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Edtech Intelligence #16 – Chris Fellingham’s Roundup on What’s Happening

Coursera’s final funding round? edX’s identity crisis and HEC Paris arrive a little late to the party

Hello again 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.

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I hope you enjoy it


The big story this week was Coursera’s Series D funding round, another $64m to their coffers. Among other things they intend to spend it on Artificial Intelligence, which I at least find amusingly ironic.

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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

Coursera raises $64m in Series D funding round — The largest MOOC platform has now raised $210.3m in total, putting their valuation up to $800m (estimated at $500m previously). Investors in the round included: GSV Asset Management, New Enterprise Associates, Kleiner Perkins Caulfield Byers, Learn Capital and the Lampert Foundation. CEO Rick Levin said they’ll use the new funding to pursue product improvements using AI, personalise the learning experience, expand online degrees as well as pursuing their corporate training proposition. The move wasn’t met with universal acclaim, Edtech analyst Trace Urdan argued the additional funding (and valuation) made both acquisition and IPO slightly harder — they were pricing themselves out of the former and risked being valued at less in the latter. On balance though, it’s a strong vote of confidence in the platform that has 26m users, 180 Specializations and 4 online degrees — here and here

Coursera updates — Chief Product Officer of Coursera Tom Willerer gives an interview outlining some of Coursera’s plans including for the UK: (here)

  • On the UK: ‘Workforce’s preconceptions about when and how learning can take place are still rooted in traditional frameworks’. English translation: Not everyone has heard of Coursera
  • On product development: Coursera aims to become ‘extremely personalised’. Despite sounding like an invasive medical medical procedure, Mr Willerer is likely referring to expanding capabilities of course recommendations and pathways

Peter Todd, Dean of HEC Paris announces the online revolution in Business Education — But what the Dean really means is that HEC are now offering a fully online degree (on Coursera). HEC’s move is interesting as Business Schools have been reluctant to surrender their elite brand to the freemium loving masses. The Dean gushes about online courses ‘an Artform[sic]’ as if MOOCs hadn’t been around since 2011. The business school’s motto is ‘Tomorrow is our business’ — here

What do edX want? — Without intending to be harsh, CEO of edX Anant Agarwal appears to be in doubt during an awkward interview to the Chronicle of Higher Education in which interviewer Goldie Blumenstyk traps Anant in his own rhetoric: edX offer free-er MOOCs than their competitors (read Coursera). Nonprofit means they can be open-source (Open edX) but where does that leave edX? They’ve innovated in credentials through their MicroMasters — but teaching 40K people in supply chain management isn’t changing the world is it?

edX are muddling through several strategies (financial sustainability, maximising social good, open source, ROI for partners etc). It’s not all edX’s fault, some of their plans such as driving a new qualification (MicroMasters) may take a while to take hold and open sourcing has proven popular although not a game changer (at least not yet). edX can afford to coast a bit, they are backed by Harvard and MIT but if that remains their sole USP in a year’s time then alarm bells ought to ring- here

OpenClassrooms expand degree offering and commit to a full refund if degree graduates fail to get a job within 6 months — The Paris-based platform’s degree is only accredited in France but they aim to make it global. OpenClassrooms offers ’29 paths’ to a full degree which they aim to increase to 50 by the year end (although at the time of checking there are actually only 4 pathways on their site). Their pipeline includes a Masters in Data Science from CentraleSupélec. The platform monetises by subscription, for degrees that will be $300–500 per month which includes mentor support. In theory they have all the elements of success; they’ve provided the low cost online courses to upskill, the qualification for a qualification-first labour market (France) and the job guarantee which is the goal — here

Udacity partner with Diagamme.ai — Digamma.ai are an AI consultancy who’ll provide course and brand expertise to support Udacity’s AI Nanodegree — here

edX sign Snapdeal partnership — Snapdeal is one of the targets Indian marketplaces (like Flipkart or eBay) with millions of users. It’s a promotional deal to continue growing their presence in the critical emerging market — here

XuetangX and Lagos agree deal to provide Engineering courses — XuetangX, Lagos University in Nigeria and UNESCO have coordinated to provide 16 courses in English on Engineering. XuetangX is built off the OpenedX platform and funded by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The latter’s involvement makes it likely Education is also seen as a tool of Chinese state soft power — here

Article on the future of online learning and discovery — by me


Udemy board replace CEO Dennis Yang with Kevin Johnson — Yang, Udemy’s former COO, took over from founder Eren Bali. No official reason is given but it seems likely the board wish to accelerate commercialisation of the platform which aims to be sustainable by 2017/18, Johnson comes from a background in e-commerce — here

Facebook to enter education — Facebook are creating a toolset for Facebook groups that will enable them to run online courses. New features will be introduced including course units and discussions. Facebook haven’t released any details and it’s not even clear if the core market is K-12, Universities or Professional or just ‘see what happens’. Facebook would have some obvious advantages, not least that Facebook groups are already used as informal discussion groups including by MOOC platforms — here

NVIDIA aim to train 100K developers in Deep Learning and AI by end of 2017 — Nvidia’s Deep Learning Institute has already trained 10K through a mixture of its own corporate campuses and online learning partnerships with Udacity, Coursera and Microsoft. AI companies are in an arms race to offer free training in order to gain market share for their tools — a la IBM Watson — here

