctors) means there is a market opportunity for more Doctorates of Nursing. 2U and their much-vaunted ‘marketing algorithm’ will feel vindicated as they already have several providers such as Vanderbilt and Simmons to provide such qualifications. However, given variations in Health provision by country this might not scale easily outside of the US- here

UKHE (UK Higher Education)

Universities UK shows UK universities top of international student satisfaction Universities UK research has put UK as #1 for international student satisfaction. Key influences on student decisions are: Reputation, the University website, family, agents and family – social media is also rapidly emerging as a key recruitment tool – here

UK’s DARPA gets off the ground  – The UK Higher Education Reform act created among other things UKRI – UK Research and Innovation which aims to act as an umbrella to current research councils and better target UKHE’s research towards innovations that can fuel the economy – here


Nobel winning Physicist reimagines Science Education – Carl Wieman, a Physicist at Stanford University has turned his expertise to the matter of improving science education. In his latest book, Wieman argues that too much of science teaching is  lecture based despite research evidence that demonstrates superior alternatives.

Wieman’s book is built off a 6-year programme with University of British Columbia and University of Boulder Colorado. The programme combined faculty staff with  Educational Specialists to design new methods of teaching. The main focus was swapping out lectures for active learning – more worksheets, working in pairs or small groups, more discussions and more instant feedback questions. Results of the experiment showed significant increase in engagement and conceptual understanding – here

Millennials like libraries  – 53% of millennials have used a public library in the past 12 months, up from 45% of Generation X. Millenials do so for meetups, to access computer and internet and to explore other technologies such as 3D printers. This follows in the trend of reimagining of University libraries as places for the public to learn and create. Knowledge economy workers tend to be more footloose in where they work and the role of co-working spaces, cafes etc suggests public institutions such a

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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