Staffing firm Revature becomes tech skills bootcamp — Revature are a recruitment firm, matching would-be applicants on their roster with employers. They have now launched a 12 week immersion coding course. The course is selective but successful students will be paid the minimum wage for its duration. On completion, Revature gain a cut of the wages, typically $50–65K for 2 years. This is one of the first examples of a recruitment firm moving directly into training — typically it’s the reverse such as Udacity Plus — here

Airbnb Data University created to infuse a culture of data driven decisions — AirBnb established three levels of courses. The first aimed at management and non-technical employees to allow them to take advantage of data tools, a second level enabled people to use SQL and Superset and a third set based around Machine Learning was aimed at their Data Scientists. Airbnb saw a 30–45% rise in weekly active use of their data tools across the company. There is obviously an advantage to developing in-house courses (highly relevant) but not in-house platforms (core competency) — here

Andela expand to Kampala — Andela, a Nigerian based tech training company is expanding to Kampala, Uganda as well as extending its existing offering in Nairobi, New York and San Francisco. The company has received investment from the Zuckerberg-Chan Foundation and aims in part to accelerate software development skills in some of the key African hubs. Nairobi, Kampala, Kigali all form part of the dynamic economic zone, the East African Community — here

Minecraft launches code builder extension — The new extension will help teach Block-based coding and Javascript through the game, students can instantly see how code changes translate into the environment e.g. changing the colour of characters. Minecraft Education costs $5 per student per year — here

Edtech Finance

Civitas Learning gains social impact investors — The Lumina Foundation and Valhalla Charitable foundation both of whom have a history of investing in education have invested in the Series D round bringing their total investment to $89m. Civitas Learning describes itself as a *shudders* ‘Student Success Company’. Civitas works with 300 institutions and 7m students, it provides ‘pathways’ that help students make study decisions based on their career goals and has been credited with improving student retention (and subsequently for universities their bottom line) — here

Viridis receives Salesforce investment — Salesforce have invested an undisclosed amount in the firm. Viridis scan local job markets to feed the data back to community colleges who can tailor courses to meet the demand, they work with 23 districts and a network of 30 employers. Salesforce have been eyeing up education for a while — Eduventures put them on their ‘5 firms to watch in 2017’. It’s not clear what their offering would be, possibly an LMS that took students from application to the job market, like a lifetime CRM, delightful — here

OPM (Online Programme Management)

Keypath partner with Jindal School of Business in University of Texas Dallas — Keypath will develop courses in Executive Education with the Business school ranked 12th for full time MBAs at US Public Universities — here

Online learning in the US rises even as total higher education enrolment dips — 30% of all students studying in the US took at least one online course in 2015, up from 26% in 2012 — here

International Education

Humanities enrolment drops in the US — The number of students taking humanities degrees has dropped by 10% from 2012, before everyone cries “Aha! Proof that Humanities is a silly choice” Business and Management also dropped and humanities actually ticked up in community colleges. That said, STEM did increase. The interesting point here is the decline of Business, arguably, as all businesses become more digital, STEM with its tech applicable skills becomes the degree of choice, at some point this ought to filter through to MBAs — here

Online language market set to triple by 2025 — Transparency Market International, a research firm, estimate that the online language market, currently valued at $146m will rise to $427m in 2025 key players include: Duolingo, Linguatronics Speex etc — here

University of Arizona establishes Micro Campus in China and Cambodia — Micro Campuses have been established at Ocean University China and at the American University in Phnom Penh Cambodia. The campus will initially only offer a Law degree and tuition and accreditation will be shared with the host institution. The University cited ‘hostile politics’ (i.e Trump)as dampening international student numbers, but Micro Campuses could be a good way to create relatively low capex (hence Micro) profitable(limited degrees) campuses abroad –here

UKHE (UK Higher Education)

UKHE looks to post-Brexit partnerships — It’s general election time in the UK, with Britons voting today, 8th June. Higher Education has not been a major issue due to manifesto similarities. However the type of Brexit will be a factor. UK universities have begun high level talks with Australian universities for deeper collaboration among staff, research etc as the likelihood of a post-Brexit free trade deal with Australia increases. The similarity in degree standards and teaching, as well as existing collaboration, would make this relatively straightforward. In parallel some US universities are exploring deeper collaboration with the UK — here and here

University of Birmingham opens a new campus in Dubai — It’s the first top 100 University to open a campus in the Emirates. Initial courses include Computer Science, Mechanical Engineering, Primary and Secondary Education and Business. The Middle East has a large, young population and aims to upskill its workforce (including becoming one of the top education systems in the world) — here


Platform capitalism in Edtech — Ben Williamson has written an excellent article on ClassDojo as emblematic of ‘Platform Capitalism’. ClassDojo has taken K-12 by storm with over 35m students and 3m students. It’s somewhere between Facebook and slack, it provides an online space for teachers and students to interact over homework, provide feedback but it was when they allowed parents and chat features that it began to look more like a social network for schools. That’s where platform capitalism comes in; Platform capitalism, is when the users generate the value — usually in data that is then commoditised, such capitalism works best when it’s subject to network effects (where the value increases as more users join). ClassDojo aim to monetise via content, they recently partnered with Stanford to deliver ‘Growth Mindset’ teaching support through their network and aim to monetise content going forward — here


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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